Illustration by Victoria Borges
The troubles of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, could serve as a loose adaptation, at best, of Macbeth, the 400-plus-year-old Shakespeare play about a Scottish general who was blinded by ambition and abetted by his lady in committing bloody, power-hungry actions.
In this tragic tale, however, the transgressions were bloodless; the perpetrators and the victims, you might say, were one and the same. Their crimes ultimately may have been more about hubris and ambition. A jury, though, may believe otherwise; as this magazine went to print, the McDonnells were due in federal court on charges of corruption because of money and favors they accepted from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. while they occupied the Virginia Executive Mansion.
Bob McDonnell’s career in state politics — first in the Virginia legislature, next as attorney general and then as governor — had delivered him to the brink of national political significance. In 2010, he was tapped by the national Republican Party to rebut President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. In the next presidential election cycle, he was reportedly eyed as a running mate for two GOP presidential candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Then along came Williams. Reports have heavily documented a relationship between the tobacco and pharmaceutical executive and the first couple — he wanted influence in the state, and the cash-strapped McDonnells needed money. What cracked the case open, of course, was the first lady’s strained relationship with chef Todd Schneider, whose company catered the wedding of the couple’s daughter, and an investigation into his jury-rigged, under-the-table business arrangement with the Executive Mansion.
Not so long ago, the McDonnells were the talk of the town, moving from one political spotlight to another and yet another. Now, as the players in a scandal that has tarnished a rather scandal-free Virginia institution, they’ve earned this magazine’s inaugural recognition as Richmonders of the Month. They are this region’s newsmakers of the moment, and for all the wrong reasons.