Richmond mayoral candidate Joe Morrissey. (Julia Rendleman/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND HAS lately come into its own as a vibrant small city whose bustling business district, lively cultural scene and buzzy restaurants are bragging points for civic leaders. So how can it be that the city seems poised to elect a creepy, ethically clueless embarrassment as its mayor?

Joe Morrissey, whose name rivals Anthony Weiner’s in the American pantheon of public sleazebags, is a disgraced former state lawmaker who was drummed out of the General Assembly in Richmond for his appalling personal conduct. Before that, ethical transgressions cost him his law license in Virginia for eight years; it was restored in 2011, but he remains ineligible to practice in federal court.

He has served jail time for fistfights as well as for contributing to the delinquency of a minor — a young woman, 38 years his junior, whom he married in June. (When she was 17, and working as a receptionist at his law office, he saw fit to send a nude photograph of her to a friend, along with boasting of his sexual relations with her; hence the criminal conviction, for which he served three months behind bars.)

Now comes word that Mr. Morrissey, 59, admits having sent text messages to a client of his law firm inviting her to visit him in his office and urging her to wear “fresh panties” and shave her genitals — he used a lewder word, one also favored by Donald Trump. This took place in February, around the time Mr. Morrissey and his wife, now 20 years old, had their second child.

Mr. Morrissey, always quick with a facile justification, explained that he was merely being “flirtatious” with the client by sending her the lascivious text, along with other come-ons. The client herself, Kanika Morris, saw it differently — especially after, on her first meeting with him at his office, she says he pulled out his penis in the vain hope she would fondle it. He denies it.

Ms. Morris’s account prompted a judge, unusually, to vacate her conviction and nullify a deal under which she had pleaded guilty in connection with not returning a rental car. She said she accepted the plea only after she spurned the advances of Mr. Morrissey, who in turn shunted her to another lawyer at his firm who urged her to take the deal and refused to ask for the jury trial she wanted.

It is a sordid tale but no more so than others that have characterized Mr. Morrissey’s mud-spattered meander through public life. Fundamentally, Mr. Morrissey is a con man, but his con — a gift for banter and the common touch — is effective enough that it appeals to segments of Richmond’s electorate. Polls suggest he is headed toward an easy victory in a crowded field of nonpartisan candidates.

Voters can make up their own minds, but it would be a shame to elect a man, already a national laughingstock, whose odious behavior and scandal-smudged résumé would overshadow the city’s achievements.