- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Richmond’s next mayor will be Levar Stoney, a 35-year-old black man and former state Cabinet official who rose above a crowded field of candidates, including a disgraced former lawmaker who polls favored through much of the campaign.

Stoney claimed victory Wednesday night after a count of the city’s absentee ballots. He had won the popular vote with 35,525 votes, according to results posted to the city’s website.

But all ballots were needed to show he won the required five of nine City Council districts to avoid a runoff election. The second highest vote getter, Jack Berry, a former leader of an economic development organization, won 33,447.

Stoney’s victory belied polls during most of the campaign that favored Joe Morrissey, a former state lawmaker who was jailed last year on charges he slept with a 17-year-old girl. He later married the woman, who had worked at his law firm, and they have two children.

Morrissey, who is white, had positioned himself as a champion of the low-income population in a minority majority city. And many in the black community still supported him. But Morrissey faced yet another scandal right before the election.

A former legal client said that he made unwanted sexual advances and that an attorney in his firm pressured her to take a guilty plea for failing to return a rental car. Morrissey denied any wrongdoing or inappropriate actions, claiming the allegations were part of a last-minute smear campaign.

He told The Associated Press that the last-minute attacks likely cost him the race. He got 20,995 votes.

“Up until about 10 days ago, we expected to take six wards on Election Day and things happened - that did not take place, and that is life,” he said by phone Tuesday night.

Stoney served in the administration of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe as secretary of the commonwealth. The job often goes to a close political adviser and involves assisting in the appointments of unpaid state board members. But the role also calls for restoring voting rights for felons, a major issue that both Stoney and McAuliffe champion.

Speaking before the media Wednesday night, Stoney promised to focus on the city’s schools, a top issue in the campaign.

Voters who picked Morrissey were also supportive of Stoney’s win.

Jay Johnson, 51, a hotel supervisor who is black, said Wednesday that he had voted for Morrissey because “he came off like a man of the people” and that Stoney seemed too young. But Johnson said Stoney deserves a shot at the job.

“If a young black man can get an opportunity to lead a city, then I’m all for that,” Johnson said.

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