Category Archives: Scandals

Mayberry on Acid

By Peter Galuszka

In a bizarre case for a small Virginia locality, 14 former and current local leaders of Warren County and Front Royal — including the entire Board of Supervisors — have been charged with misdemeanors relating to a major embezzlement case that involves the local economic development authority.

The Sept. 24 charges by the State Police follow the indictment in May of Jennifer McDonald, the former head of the local EDA, on 28 felony charges related to embezzling funds in a deal involving a promised new data center and office park.

Although he was not charged, Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound a few days after McDonald was indicted. He had been involved with an $8 million scheme to build a regional law enforcement training center at the project.

This could be the largest-ever public fund embezzlement scheme involving a single locality in Virginia’s history. To be sure, the state recently has had its share of schemes and scams. They include a $1.4 million state grant to a bogus Chinese company in Lynchburg. The executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission was caught siphoning away public funds some years ago. Continue reading

Blackface Controversies? That’s Still a Thing?

“Ralph Northam Assures Trudeau His Political Career Will Suffer No Consequences Whatsoever,” reads yesterday’s headline ripped straight off the Internet.

RICHMOND, VA—As Justin Trudeau found himself embroiled in a scandal over painting his face dark for ethnic costumes in the past, he began to despair. “How will I ever overcome this, eh?” he said, shaking his head. “I apologized, but we Canadians are always apologizing, so I’m not sure how to make anyone see that I really mean it this time.” …

Just then, the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Virginia Governor Ralph Northam with words of comfort for his progressive ally…

Oh, wait, that’s not an actual news story. It’s from the satire site, The Babylon Bee. For a moment there, they had me snookered.

Bad News at Richmond’s City Hall

Selena Cuffee-Glenn

Back in 2015, the City of Richmond was a managerial mess. Accusations flew of incompetence, conflicts of interest and revolving chair style management. One big problem was the deeply flawed installation of a financial computer system crucial to keeping the municipality functioning.

Then-Mayor Dwight Jones’s solution was to hire a ringer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, who had earned a reputation for efficiency and competence as Suffolk’s city manager. She had a pair of degrees from the University of Virginia and a personable manner. When Levar Stoney succeeded Jones as mayor in 2017, he kept Cuffee-Glenn as the city’s chief administrative officer.

Then, reports circulated that relatives of Cuffee-Glenn seemed to be getting prize positions. Her daughter got a job at the city’s human resources department. A niece didn’t even have to formally apply for her $70,000 a year position.

An Inspector General’s report showed that as many as six Cuffee-Glenn relatives were working in some city capacity. On Sept. 18, Stoney fired her.

She says that her hiring policies did not violate any rules. She says she had no role in helping relatives get jobs. Her husband, for example, works for the city Sheriff’s Department, which she does not oversee. On the other hand, one relative got a Public Utilities job at a higher than average hourly rate. Continue reading

Politico’s Juicy Tale of Liberty and the Falwells

by Peter Galuszka

Jerry Falwell Jr. is hitting the news big time following a Politico investigation that alleges self-dealing and sexual misconduct by the powerful head of the evangelical Christian school Liberty University.

More than two dozen Liberty officials and Falwell associates working for Falwell as a “dictatorship” where people are afraid of discussing issues involving him and the school. One allegedly said, “we’re not a school, we’re a hedge fund.”

Personally, I would not really care much about the inner workings of a private, religious school.

What makes this different is that the Falwell family has been major force in conservative, Christian politics for decades. Liberty’s phenomenal growth from a small bible school to a $3 billion operation with more than 100,000 students is a remarkable story.

Falwell’s and the Lynchburg school’s support of Donald Trump is curious given its intensity and contradictions due to Trump’s serial adultery and taped recorded admissions of sexual abuse. Liberty is so strict it hands out demerits or even expels students for what it considers sexual misconduct. Continue reading

Blackface Mystery Solved: Ralph Northam as Michael Jackson

Published in the Roanoke Times today, a concise synthesize of my blog posts about Ralph Northam costumed as Michael Jackson:

Ralph Northam’s racism controversy has tumbled down the memory hole. The governor has struck with the story that the photograph appearing in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of a man in blackface was not of him, and a McGuire Woods inquiry failed to find any evidence to prove otherwise. Critics who once called for his resignation have fallen silent as the governor pivoted left on social justice issues. And the media, which normally loves a good scandal, apparently has concluded that there is little left to be discovered.

But politicians and reporters are overlooking the obvious identity of the man in the yearbook photo — it is of Ralph Northam dressed in Michael Jackson costume. Continue reading

Give Fairfax a Chance to Clear His Name

Lawyers for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax have formally requested prosecutors in Suffolk County, Mass., and Durham County, N.C. to open criminal investigations into the sexual assault allegations made against Fairfax in February, reports WJLA.

The allegation of Meredith Watson, who accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000 when they were students at Duke University, should be fully investigated, argued Barry J. Pollack, Fairfax’s attorney, in the letter to the Durham County district attorney. Wrote Pollack:

If an investigation were to determine that the allegation is true, it should be criminally prosecuted. Conversely, if an investigation were to determine that the allegation is false, which Lt. Governor Fairfax is confident would be the conclusion of any unbiased and professional investigation, the matter could be closed and the public informed.

Continue reading

Elephant in the Corner? What Elephant?

The news media has settled into a new narrative about Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal: After keeping a low profile for four months following the revelation of a racist photo appearing in his 1984 medical school yearbook, the governor is back in the public eye and reasserting his gubernatorial prerogatives. Without explicitly saying that he has left the scandal behind, the media is saying… he has left the scandal behind.

Republicans continue to criticize Northam, but to little effect, and senior Democrats have all but forgiven him. Writes the Washington Post this morning: “Last week, several high-profile Democrats who questioned Northam’s leadership in February praised him for … calling the special session on guns, including U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner (Va.), as well as Northam’s scandal-scarred attorney general, Mark R. Herring.

Further, the Post quotes Christopher Newport University pundit Quentin Kidd as observing that most African-Americans want Northam to stay in office. “I would imagine all those Democrats who had called for his resignation would just forget about it,” says Kidd. “They would just act like nobody sees that elephant in the corner.”

Bacon’s bottom line: I can understand Republicans’ frustration at their inability to kneecap Northam politically. But I think they have mishandled the messaging. Continue reading

Northam Blackface Update: Head and Shoulders Analysis

As part of its examination into the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook scandal, in which an unidentified figure appeared in blackface on Ralph Northam’s profile page, investigators with the McGuire Woods law firm considered a piece of evidence submitted by Northam’s personal law firm, Alston & Bird: a facial recognition report. “This report, conducted by a reputable vendor,” summarized the McGuire Woods report, “found the image of the Photograph was not of sufficient quality to conduct a comparison with other photographs.”

While the photograph is of such poor quality that facial-recognition analysis may be impossible, there is much else than can be gleaned from the photo. I have made the argument in previous posts that the figure in blackface was dressed in Michael Jackson costume.

Now a clever reader, who asks to remain anonymous, suggests another thrust of analysis: measuring the slope of the person’s shoulders and the angle at which he holds his head.

States the reader: “I noticed that the figure in the yearbook photo stood in a somewhat awkward way, with his body leaning left but his head tilted to the right (from the vantage of the viewer).” He pulled photos of Northam off the Web for purposes of comparison. “This is not unbiased evidence because I selected photos that worked, rather than doing a random sampling of photos. But it does show that the way Northam stands at times does appear to be similar to the yearbook photo.  A chiropractor might be able to untangle this!” Continue reading

Northam in Blackface: Talk to the Hand

Several days ago I advanced the argument that the identity of the blackfaced individual in Ralph Northam’s infamous 1984 medical school yearbook was none other than Northam himself, garbed in the likeness of Michael Jackson. That theory landed with a resounding thud. No one in the media (or anywhere else, for I can tell) took note of the interpretation. But, then, no one offered any evidence to the contrary. Undeterred by the public’s extraordinary indifference to a fascinating question — c’mon, people, doesn’t anyone like a good whodunnit anymore? — I press on.

I have two more angles to explore. One angle demolishes one of Northam’s  explanations of why he believes the man in blackface was not him. But the other raises new questions, which, if answered, potentially could lead to information exonerating the governor — or convicting him.

Today, I focus on the hand of the man in blackface — the hand holding a can of beer.

But first, a refresher. Here are the specific reasons, cited in the McGuire Woods inquiry into the origins of the blackface photo, that Northam cited why he could not have been the man in blackface (hereinafter referred to as Blackface Dude). Continue reading

More Blackface Backlash

Governor Ralph Northam seems to be weathering the blackface scandal, but that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to suffer fallout from the P.R. debacle. The Virginia Southern Christian Leadership Conference is launching a statewide tour to address issues arising from revelations of a photograph of a person dressed in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb on Northam’s profile page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook.

Rev. William Keen, the organization’s president, said the SCLC believes more needs to be done to investigate the controversial picture appearing on Northam’s medical yearbook page, reports WSLS television. The article provided no details on what Keen found lacking in Northam’s denials that he was the figure in blackface.

(A good place to start would be to request answers from the governor arising from new evidence that the yearbook photo shows him attired in a Michael Jackson costume.)

Meanwhile, the Richmond Free-Press, an independent newspaper geared to Richmond’s African-American community, quotes representatives of several African-American organizations as demanding the Northam atone for the racial sins he committed 35 years ago. Continue reading

Update: Northam in Michael Jackson Costume

I have expanded the photographic evidence and commentary in my previous post, in which I argued that the figure in the infamous Eastern Virginia Medical Society yearbook photo was Ralph Northam costumed as Michael Jackson. I wrote the original post as a lark, but after digging deeper, I am 95% certain that my theory is correct. The post is definitely worth re-reading. I would welcome feedback on the plausibility of my interpretation.

Update: I have made even more extensive revisions to the previous post. In addition to buttressing the case that Northam posed as Michael Jackson in the blackface photo, I have added the following sections:

  • Cherchez la femme!
  • Fat legs, skinny legs
  • Bad teeth, worse photo
  • A Bud in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • Questions of chronology
  • An alternative narrative

The Blackface Photo: Northam as Michael Jackson

Governor Ralph Northam astonished the world at a press conference earlier this year when he denied appearing in blackface in a notorious 1984 medical school-yearbook photo — and then volunteered that he had darkened his skin that same year as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest.

The governor was widely mocked at the time for this admission and his seeming willingness to demonstrate the superstar’s signature moonwalk move in front of the cameras. However, a recently issued report by the McGuire Woods law firm was unable to find conclusive evidence that the governor appeared in the photograph, and, politically, the controversy seemed destined to fade away.

I beg to differ. My reading of the report finds that the law firm left many avenues of inquiry unexplored. Most significantly, the report failed to consider what be the most plausible interpretation of the photo: The figure in blackface was Northam dressed up as Michael Jackson!

Consider some points of similarity with the photo of Jackson below, taken in 1984:

Michael Jackson is wearing sunglasses. The figure in the photo is wearing sunglasses.

Michael Jackson is wearing a broad-rimmed hat. The figure in the photo is wearing a broad-rimmed hat.

In the photo to the left, Jackson’s hat is black, not white like that worn by the figure in blackface. But Jackson donned a wide variety of head wear, including a white fedora with a dark band that closely matches the hat worn by the figure in blackface.

A photo of that fedora, with Jackson’s signature, can be seen in a Pinterest photo, posted by the MJJC Legacy Team Project dedicated to “honouring, preserving & defending the legacy of Michael Jackson.”

Another point of similarity: the bow tie. Continue reading

Blackface Scandal: The Case for and Against Northam


There is plenty of evidence in the McGuire Woods report on the Northam/Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) blackface scandal to confirm whatever prejudices and preconceptions you had beforehand. If you believe that Governor Ralph Northam was not one of the figures in the infamous EVMS school yearbook photo, there are plausible though inconclusive arguments to support your view. If you believe he was, there are equally plausible-but-inconclusive arguments to back you up.

This morning I read the portions of the report (which you can access here), that pertain to Northam. (I skipped the lengthy sections probing EVMS’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion” since the 1980s.) My two main conclusions:

  1. The investigation, though extensive, was far from exhaustive. The investigators neglected to pursue lines of inquiry that would have added important context.
  2. Regardless of whether Northam was one of the two figures in the notorious photo, the odds are strong that he submitted the photo to the yearbook.

Herewith, I present what I believe are the most salient facts and arguments on both sides. Continue reading

Corruption Allegations Mar Fairfax County Board Race

Supervisor Jeff McKay, photo credit – WAMU

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there’s gambling going on here. Long time residents of Fairfax County will hardly be shocked to hear the news of a Fairfax County Supervisor being accused of unsavory business dealings with a land developer. Jeff McKay has been Lee District supervisor since 2007. He is currently vying for the top spot in Fairfax County – chair of the board. McKay, who faces opposition from three Democrats and one Republican for the office, has been accused of trading a political favor for a personal real-estate deal. As befitting the county which is home to the CIA, those allegations were surfaced through a lengthy anonymous legal memo circulated to the county attorney and the other members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. American University radio station WAMU broke the story yesterday.

To be very clear, these are allegations which may be true, partly true or (as McKay represents) a wholly untrue political attack. Supervisor McKay deserves to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

Continue reading

More Great Moments in Virginia Governance

Former Front Royal-Warren County EDA chief, Jennifer McDonald

Front Royal hanky panky. The Commonwealth Attorney of Warren County has asked to convene a special grand jury to probe “possible criminal activity” by the former executive director, Jennifer McDonald, of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, reports the Northern Virginia Daily. The request follows the Tuesday filing of a $17.6 million lawsuit by the EDA against nine defendants alleging financial improprieties including loans, use of lines of credit for certain projects, and authorization of work and purchase agreements of which the board was ignorant. “We, like many others, were misled and unaware of the extent and magnitude of this scheme,” said that board in a statement.

Meanwhile, back in the City of Richmond…

Sloppy accounting. An audit of Richmond city finances discovered poor accounting practices going back to the tenure of former Mayor Dwight C. Jones. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch: The audit “also found problems with the figures [Mayor Levar] Stoney’s administration said it had reconciled and released last summer.” Five of six accounts tied to school maintenance and construction did not have accurate balances, the result of erroneous or inappropriate charges and other sloppiness in accounting.” Continue reading