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In Nation & World | Department upgrades Mueller probe review to criminal matter | Page A10

With financial advantage, Del. Dawn Adams seeks to hold off GOP challenger Garrison Coward

Republicans are seeking to take back a Richmond-area House of Delegates seat they lost in 2017, running a centrist, African American millennial. But as Election Day nears, a Democratic incumbent mired in a legal case has eight times as much money in the bank.

Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, is facing a challenge from Republican Garrison Coward. District 68, which has trended Democratic in statewide contests since 2016, spans Richmond’s West End, parts of northern Chesterfield County and a sliver of Henrico County.

Two years ago, Adams, a health care professional, won the seat, edging Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, by 347 votes. Loupassi, a former member of the Richmond City Council, had held the seat for 10 years.

Coward, who works for a predictive analytics firm in Richmond, had been touted by Republicans as a conservative alternative for suburban voters in that district. But with Coward lacking financial support from party leaders, compared with his opponent, the race “might be tilting in favor of Adams,” said veteran political analyst Bob Holsworth, a former dean at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Holsworth said Adams appeared vulnerable when she become entangled this summer in a lawsuit from a former aide, Maureen Hains, who is accusing the delegate of hacking into her personal email records to delete files related to work Hains performed for Adams’ medical consulting business.

“I thought given the closeness of the elections last time, Adams’ legal trouble and the attractiveness of Coward as a candidate, that Republicans would have put more money in that race than they have,” Holsworth said.

“This was a nail-biter last time, right up to the end,” he said. “They’ve done very little to raise the profile of what would have been a very problematic situation.”

According to the most recent campaign finance data, Adams had raised $377,300, through Sept. 30, more than doubling Coward’s haul of $183,900.

Adams, who became the first openly lesbian member of the Virginia General Assembly, has received major support from Virginia megadonor Michael Bills, Gov. Ralph Northam and Emily’s List, a national group that supports Democratic female candidates. Through September, Adams had spent $166,000 and had $190,600 left in spendable cash.

At lower funding levels, Coward has received contributions from House Speaker Kirk Cox, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that works to elect Republican legislative majorities. He had spent $131,580 as of Sept. 30, and had $23,000 in spendable cash.

All 140 House and Senate seats will be up for election on Nov. 5. Republicans now hold a 51-48 edge in the House, with one seat vacant.

Adams declined an interview request, but according to her campaign website, her top priority remains health care — an issue top of mind for voters in Virginia, according to polls. Adams touts her “three decades” of experience in health care, as a nurse and also a high-ranking employee of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

“We can provide lower-cost care to ensure all citizens receive the preventative medical, dental, and eye care that will keep them healthy,” Adams’ platform reads, adding that she is also focused on addressing the opioid crisis, comprehensive mental health care, lowering the cost of dealing with a chronic illness and care for the elderly.

Adams lists teacher pay, school infrastructure and the environment as other top issues.

During the July 9 special session on gun violence, Adams was patron of a proposal that would have limited handgun purchases by anyone except firearms dealers to one per month. (Virginia passed a law limiting handgun purchases to one a month in 1993 during Gov. Doug Wilder’s administration. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a measure to repeal the law in 2012.)

During the 2019 session, Adams successfully introduced a bill to allow the city of Richmond to ban former employees from lobbying on city-related matters for a year after their departure.

She also sought unsuccessfully to establish a commission on “wellness and opportunity” to study what wellness means for Virginians.

Coward, formerly an aide to Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, has never held public office, but is hoping to represent the voices of millennials and conservative African Americans if elected to the General Assembly.

Coward said in an interview that raising teacher pay and expanding public schooling options for people in the district is at the top of his platform. Coward says he supports charter schools — publicly funded, privately operated schools — in Richmond and surrounding areas.

Coward also supports lowering health care costs and growing Virginia’s economy by making it an attractive state for business.

“Protecting our ‘right-to-work’ laws is very important, and broadly protecting business-friendly laws,” he said.

Adams recently attacked Coward in a digital ad for failing to take a stance on gun control. Coward, in an interview, said that he supports background checks for the purchase of high-capacity magazines and weapons that use them. He said he has not taken a formal stance on “red flag” laws that would remove weapons from people deemed a risk; he said he has concerns about due process.

Coward, meanwhile, has been sharing on Facebook articles related to the lawsuit Adams is facing. Last month, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Adams shared private patient health information with a former legislative aide as part of work the aide performed for Adams’ health care consulting firm.

The aide, Maureen Hains, is suing Adams in federal court for allegedly hacking into her email account to delete evidence of the work.

“It’s concerning that she violated people’s privacy and the privacy of their health care records,” Coward said. “We need answers.”

Adams’ lawyers have denied any wrongdoing by the delegate.

'Hail Mary' - Virginia delivers van company, 700 jobs to fill void from Ikea loss in Danville

Two days after Commerce and Trade Secretary Brian Ball learned that Ikea would close its furniture manufacturing plant in the Danville area and lay off 300 workers, he learned that a Michigan-based delivery van company was eliminating Virginia from its search for factory sites.

“I said, ‘We might have another site for you,’ ” Ball remembered telling the owner of Morgan Olson, the manufacturer of step-in delivery vans for customers such as UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

A whirlwind courtship ensued, resulting in a blockbuster economic development announcement Friday in Danville. Morgan Olson will invest almost $58 million in the soon-to-be vacant Ikea plant in Ringgold in Pittsylvania County and create 703 jobs that will more than fill the employment void left by the European home furnishing giant’s imminent departure.

“This is kind of a one-in-a-hundred opportunity, a real Hail Mary pass,” said Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

The deal — including $8.8 million in state incentives and almost $1.2 million from a tobacco region revitalization fund — represents a major victory for Gov. Ralph Northam in his quest to boost the economy of communities far from Virginia’s urban crescent of Northern Virginia, the Richmond area and Hampton Roads.

The announcement also capped a week that began with a meeting in Southwest Virginia with the governor and officials for Amazon, which announced almost a year ago that it would build its second headquarters in Arlington County.

“As a native of rural Virginia, I fight every day to ensure all parts of our commonwealth can participate fully in our economic growth,” said Northam, whose native Eastern Shore sometimes has been left off of Virginia maps.

Ball called the timing of the Morgan Olson opportunity “fortuitous” on the heels of the Ikea announcement, but he said it didn’t happen by accident. “The governor has been pushing us hard on job and capital investment — everywhere, not just the usual places,” he said.

Morgan Olson’s plan to convert the Ikea plant — covering almost 1 million square feet — comes as a godsend to a small metropolitan area that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Corey Stewart derided as “boarded up” and “sad” just a year ago in comments that sparked a furious backlash among local leaders and an editorial by the Danville Register & Bee that called it “a cheap shot at Danville.”

The announcement in July that Ikea planned to close the plant because of the high costs of building materials was “depressing,” acknowledged state Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg, who is seeking a fifth term representing a Southside district that covers parts of Danville and Pittsylvania.

Ruff is chairman of the Major Employer Incentive Project Approval Commission, a legislative oversight panel that approved the state incentive package for the project on Aug. 20. “It was an easy sell,” he said.

Ball and Southside business leaders Ben Davenport and Charles Majors, who play prominent roles in Virginia’s fledgling GO Virginia economic development initiative, personally courted the owner of Morgan Olson — John B. Poindexter, a Texas manufacturing magnate and Vietnam veteran who already has bought 3,500 acres of land near his family’s ancestral home in New Kent County.

Poindexter toured the Ikea plant July 28, culminating a courtship that began July 12, the same day Morgan Olson eliminated other Virginia sites from consideration for what was initially planned as two smaller facilities when the state was first contacted in May.

The push to seal the deal included economic development leaders from Danville and Pittsylvania, historic rivals that have worked closely together for two decades after the collapse of the tobacco, furniture and textile industries that had fueled the region’s economy.

“With this announcement, Morgan Olson will become the largest private employer in Pittsylvania County, and we are grateful for the company’s long-term commitment to the community,” said Bob Warren, a Pittsylvania supervisor who serves as vice chairman of the Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority.

It also included representatives of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, a higher education initiative partly financed by the regional tobacco fund, and Danville Community College, which are partners in the Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining. The regional center trains workers to be machinists in advanced manufacturing technologies.

“Make no mistake about it — it’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort down there,” said Todd Haymore, a former secretary of commerce and trade who grew up in Pittsylvania within sight of the Danville city line.

Haymore now leads the global economic development and commerce operation at Hunton Andrews Kurth, which represents the higher education institute in Danville. He was state agriculture commissioner under then-Gov. Tim Kaine when Ikea announced in October 2006 that it would build its only North American factory outside of Danville and eventually have up to 740 jobs.

The factory opened in 2008 with a workforce of 300, which grew but not to the full scale envisioned initially. Ikea announced July 10 that it would close the plant in December, giving its union workforce six months’ notice.

The Morgan Olson project will give Virginia its first chance to test a new customized workforce training program that Moret — head of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership — has modeled on similar programs in Georgia and in Louisiana, where he was secretary of economic development under then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The two-year budget that the General Assembly adopted and Northam signed last year includes $7.5 million to create the program, which just launched as the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program. The program will work with the Virginia Community College System to help businesses recruit and train workers, especially for high-skill jobs.

“This is going to be a great first project for us,” Moret said.

Morgan Olson President and CEO Mike Ownbey called the state workforce program “one of the most attractive aspects of locating in Danville-Pittsylvania County” because it will “help us quickly attract and train the high-quality workforce we need to deliver for our customers.”

The area also was helped by a $648,000 grant from GO Virginia last year to test a technology training initiative — dubbed GO TEC — in Danville and Pittsylvania middle schools that soon will expand across the Southside region to develop skilled workers. “What they’re seeing is a pipeline that’s being developed,” said Linda Green, executive director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance.

Green, who also directs economic development at the institute in Danville, said that without the workforce training initiatives, “we wouldn’t have won the game.”

The incentive package for the project includes:

  • a $7 million state grant through the MEI commission that will be paid as Morgan Olson invests capital and creates jobs under the agreement with the state;
  • a $1.195 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, established 20 years ago with money from the master tobacco settlement with states;
  • $1.5 million from the Virginia Enterprise Program run by the Department of Housing and Community Development to encourage investment and job creation in economically stressed areas;
  • $300,000 in state tax credits for creation of full-time jobs; and
  • an unspecified amount of sales and use tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment.

Morgan Olson has promised to give current Ikea employees “priority consideration” in company hiring for the new plant, the governor’s office said.

Green said the Ikea workforce has the applied skills to adapt to making automobiles instead of furniture. “You couldn’t have dreamed of a better fit,” she said.

Morgan Olson also was looking for an existing facility to house the new operation, so the Ikea plant helped sell the site, Green said. “The building is a stellar manufacturing facility.”

Based in Sturgis, Mich., the company is one of eight subsidiaries of J.B. Poindexter & Co. Inc., which began in 1983 as a private equity investment partnership in New York City.

The company now is based in Houston, Poindexter’s hometown. The subsidiaries have combined annual revenues of $1.4 billion and 6,200 employees.

Moret, hired in late 2016, called the project “a really rare opportunity” to replace one closing business with a bigger new one, but he credited the region for unifying to overcome decades of economic setbacks.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a region that has come together in a more collaborative way to create a new future for itself,” he said.

The story behind today’s Insight page
From the designer: Mexican tacos are part of my culinary history

Growing up in Southern Mexico, tacos were all around me.

I did not eat them often because my mother cooked pretty much every family meal, so it was only when I moved to the United States that I started to truly appreciate their authenticity.

Yucatan, the place where I lived before immigrating here, has one of the most rich and diverse cuisines of all of Mexico.

With Lebanese and Cuban influences, among others, the Yucatecan gastronomy is unique and simply exquisite.

Such dishes as relleno negro, kibis, cochinita pibil, poc chuc, salbutes, sopa de lima and queso relleno (my absolute favorite) only scratch the surface of the extensive fare you will find in this region. And the desserts! Don’t get me started on the desserts ...

But no matter how extensive the Mexican cuisine might be or how authentic a dish is because of its ingredients or the region it’s from, tacos are the one thing you’ll find everywhere in Mexico.

And because they’re one of the most iconic of all Mexican foods, tacos can be found anywhere in the world.

As someone who has eaten many kinds of tacos on both sides of the border, one thing is clear to me: It does not matter what kind they are: authentic, inspired, traditional or fusion, everyone loves them.

And every time I visit Yucatan, I eat as many cochinita pibil tacos as I can and come back weighing a few extra pounds — totally worth it.

‘We'll always have that hole in our hearts’: YWCA Richmond vigil held to remember those lost to domestic violence

Nicole Rawlings had no idea her twin sister was in a toxic relationship until police found her shot to death in her Henrico County town home on New Year’s Eve.

“I don’t know what she went through,” Rawlings said Thursday night after a YWCA Richmond vigil that was held to remember all those lost to domestic violence. “With her here, it wasn’t clear. But without her. ...”

Rawlings, who was a guest speaker at the vigil, said her sister had no visible signs of bruising. She wasn’t isolated. She was unhappy in a relationship, which her family knew but wasn’t a red flag by itself, Rawlings said.

It wasn’t until two weeks after Michelle Rawlings’ death and a week after she was laid to rest that Nicole Rawlings found some answers in her 25-year-old sister’s diary.

“I read it,” Nicole Rawlings said. “But I heard her speaking it. I literally had a panic attack. Her being my second half, my best friend, my twin — I was supposed to protect her. She didn’t tell me.”

Henrico police said Michelle Rawlings was the victim in an apparent murder-suicide. She and Tyshawn Buckner, 24, were found dead in the 3600 block of Kings Point Court, off North Laburnum Avenue.

Linda Tissiere, the CEO of YWCA Richmond, said the most dangerous time in a relationship in which there is intimate partner violence is when the person being abused is brave enough to leave. Her organization hopes to provide a safe landing spot for those fleeing violence, as well as a platform to rebuild their lives.

“At YWCA Richmond, we are on a mission to be the source of strength and safety and transformation for survivors of domestic violence in our region,” Tissiere said. The YWCA offers a 24-hour regional hotline — (804) 612-6126 — and resources such as counseling and emergency sheltering.

For the past 24 years, the YWCA has held a vigil in October, which is designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, during which volunteers and staff recite a list of names of those lost in the Richmond region.

Despite their best efforts, the list continues to grow.

“Every year, we hope that we’re not going to have to add new names,” Tissiere said. “We want to remember those we’ve lost, but we don’t want to have to mourn the passing of new victims.”

Along with Michelle Rawlings, added to the list this year were Nariah Ivy Brown, a 17-month-old girl who died after a brutal sexual assault in a Richmond hotel; and Johnathan R. Holloman, 33, who authorities believe was stabbed by his wife while the couple’s children were in their South Richmond home.

“We’ll always have that hole in our hearts,” said Michael Rawlings Sr., who coaches girls basketball at Atlee High School in Hanover County. Michelle Rawlings, his daughter, was his assistant coach. “That can’t heal because it’s missing.”

Two years ago next month, Eddie Wyatt’s daughter Renita Williams, 32, and grandson Jaishaun Wells, 15, were killed by Williams’ husband.

“I’m just trying to get back now,” Wyatt told the crowd when organizers asked families to share how they’re honoring their loved ones. “I’m trying to dig out of this hole, and stop blaming myself.”

Wyatt started an organization called Dads Against Domestic Violence to help connect people with resources. The organization’s tagline reads: “Tell somebody what’s really going on.”

The Rawlings family set up The Michelle L. Rawlings Legacy Foundation to honor their loved one, who graduated from Norfolk State University with a psychology degree. They awarded the foundation’s first scholarship this year to a former Atlee basketball player who now attends Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We just want to keep on doing things in her name so that she continues to live on shining like the bright person that she was,” said Michael Rawlings II, Michelle’s brother.