Tomorrow’s Democratic primary, pitting incumbent Rosalyn Dance against notorious Richmond political figure Joe Morrissey, will likely decide the 16th District’s next State Senator.
In the past decade, Joe Morrissey has brandished an AK-47 on the floor of the House of Delegates, spent three months in jail after being convicted of sex crimes, and placed third in Richmond’s 2016 mayoral election. Now he may be heading to Virginia’s Senate.
Voters in Virginia’s 16th Senate District will go to the polls on Tuesday, June 11. With no Republicans filed to run in the district, the Democratic primary between Morrissey and incumbent Rosalyn Dance will likely decide who will be representing the district for the next four years.
Senate District 16, comprised of parts of Petersburg, Hopewell, and Richmond’s East End, as well as parts of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, and Prince George Counties, has been represented by Dance since 2014.
Currently seeking her third term as state senator for the district, Dance has a long history in public service. She served as mayor of Petersburg from 1992 through 2004. The following year, she was elected to represent the 63rd district in Virginia’s House of Delegates, an office she held through 2014 when she won a special election to replace Henry Marsh, who retired that same year.
Dance is perhaps best known in Virginia for a bill introduced in 2019 to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021. Dance has been introducing similar legislation over the last three legislative sessions, but never to any success; the most recent bill was defeated along party lines 21-19 in January.
Though the legislation didn’t pass, Dance has been able to tout the attempt during her re-election campaign.
“I have always strived to make a difference, to put my constituents first, to improve their lives and to govern with our values and principles,” Dance said in a press release at the launch of her re-election campaign.
Securing the funding for the construction of a hospital in Dinwiddie County and co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to clean up coal ash ponds in Chesterfield County have also been achievements Dance is emphasizing as the primary election nears. A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Dance has built up status during her time in Virginia’s capital that makes her attractive to voters.
While she is a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which repeatedly called for the governor to resign during his blackface scandal in February, Northam’s The Way Ahead PAC has donated $10,000 to Dance’s re-election campaign. Northam and Dance have publicly accompanied one another several times in the past few months, including an appearance at a luncheon for the United Negro College Fund. Other prominent Virginian Democratic figures, including Senator Tim Kaine and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, have lent their support to Dance.
Despite some big names backing Dance, Joe Morrissey is staging a competitive run against the incumbent.
Morrissey has a long and storied history in Virginia politics. In addition to running for state Senate and hosting his Fighting Joe Morrissey morning radio show on WJFN, he is also currently appealing his second disbarment. His first disbarment came in 2003 on account of “frequent episodes of unethical, contumacious, or otherwise inappropriate conduct,” according to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was reinstated to the bar in 2011.
Morrissey was disbarred a second time in 2018. The disbarment followed a highly publicized scandal in which Morrissey was jailed for three months after being convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in 2014.
The conviction came after it was discovered Morrissey was having sex with a 17-year-old receptionist employed at his Henrico law office. A member of the House of Delegates at the time, Morrissey was pressured by members of his own party to resign. Today, Morrissey and his former receptionist are married with three children.
Though clearly controversial, Morrissey has a reputation in the district of being able to get things done. He enjoys strong support from working class African-Americans who see him as someone that can improve material conditions in the district.
“I think I can make Senate District 16 better,” he is quoted by the Village News as saying at an event in Richmond last month.
As his campaign kicked off, Morrissey vowed to push for the decriminalization of marijuana, increased funding for infrastructure, and more representation for Petersburg, a city the Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes the candidate as saying is in need of more advocacy.
Like Dance, Morrissey has also come out in favor of a higher minimum wage.
The final week of the race has been characterized by controversy regarding the Morrissey campaign’s finance reports. Dance criticized Morrissey’s claim that his campaign only had two expenditures to report. “Everyone knows campaigns are filled with expenditures, large and small,” the Progress-Index quotes Dance as saying.
The Morrissey campaign responded to the attack, saying that a processing error made by campaign manager Whitney Spears is to blame.
The finance report incident is the latest in a series of controversies that has been rattling the Virginia Democratic Party in 2019. Governor Northam’s blackface scandal was the catalyst for the unveiling of sexual assault allegations directed at Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, as well as Attorney General Mark Herring’s admission of having worn blackface in the 1980s. Some in the party fear that a figure like Morrissey in the Senate could create problems for Virginia Democrats who are looking to win back the full trust and support of voters.
The primary is being held on Tuesday, June 11 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. All registered voters regardless of party are eligible to vote in Virginia’s primaries. To find out if you live in the 16th State Senate District and are eligible to vote in this primary, enter your address into the “Who’s My Legislator?” database at whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov.