City Council President Michelle Mosby on Tuesday released a radio spot targeting Joe Morrissey, becoming the first mayoral candidate to attack the front-runner in an advertisement.
In the 60-second spot, Mosby challenges the former commonwealth’s attorney and state delegate’s record as a legislator and rehashes Morrissey’s recent criminal history.
“Joe’s the 57-year-old boss who claimed innocence but took an Alford plea for having sex with his employee – a 17-year-old black girl – then lied about it to keep himself out of jail,” Mosby says in the ad.
Later, Mosby says, “Joe’s been taking advantage of us for far too long. I wouldn’t trust Joe Morrissey with my daughter, and I’m asking you not to trust him with our city.”
In an interview, Mosby says she decided to target Morrissey because she does not feel that voters are aware of his past. “It’s not even negative, it’s just truth,” she says. “I think that I’ve been canvassing, and I have spent a lot of time having discussions with people, and I don’t think our people are truly informed, and they need to be.”
Morrissey’s position atop the field of seven candidates is due to his strong support in the majority African-American districts in South Richmond and the East End. A September poll showed him leading six districts, including the 9th, which Mosby has represented on Council since 2013.
Morrissey declined to comment on the content of the ad, but says Mosby was acting as “an attack dog” on behalf of two other mayoral candidates, whom he did not name.
“She’s doing it for two opponents,” Morrissey says. “I know with certitude that she’s gotten money from two of my other opponents’ campaigns that are contributing to her because they don’t want to go negative themselves, so they’re using Michelle. She’s entitled to her own opinion. Right now, she’s running fourth in her own council district.”
Morrissey declined to elaborate when asked what evidence he had of her position in the polls (the only two public polls showed Mosby leading in the ninth, and running second) or of donations to Mosby’s campaign from their mutual opponents. The next round of candidate finance disclosure reports is due Oct. 17.
Bob Holsworth, a longtime observer of local politics, called the ad “extraordinarily pointed, even brutal in its criticism.” That Mosby is the messenger is significant, too, he says. Up until this point, the council president has not capitalized on her name recognition and prominent position as effectively as many thought she would, Holsworth says.
“If Mosby can remain visible throughout the rest of the campaign and raise issues that critics of Morrissey believe disqualify him, it certainly adds a new element to the campaign and begins to add to the uncertainty of the outcome,” Holsworth says.
Mosby said she wrote the script herself, and the disclosure at the end of the ad says it was paid for by her political action committee. She says she spent $1,250 on the ads, which will run on a handful of area hip-hop stations over the next two weeks.
Mosby disputed Morrissey's accusation that she was acting on behalf of some of their opponents.
“I’m not in the race just to stop Joe. I’m running a race to win because I’m the best candidate for all Richmonders,” Mosby said. “However, with that being said, Joe today is an issue. Our people are not seeing him in a bigger light that they need to see him in. When he does the things he does, it hurts our community.”
This marks the second time in two days Mosby has publicly criticized the front-runner. On Monday, she condemned comments attributed to Morrissey’s campaign manager, who claimed he would be Richmond’s “real first black mayor” if elected in November.