- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

RICHMOND — The House of Delegates’ most powerful lawmaker yesterday said he will not close the House chamber to the public for the unveiling of a portrait of former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr.

Mr. Wilkins, who resigned two years ago amid a sexual harassment scandal, said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he wanted to have a private ceremony in the public chamber for family, friends and the artist who painted the portrait.

He reiterated those wishes to the Associated Press yesterday.

“I would think if that was what I would prefer to do, out of common courtesy [people] should respect that,” Mr. Wilkins said.

House Speaker William J. Howell said the House chamber is a public space and would not be closed. However, he said he does not have a problem with Mr. Wilkins’ request for the press not to attend.

“I think the whole point is that if the fellow wants a private ceremony, I can’t understand why the press won’t respect that,” he said.

The ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday on the chamber floor.

Mr. Wilkins, who served in the House for 25 years, became the state’s first Republican House speaker after he helped engineer the Republican Party’s takeover of the legislature in 2000.

He resigned two years later after acknowledging he paid a 26-year-old woman $100,000 to silence accusations that he groped her in his hometown of Amherst, Va., in 2001.

Mr. Wilkins also has been named in a civil suit filed by Democratic lawmakers over Republican eavesdropping of Democratic conference calls two years ago.

Mr. Wilkins put his chief of staff, Claudia Tucker, on leave after her cellular telephone number was found on a list of numbers that logged in to one of the private calls. Miss Tucker pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor and agreed to testify at future proceedings in the case.

Mr. Wilkins said yesterday the lawsuit should have no bearing on the unveiling of his portrait.

“You can be sued by anyone, anytime for anything,” he said.

The taxpayer-funded portrait was painted by Richmond artist Dee Campbell and cost about $7,500. A portrait of Delegate Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent who served as interim House speaker after Mr. Wilkins resigned, also will be mounted in the House chamber this year.

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