Rain in the House caps wild week in Virginia Capitol

It was a long, strange week in Virginia’s General Assembly, what with the Democrats’ coup, the rules change conferring superpowers on a single senator and the international incident over adding two words — “East Sea” — to Virginia schoolbooks. Why wouldn’t it rain inside Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol?

“Faucet-like” streams of water leaked through the House’s gold leaf ceiling about half an hour before 100 delegates were due to get down to business Friday morning, Deputy Clerk Jeff Finch said.

It didn’t take long to discover the culprit: A pipe above the ceiling, connected to a humidifier, had frozen, then burst. But there was no time to clean it all up, or stop the last of the drips, before the start of the day’s session.

So clear plastic was draped over half of the glossy wooden rostrum where the speaker stands and over the microphones of delegates seated in the front row. Six trash cans were assembled on the floor to catch the falling water.

“One of the mantras around here is, ‘The show must go on,’ ” said House Clerk G. Paul Nardo.


Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, left, and his seatmate, Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, right, try to cover their desks with plastic after a leak developed in the ceiling of the Virginia House of Delegates chamber at the State Capitol in Richmond. (Bob Brown/AP)

While presiding over the House, Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) could be seen mopping the podium with what appeared to be a handkerchief. Turns out he was responding to unrelated water drama.

“I got mad and banged my gavel and knocked my water [glass] over,” he said afterward.

Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) surveyed the soggy front row after the session, then made a quick exit. He recalled the Capitol disaster of 1870, when the floor collapsed under the weight of a large crowd gathered to hear the Supreme Court of Appeals, then housed in the building, decide a Richmond mayor’s race. Sixty-two people were killed and 251 injured, according to a plaque erected on the spot.

“I’m not staying here too long,” Brink said, “keeping in mind the history of the House chamber.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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