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Virgnia Reopens, Northam Issues Mask Order, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy Annnounces Her Gubernatorial Run: Political Analysis for Friday, May 29, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between the two.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include the continued re-opening of Virginia, controversy over Governor Northam and face masks, Senator Tim Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy announces her run for Governor in 2021.

Craig Carper:  From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper.  Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro.  Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning, Craig.

Carper:  Today Richmond, as well as Northern Virginia, emerge from the COVID lockdown after a two-week extension, but Mayor Levar Stoney isn't very happy about it.  And Governor Ralph Northam, who gave both more time, is suffering from a self-inflicted black eye over face masks.

Schapiro:  Quite the week on the COVID front.  The D.C. suburbs, of course Virginia’s economic engine and leader in infections, met four of the six yardsticks for easing restrictions.  That means, however, there will still be somewhat diminished restrictions for restaurants and religious services.  That means that they will only be available to half as many people as would normally attend; plus, restaurants are going to have to serve their meals outdoors.  That's certain to keep some of these establishments locked down, and it may make it tougher for a lot of them to reopen.  The issue of worshipers at churches, synagogues and mosques - not too long ago that went to a federal judge in Norfolk over in Accomack County, Northam’s home county and a hotspot on the Eastern Shore because of the poultry plants abundant there, as well as the seafood markets.  This restriction on churches had been upheld.  Now here in Richmond, Levar Stoney not only wanted more time, he wanted tougher restrictions.  And his concern, Richmond is a majority minority city.  This is where the virus is disproportionately affecting people of color, many of whom are holding those so-called front-line jobs.  Now Stoney is worried, as well, given that testing in the city is really just beginning to ramp up.  The governor said “no” to Stoney's request.  While few would doubt the mayor's concerns about health and safety in a city that's had problems with both, don't forget this is an election year.  Stoney has a chance here to affirm his credentials as an advocate for ordinary Richmonders, and of course after the Navy Hill debacle, people were asking whether Stoney was more interested in hanging out with the business class than the working class.  As for Northam, he's having a harder time these days playing Virginia's doctor-in-chief.  That credential took a big hit last Saturday.  He showed up without a mask at the Virginia Beach oceanfront.  He'd gone down there to see how the city's plan for controlling crowds was working.  And this maskless moment, if you will, is something for which the governor apologized at his briefing on Tuesday.  This is of course the same day that the governor said Virginians should be wearing masks in public.  He offered some exceptions - if you're dining out, having a cocktail, exercising.  Republicans are not happy with this.  They say the governor's being dictatorial.  The state's police chiefs were complaining that their officers have better things to do than enforce this masking requirement.  All of which brings us down to this issue of confusion over enforcement.  It's making it a lot harder for Northam to press this health and safety message.  Bottom line, he's essentially relying on people and businesses to use their best judgment and leaving it to the state health department to get an order, a court order, if a restaurant, shop, or office is lax on masks.  And that order could set up an individual or a business, perhaps, for a misdemeanor charge.  There's a lot that's new about this pandemic and the state's response to it, but I think our former colleague, Bob Lewis, who used to cover the State House for the Associated Press, nicely framed it in one of his occasional columns for the Virginia Mercury.  He said that of this challenge for Northam, just because he's a doctor and knows something about infectious diseases doesn't mean he necessarily knows how to manage the state's response to them on a mass scale.

Carper:  And Senator Tim Kaine and his wife Anne Holton, the acting president of George Mason university, apparently had the coronavirus and got through it.  They announced they tested positive for COVID antibodies yesterday.

Schapiro:  Kaine and Holton are at least the third public officials in Virginia who have had a brush with the disease.  Delegate Delores McQuinn of Richmond tested positive ahead of the legislature's one-day session last month.  This is a reminder that the disease can affect nearly everyone.  But let's not forget that most of the cases involve our friends, neighbors, and families, people we may never read about in the newspapers.  And remember, in Virginia there have been more than 36,000 confirmed cases and nearly 1,200 deaths.

Carper:  And Jeff, finally a two-term delegate, Jennifer Carroll Foy of Prince William officially declared for governor this week.  She's among six presumed and actual candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2021.

Schapiro:  Yes, and Carroll Foy has a great story to tell.  Born in poverty in Petersburg, she was graduated from VMI, went to law school in California, has been a public defender in Northern Virginia.  She and her husband, a high school coach, became parents of twins during her first campaign in 2017.  Carroll Foy, of course, was the lead sponsor for the Equal Rights Amendment this year when Virginia became the 38th state to approve it.  Carroll Foy had been thinking about running for attorney general.  She is actually running for governor as a politician in a hurry.  I would suggest that she's trying to make a positive of what some might consider a negative, you know, having served barely four years in elective office.  Her familiarity with politics and public policy are clearly going to be questioned by some.  And then the competition for the Democratic nomination, you know, it could be stiff.  Terry McAuliffe is running for governor again.  He held that job from 2014 until 2018.  Jennifer McClellan, a state senator from Richmond, she's been a legislator for 15 years.  She's also a lawyer with corporate experience, and that still counts for a lot in Virginia despite the liberal surge within the state Democratic party.  And don't forget the current attorney general, Mark Herring, and the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax.  They're apparently running despite having to answer for personal controversies, Herring, of course, going in blackface as a UVA undergrad and Fairfax facing allegations of sexual assault from two women.

Carper:  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Stay safe.



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