The Democratic Party of Virginia took legal action against mayoral front-runner and former state delegate Joe Morrissey for sending a “misleading” campaign mailer on Nov. 2.
The Morrissey campaign mailer included a Democratic Party sample ballot with only Morrissey, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and 4th congressional district candidate Donald McEachin listed.
“No one should infer from this mailer, which has no legal disclaimer whatsoever, that I support Joe Morrissey for mayor,” McEachin stated after he was included on the Morrissey campaign sample ballot. “I do not.”
The DPVA, Richmond City Democratic Committee and Levar Stoney campaign said the mailer implied Morrissey had been endorsed by the DPVA and RCDC, which is false. The RCDC has officially endorsed Stoney, who was former Secretary of the Commonwealth under Governor Terry McAuliffe.
The same day, 1st District Councilman Jon Baliles withdrew his candidacy to minimize the risk of splitting the vote and Morrissey subsequently winning the mayoral seat.
“While there are other candidates who can ably fill the mayor’s job duties, there is one who simply cannot,” Baliles stated in the announcement he was withdrawing from the mayoral race. “Regrettably, that candidate’s selfishness and stunts only grow with the approach of Election Day.”
Baliles was included in the only televised mayoral debate after polling in the top-five alongside Morrissey, Stoney, City Council President Michelle Mosby and Venture Richmond Executive Jack Berry.
Baliles’ statement acknowledged his withdrawal from the race is not a guarantee of the “absence of a fragmented count” because there are at least two major alternatives to Morrissey, but he could no longer risk helping elect someone who “so plainly cares only about himself.”
Baliles then asked other candidates in the six-way race to follow his lead in withdrawing their candidacy because “not doing so could result in the outcome so many people fear.”
According to the latest poll by ChamberRVA, Morrissey is leading in six districts, and former Venture Richmond CEO Jack Berry leads the other three. At the time of data collection in October, more than 40 percent of respondents were still undecided.
Stoney released a statement on Nov. 2 in response to Baliles withdrawing his candidacy.
“Jon elevated the debate in this race and it has been an honor to run with him,” Stoney said in the statement. “I know he will continue to listen to needs of Richmonders and find ways to serve our city.”
Three days later, Baliles announced his official endorsement for Stoney’s mayoral bid on Nov. 5. According to the ChamberRVA poll, Stoney polled in second place in each of Richmond’s nine districts.
“Earlier this week, I asked my supporters to not vote for me on the ballot on Tuesday to send a message because the stakes are too high and our city’s future is too valuable,” Baliles wrote in his statement endorsing Stoney. “My endorsement of Levar Stoney for mayor comes down to my belief that he best represents the next generation of leadership for our city that will work collaboratively with others to make the best decisions.”
The escalating controversy surrounding Morrissey’s mayoral run follows an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch published Oct. 28. recording the account of a former client, Kanika Shani Morris, who alleged Morrissey pressured her for sex and nude photos after agreeing on a reduced retainer fee.
Morris told the Times-Dispatch that Morrissey handed her case to a different attorney in his firm after she repeatedly denied or ignored his texts requesting photos. When she appeared in court, the new attorney allegedly informed Morris she would be taking a guilty plea, which included a 90 day sentence.
Morris, who is seven-months-pregnant and has a child with a chronic medical condition, cried throughout her sentencing, according to court transcripts. A judge allowed Morris to withdraw her guilty plea and released her from jail after only two weeks. The night Morris was released she spoke with the Times-Dispatch and the article published the following day.
“I did not handle (Morris’) guilty plea,” reads a statement from Morrissey released the same day as the article. “The two lawyers who represented Ms. Morris will confirm that her allegations are specious.”
Morrissey held a subsequent press conference at his home where he adamantly denied the allegations and demanded the Times-Dispatch retract the story. While Morrissey refuted at any point being alone or “otherwise intimate,” with Morris, he did acknowledge sending “flirtatious” texts.
“And while I don’t recall the exact texts, I don’t deny them at all,” Morrissey said during the Friday press conference. “What I do deny is ever, ever having any contact with her outside of my office after that first day with the exception (of) a preliminary hearing in June.”
Morrissey has been disbarred three times since 2003, and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor is investigating this case.
The Times-Dispatch reported on Nov. 1 that an inmate who was serving time with Morris said she called Morrissey when she heard what was being reported.
“When (Kanika) was ready to go, that was last week, either Tuesday or Wednesday, ‘I’m like, Kanika, how you getting out so quick?’ She was like, ‘I sit back and contemplated some s*** to be home, basically,’” the inmate said, according to the Times-Dispatch.
The inmate told the Times-Dispatch she interpreted this as meaning Morris was going to lie; she also said Morrissey has never represented her personally, but had dealings with her father.
The Times-Dispatch said one of Morris’ lawyers disputed the inmate’s story, stating Morris could not have known she would be released until the day it happened on Thursday, Oct. 27.
A Henrico sheriff’s deputy also corroborated Morris’ story, saying Morris was distressed when she got to jail and mentioned aspects of the same story she told the Times-Dispatch. The deputy told the Times-Dispatch she reported Morris’ grievances to her superiors.
“I hope he doesn’t win,” said Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in a statement to the Associated Press. Kaine, who was Richmond’s mayor in the 1990s, said he thinks Morrissey would really “be an embarrassment for the city.”
Sarah is a senior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, the Virginia Press Association awarded Sarah 3rd place for Public Safety Writing Portfolio and the Hearst Awards recognized her as the 4th place winner for Breaking News Writing. In April, Sarah was invited to the White House for the Administration’s inaugural College Reporter Day. She previously worked as an editorial intern for as Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C., as well as RVAmag and GayRVA.com
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