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Conor Lobb

Bloomberg Finds Support and Opposition in Richmond

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Roughly two weeks before Super Tuesday, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was in Richmond looking for support from voters and from many of the lawmakers whose campaigns he helped fund.

The day after Valentine’s Day, the Democratic presidential candidate campaigned around the city, stopping first for an afternoon speech at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. The event attracted about 900 people, according to his campaign staff. In the evening, Bloomberg attended the Blue Commonwealth Gala at Main Street Station in downtown Richmond. The gala is an annual fundraiser hosted by the Democratic Party of Virginia. 

“This is the event that keeps the lights on,” said Andrew Whitley, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia. 

During the Hardywood and Blue Commonwealth Gala events, Bloomberg apologized for the controversial stop-and-frisk policy in place when he was New York’s mayor. He said the policy disproportionately affected young men of color. Stop and frisk is a procedure where a police officer stops a person on the street if they believe they’re armed and pats them down to search for weapons. In 2011, during Bloomberg’s ninth year as mayor, the New York City Police Department stopped over 685,000 people under the stop-and-frisk policy, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. A majority of those searches were performed on Black or Lantinx people (87%). The NYCLU said that 88% of people stopped were innocent. 

“I defended it for too long, I think, because I didn’t understand the unintended pain it caused to young black and brown kids and to their families,” Bloomberg said. “And for that, I have apologized.”

Bloomberg pledged that if elected, he’d prioritize dismantling systems of bias and oppression. He did not elaborate what those systems were or how he would change them. 

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights advocacy group, protested at both of Bloomberg’s Richmond events. VCDL protesters, who are opposed to Bloomberg’s gun control policy, entered Hardywood brewery and called Bloomberg a fascist while he was speaking. They were removed from the brewery by Bloomberg supporters and staff and resumed their post outside. They did not enter Main Street Station but lined the street outside, where other anti-Bloomberg protesters were gathered. 

Anti-Bloomberg sentiment was also visible inside the gala. Jasmine Leeward, a board member of Richmond For All, approached the podium while Bloomberg was speaking and attached a sign that read: “He protects racist systems, will you?” It was quickly taken down and Leeward was escorted away from the stage. Richmond For All is a coalition that fights for housing, education, environmental rights and racial justice.

Leeward explained the sign, saying that Bloomberg protects racist systems by only offering an apology and “not actually repaying for the harms that were caused by his stop-and-frisk policies.”

“I saw a lot of politicians, both at the city and state level, kind of forgiving or not being truthful and honest about how dangerous he would be as a president,” Leeward said. “And so I did what I felt like I needed to do, which was to talk to the people who have the power to get him elected and ask them if they support racist systems and protect them, as I feel Mike Bloomberg does.”

After the sign was removed, Bloomberg said, “It’s always nice to be welcomed.”

At the gala, six Democratic candidates for president were represented by surrogates, influential people who campaign for candidates at events, but Bloomberg was the only candidate who appeared. Virginia’s key leaders were in attendance, including Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Virginia Congresswomen Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton. 

Bloomberg received support from Filler-Corn during her speech at the gala.

“I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg for helping to turn Virginia blue,” Filler-Corn said.

Bloomberg said winning in Virginia is a key part of his electoral strategy.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group largely funded by Bloomberg, has spent $3.8 million since 2017 to help usher in Democratic legislators. After the 2019 elections, the Democrats gained a majority in Virginia’s executive and legislative branches for the first time since the early ’90s. 

Bloomberg said that defeating President Donald Trump is one of the main reasons he entered the race. 

Charles Bissett, an Army veteran who is leaning toward voting for Bloomberg, said that he thinks that Bloomberg will have the best chance of implementing Democratic policy. In particular, Bissett supports how Bloomberg handled education reform as mayor of New York.

Under Bloomberg’s administration, the graduation rate for high school students went from less than half to nearly two-thirds, according to a 2013 article by The Atlantic. Bloomberg also said he raised teacher salaries in New York by 43%.

Bloomberg ranks third in an average of national polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to polling data from RealClearPolitics that also has Sen. Elizabeth Warren closely trailing him.

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Virginia Lawmakers Break For Brunswick Stew

People line up for Brunswick stew

Legislative pages transport stew

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The aroma of meat and vegetables beckoned state legislators Wednesday to a tent at the foot of the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day.

Scores of legislative pages -- young aides who assist lawmakers -- wheeled carts laden with styrofoam containers of stew back toward the State Capitol for legislators who couldn’t get away.

“There’s no cooking supper when you come home with Brunswick stew,” said Del. Thomas C. Wright, R-Victoria. Wright was the legislative “chef” responsible for the official resolution designating the fourth Wednesday in January as Brunswick Stew Day. 

“The legislators love it. At first, they didn’t even know what Brunswick stew was,” Wright said. 

Brunswick stew is a mixture of beans, chicken, corn and other vegetables. In 1988 the Virginia General Assembly named Brunswick County the “birthplace” of Brunswick stew -- though the designation hasn’t gone unchallenged by Brunswick, Georgia. 

For 18 years, stew masters have brought their award-winning recipes to the Capitol. This year, the honor belongs to the Danieltown Stew Crew. The group won the 2019 World Champion Brunswick Stew Cook-off, held last fall at the Lawrenceville-Brunswick Municipal Airport.

Inside the steamy, white tent where the stew cooked, a three-man team stirred the stew pots, weighing 50 and 75 gallons, respectively. Clark Bennett, the Danieltown Stew Master, told Capitol News Service that his 75-gallon pot is over 100 years old.

“Some people call them cauldrons,” Bennett said.

Bennett was using two massive cast iron cauldrons to brew his version of the Brunswick tradition. The stew crew used a wooden paddle to constantly stir the hearty mixture.

“I do a figure eight. You don’t want it sticking to the pot,” said Kyle Gee, a member of the stew crew.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring said that Brunswick Stew Day is a great tradition in Brunswick County and rustic parts of the state. She also called it an opportunity to educate legislators about rural communities.

Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge said Brunswick Stew Day helps promote the county and reach legislators.

“It’s important that they understand issues that impact Brunswick County and rural communities,” Woolridge said, highlighting the importance of increasing rural broadband and stimulating economic development.

Del. Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Jarratt, represents Brunswick. She said broadband is imperative “to promote economic development and attract businesses.” 

Two duplicate bills were introduced this legislative session, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would grant a locality the authority to establish telecommunication services such as internet and broadband.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, asked for her bill to be removed and the other bill, introduced by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, failed to pass a subcommittee Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the bowls of steaming stew had no problem being passed around.

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Breakfast and a Prayer Before 2020 General Assembly Convenes

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia legislators called for respect and civility across the aisle just hours ahead of the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session. 

Several prominent figures spoke at the 54th Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast held Wednesday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, including Gov. Ralph Northam, Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. The Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast is an annual gathering for Virginia politicians and community members to share a meal and prayers.

Many of the speakers reflected on the need for compassion and understanding toward one another and to consider the impact the legislation proposed this session will have on Virginians. Qarni said that the upcoming session will have contentious moments, but called on citizens and legislators not to “demonize” one another or rush to conclusions. He said that the country is deeply divided. 

“We are worried about war. We are worried about impeachment. We are worried about the future,” Qarni said in a speech shared with CNS after the event. “The world is a scary place right now. We are plagued with fears. But we must have faith, not just in our creator but in each other.” 

Northam spoke last, urging the freshman and veteran legislators present to remember that the General Assembly is built on relationships and that public visibility and scrutiny of this legislative session will be significant. 

“How we speak of and to each other will be heard well beyond the gates of Capitol Square,” Northam said.

Gregory preceded Northam with a similar sentiment, placing the responsibility for civility in the hands of the politicians.

 “Legislators,” Gregory said, “You have a big job and an important job.” 

 The General Assembly convened at noon on Wednesday. This session marks the first time in more than two decades that Democrats have control over the General Assembly and the governorship. Democratic leaders announced Tuesday an 11-point, legislative “Virginia 2020 Plan” that includes gun control measures, minimum wage increase, LGBT protections and increased education spending.

“We are presenting an agenda that is different from every previous General Assembly session,” Northam said in a press release unveiling the agenda. “It’s more forward looking than ever before, and it reflects what Virginians sent us here to do.”

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