Five candidates squared off during the only televised mayoral debate at the Altria Theater last Monday night, in the final stretch of the race before the Nov. 8 election.
Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney, Former Venture Richmond Executive Jack Berry, former State Delegate Joe Morrissey, City Council President Michelle Mosby (9th District – South Central) and City Councilman Jon Baliles (1st District – West End) each cracked the 1 percent threshold in an August poll to qualify for the debate.
WCVE News director Craig Carper and NBC12 news anchors Curt Autry and Diane Walker each asked the candidates questions submitted by members of ChamberRVA, the nonprofit business association and host of the night’s debate.
The first question was directed at Morrissey, who leads the pack in six of the nine individual districts, according to a poll released by ChamberRVA in preparation for the debate.
The moderators asked Morrissey to address a recent attack ad, released by the Mosby campaign, highlighting his 2015 legal battle after admitting to a sexual relationship with a then-17-year-old receptionist at his law firm.
“(Mosby) has every right to express her free speech in the way she feels is appropriate, and that’s what she’s done,” Morrissey said. “And I would defend her right to do that. But with regard to Myrna, she is my wife. We have two beautiful, healthy children. And we’re very happy.”
Mosby’s ad describes how Morrissey entered an Alford plea for the reduced charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
“I do not see any legislation that was passed by Mr. Morrissey that would help the African-American community,” Mosby said at the debate. “Married or not married this young lady was underaged. And to me — for anyone in the African American community — they would have went to jail had they done that to a young lady.”
The exchange between Morrissey and Mosby regarding Morrissey’s track record as 74th district representative in the Virginia House of Delegates became a recurring theme of both the televised and non-televised segments of the debate.
“People have to look at my body of work,” Morrissey said.
Morrissey said his dedication to representing and defending the rights of underdogs is visible in the kinds of cases he’s taken during his 30-year-long law career, including his tenure as the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney.
“This afternoon, while most of my colleagues were preparing for this debate, I spent nine hours in the John Marshall Courts Building defending a young man accused of assault on police officers,” Morrissey said. “And he was acquitted at about 6:05 (p.m.)”
The moderators asked Baliles if the Richmond Economic Development Authority “gave away the farm” in courting California-based Stone Brewing Co. to the East End with tax incentives, hence creating an unfair advantage over local breweries.
Baliles said there were safeguards to ensure Stone Brewing paid outstanding debts on time and as mayor he would ensure the corporate brewery never took precedent over “the Hardywoods and the Triple Crossings and the little guys.”
Morrissey disagreed vociferously.
“I think the city gave it away,” Morrissey said. “We gave an independent, private company $33 million, including $23 million in general revenue bonds, which are redeemable at taxpayers’ expense.”
Morrissey tied the Stone Brewing deal to controversial city public-private partnerships spanning decades.
“We didn’t learn our lesson with the Redskins stadium when we built the second-richest team in the NFL a $14 million stadium,” Morrissey said, “We didn’t learn our lesson with Sixth Street Marketplace or Main Street Station.”
Morrissey’s continued calls for no public funding for the new Squirrels stadium, as well as other economic development projects, have become a central theme of his mayoral campaign.
“Municipalities should not be in the business of private sector endeavors,” Morrissey said.
The debate audience applauded Berry louder and more often than any other candidate onstage, despite frequent appeals from debate moderators to quiet down.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, ChamberRVA is not legally allowed to endorse political candidates.
Jim Thomma, Contributing Writer