Joe Morrissey, a former member of the House of Delegates and a controversial figure in local politics for decades, knocked off Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, Tuesday in a primary fight for the Democratic nomination.
Morrissey trounced Dance 56% to 44% in the 16th District, which includes parts of the city of Richmond and Chesterfield, Prince George and Dinwiddie counties, and all of the cities of Petersburg and Hopewell.
Morrissey’s win was fueled by his support in Petersburg, a majority-black city where his message of fixing schools and roads secured 3,354 votes of his districtwide total of 8,739 with 100% in, according to unofficial returns.
“We took the battle to Petersburg,” Morrissey said at Plaza Mexico restaurant in Petersburg, where he celebrated his victory, surrounded by his wife, Myrna, and four young children, one of whom yelled, “Daddy, you won!”
Morrissey also offered a rebuke for the Democratic establishment; Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe all backed Dance.
“What we have in the Democratic Party is the top echelon dictating, anointing and appointing,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re not going to let the top folks at the Democratic Party determine who the candidates are going to be.”
Yolanda Stokes, a campaign volunteer and former Hopewell registrar, said Tuesday, “Lord have mercy, I am so happy. We needed a change.”
At her election night event, Dance said Morrissey was able to capture the localities where she has focused her work, including her hometown of Petersburg.
“The areas you work hardest for are the areas he was able to influence the most. It was all resting on Petersburg,” said Dance, who has held the Senate seat since 2014 and served in the House of Delegates from 2005 to 2014.
On Morrissey’s message, which included fixing potholes and addressing high water rates, Dance said: “He was running a mayor’s race here in Petersburg. Ultimately they believed what he said, so he will get a chance to deliver on all he promised.”
In two other key Richmond-area primaries on Tuesday: Community college administrator Ghazala Hashmi defeated civil litigation lawyer Eileen Bedell and University of Richmond law student Zachary Brown for the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond; and Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, defeated Veena Lothe, a lawyer specializing in civil rights and immigration, for the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico.
Morrissey, a colorful and controversial former Richmond prosecutor, served eight years in the House as a Democrat before vacating the seat in 2015 for an unsuccessful challenge of Dance as an independent.
During his 30-year political career, he has brandished, sometimes literally, the image of “Fighting Joe” — a feisty populist who prides himself on serving constituents who are overlooked and underserved.
Morrissey’s reputation also includes a misdemeanor conviction of contributing to the delinquency of a minor involving relations with his then-17-year-old law firm employee, whom he later married. His wife became a prominent figure in his campaign and introduced him at the campaign kickoff in early April at the Satellite Restaurant in South Richmond.
After the conviction, Morrissey resigned his 74th House District seat, reclaimed it in a special election, and then served a six-month jail term while serving as delegate during the day during the General Assembly session in 2015.
He lost a bid for mayor of Richmond in 2016.
The Virginia State Bar disbarred him — for the second time in his legal career — a year ago, but he has appealed the decision.
During an interview last week, Morrissey said he had put a “tremendous amount” of effort into knocking doors in Petersburg. Pulling out thick binders filled with voter information, he explained how he connects with people by taking notes from each conversation and following up with a personalized letter.
Asked how it would feel to return to the General Assembly after all his troubles, Morrissey said he’s never been “one of these pomp and circumstance politicians.”
“I guess the greatest source of achievement is that the people say: ‘There’s been some obstacles and setbacks along the way ... OK. Got it. We want him back in there,’” Morrissey said. “That would certainly be extremely rewarding.”
Morrissey will likely go on to the state Senate in the absence of a Republican challenger.
The Dance-Morrissey race was among six primary contests in the Richmond area Tuesday. In other results:
Senate District 10
Hashmi topped Bedell and Brown for the right to challenge Sturtevant in a district that includes parts of Chesterfield County and the city of Richmond, plus all of Powhatan County.
If she defeats Sturtevant, Hashmi would become the first Muslim woman in the Virginia Senate.
Hashmi said in a statement: “The people of the 10th District need a senator who is committed to the idea that education is a public good, and it deserves to be funded more, not less; they also deserve a senator who knows that access to affordable, quality health care is a right for everyone, not just a privilege for the wealthy few, and who isn’t afraid to stand up to special interests so that we can pass common sense gun safety reforms.”
Bedell, who ran two unsuccessful congressional campaigns, had the early endorsement of Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th. Ultimately, Hashmi outraised Bedell and clinched the nomination with 49.4% of the vote.
Senate District 11
Amanda Pohl, an advocate for victims of sexual or domestic violence, defeated lawyer Wayne Powell for the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield.
The district includes a large swath of Chesterfield, and all of Amelia County and the city of Colonial Heights.
“We had a lot of grassroots support and a positive message,” Pohl said.
Senate District 12
Rodman captured 60% to Lothe’s 40%. The district is chiefly in Henrico, but includes a portion of Hanover County.
Rodman announced her run for state Senate after just one term in the House of Delegates — a seat she won by defeating Del. John O’Bannon, a 17-year Republican incumbent. Rodman had the early backing of Northam’s political team, which fielded criticism for boosting Rodman in a race where two women of color had already announced runs.
House District 68
Garrison Coward, chief operating officer for a Richmond-based predictive analytics firm, defeated Lori Losi, an accountant and financial consultant for a recruitment firm, in the Republican nomination fight to take on Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond.
The district includes parts of the city of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties.
Coward, 29, ran as a business-oriented moderate Republican who would bring diversity to the Republican cadre in the House as an African American.
“I am deeply moved by the expression of confidence from all three localities,” Coward said. “We will continue to run a campaign centered around common-sense ideas.”
House District 62
Lindsey Dougherty, a budget analyst for Chesterfield, and Tavorise Marks, regional coordinator for the Virginia Family and Fatherhood Initiative within the Virginia Department of Health, were in a tight contest for the Democratic nomination to run for a seat that is open with the retirement of Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell.
As of press time, the contest remained too close to call.
The Republican nominee is Carrie Coyner, a member of the Chesterfield County School Board.