The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Joe Morrissey announces Virginia state Senate campaign

Joe Morrissey looks over the calendar during the House session at the Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 21. He announced Wednesday that he has resigned his seat in the state House of Delegates. (Steve Helber/AP)

Far from slinking out of the public eye, Joseph D. Morrissey announced Wednesday that he has resigned his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates and will run for state Senate.

Weeks after traveling to Georgia to witness the birth of a child to the teenager with whom he was accused of having an improper relationship, Morrissey, 57, is challenging state Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance (D-Petersburg) in a June Democratic primary.

Dance, a retired nurse, took office this January after serving in the House of Delegates for several years.

In running for Senate, Morrissey has sacrificed his seat in the state House, because he moved out of his district for the new campaign. While he has previously said he would stay in office, on Wednesday he said he would step down but continue to help former constituents from his law office.

"I'm not very subtle," Morrissey said to laughs from the crowd gathered outside a Richmond church. But in his address, which was posted on the Web, he argued that his appeal was not his flashy personality but his attention to details. "What distinguishes me . . . from the incumbent senator is constituent service," he said.

Dance, he charged, was a weak supporter of Medicaid expansion and the local bus system and was wrong to support state takeover of some schools as well as expansion of the death penalty.

“What a disgrace,” Morrissey said.

Dance responded in a statement: “I am running on my record as an effective senator, making a real difference for the people of my district and fighting for our Democratic values. Mr. Morrissey has not been an effective legislator and now, he cares so little for his constituents that he abandoned them after just being re-elected.”

After he was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Morrissey resigned his seat in the House after being pressured by state Democratic Party officials, but he ran and easily won a special election for the very same seat, as an independent candidate. Both parties have shunned him as he served in the legislature on work release.

That scandal continued to dog Morrissey at his campaign launch Wednesday morning. The father of the teenage girl at the center of the case stood in the crowd with a sign protesting the lawmaker, while the young woman herself stood with Morrissey’s supporters. Morrissey promised to reveal “within the next month” whether her newborn son is his child.

“I will address it in due course, when Mom is ready,” promised Morrissey, who has three other children by three different women.

Leonidas B. “Lee” Young, a former Richmond mayor and ex-felon, is running to replace Morrissey in the House in a Democratic primary ahead of an upcoming special election. So are Henrico School Board member Lamont Bagby and businessman David Lambert.

Morrissey also faces another criminal case, in which he is charged with forging documents related to the original allegations. Morrissey has vehemently denied any wrongdoing; a trial is set for next month.