The river runs through him, literally. Tom Farrell's office overlooks the James River and Belle Isle, and the trickling rapids and green walking paths cradling Dominion Resources feel more like a camping retreat than a corporate headquarters. It's an appropriate setting for power in Richmond, which has been in a state of retreat lately.
Farrell, chairman and chief executive of the electric utility, has earned his top billing on the Power List. He bid his time working to improve schools, serving on the superintendent search committee and working closely with the School Board, and has become the liaison-in-chief for Richmond's power elite. As Dominion CEO, Farrell has taken dramatic steps to sell properties and scale the company back to its traditional role as an electric utility. But while other corporate chiefs lick their wounds post-recession, Farrell forges ahead — most recently leading the charge to study alternatives to the Richmond Coliseum — while carefully navigating the political tripwires at City Hall and as one of Gov. Bob McDonnell's (No. 6) most trusted business allies. He pushes the amenities, praising the efforts of the newly expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the opening of CenterStage, while understanding that the city's most vexing obstacle is a broken school system.
Farrell is more civic booster than power bruiser, eschewing the knuckle-wrapping ways of his predecessors [see Doug Wilder, Eugene Trani (No. 26), Bill Goodwin (No. 3) and Virgil Hazelett (No. 2)]. We're not sure if this is entirely a good thing. Perhaps Richmond's biggest problem these days is a disturbing quiet. Mayor Dwight Jones and City Council like each other too much, and little seems to be getting done in the city. Schools and public transportation, perhaps the two biggest keys to improving Richmond's crippling poverty, aren't atop the public conscience. And, no, high-speed rail doesn't count.
Power has a way of ebbing and flowing. Seven years running, Style Weekly's Power List has been a manifest of corporate oligarchy, political populism and, as so often is the case in Richmond, whoever's willing to break the first bottle. But this year's different. There's a dangerous void of inaction, constructive friction and willingness to talk about the big issues. City Council is engaged in political muzzling, preoccupied with petty noise and dance hall ordinances. We can't see Richmond's future for the sweltering haze.
In our annual ranking of the people who possess the local resources, formal and informal power, and control and influence of our city, we've trimmed the List from 75 slots to 50. It's survival of the fittest from here on out. Farrell has the pedigree and the willingness to assume the duties at the head of the table. But it's time to get to work. The retreat is over.