Joe Morrissey officially began his latest political comeback bid Wednesday night, appearing in a parking lot off Jefferson Davis Highway to tell a crowd of more than 150 that he was back in the fight.
Morrissey — a controversial former state delegate known for shocking the sensibilities of the Richmond power structure and casting himself as a champion for underserved communities — formally announced his run for the state Senate at a kickoff party at the Satellite Restaurant that featured free hot dogs, food trucks and a DJ.
After vacating his House of Delegates seat in 2015 and finishing third in the 2016 Richmond mayoral race, Morrissey is challenging Sen. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg in a Democratic primary.
After taking the stage to “Eye of the Tiger,” Morrissey promised a singular focus on constituent service, saying he had been knocking on doors in the district for months asking people what they want from their government.
“I am not interested in going to parties and festivities. I’m interested in going to work for you,” Morrissey said. “I will never give up. I will never quit. I will do everything in my being to make your lives better.”
He said he’d press for a higher minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, better bus routes, and sidewalks and school infrastructure for Richmond’s East End and South Side. He also said he’d try to bring more resources to Petersburg, a city he said is regressing and needs a stronger advocate at the statehouse.
In an interview, Morrissey, a former Richmond prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney, said he’s not concerned his critics may bring up the scandals that have dogged him, such as his physical altercations and the scandal that erupted in 2013 over his relationship with a then-17-year-old receptionist in his law office who is now his wife.
“I simply don’t care,” Morrissey said. “Have at it.”
Morrissey faced criminal charges over the relationship. He was convicted on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after entering an Alford plea, maintaining his innocence while acknowledging there was enough evidence to convict him.
Morrissey’s wife, Myrna, attended the kickoff, as did the couple’s three young children. As she introduced her husband, Myrna Morrissey told the crowd she knows him “to his core.”
“You all have seen him in the courthouse,” she said. “You’ve seen him fight for the underdog. He fights for any and everybody.”
Morrissey worked the crowd for more than half an hour before his speech, posing for multiple photos with supporters.
“He’s a stand-up guy. He has a beautiful family,” said Keisha Delbridge, a 30-year-old medical assistant from Richmond.
Morrissey won a special election in early 2015 to reclaim his seat in the 74th House District, which covers parts of Richmond and Henrico County and all of Charles City County. But he vacated the seat a few months later to run for the state Senate in Dance’s district.
He suspended the Senate campaign that September, citing a health issue. He recovered and ran for Richmond mayor in 2016, falling short after several polls showed him as the front-runner. More recently, Morrissey began a new gig as a radio talk show host on Richmond-based WJFN.
As he attempts another political comeback, Morrissey is also fighting to regain his ability to practice law. Last year, a three-judge Virginia State Bar panel revoked his law license after a weeklong hearing on misconduct allegations leveled against him, one of them directly related to the controversy over his relationship with his future wife.
Morrissey has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to reverse the bar’s decision to revoke his license and dismiss the misconduct charges. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Morrissey’s case on April 19.
The Dance-Morrissey primary will be on June 11. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election this year.
The heavily Democratic 16th Senate District stretches from eastern and southern Richmond through portions of Chesterfield County to Hopewell and Petersburg. It also includes portions of Dinwiddie and Prince George counties.