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Battle of the Press Releases

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Wilder's went out first, Monday afternoon, April 4: "Richmond Mayor Announces $300 Million Philip Morris Research/Development Facility in City." That story landed on the evening TV news and on the following day's front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

All that before Warner's office could fax its own announcement to the news media.

As major economic-development projects go, that's a big no-no. Protocol dictates that the governor goes first. His release included this subhead in italics: "Governor Warner announces 500 new jobs for Virginia."

So who's trumping whom?

Warner and his staff, according to sources, weren't pleased. It was inadvertent, Wilder says — a slip-up. He wouldn't do such a thing on purpose. Never mind that the fellow Democrats haven't been chummy of late. (Warner didn't call Wilder on election night to congratulate him, says Paul Goldman, Wilder's senior policy adviser.)

"Our press people were supposed to send this thing this morning" — meaning Tuesday, Wilder said, following the announcement at the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park. He said no one notified him that Warner, or anyone in his office, was upset about the mishap. But the two clearly seemed to be clenching teeth on the big stage.

"How would I know if anyone's upset?" Wilder says.

Ellen Qualls, press secretary for Warner, is bereft of emotion over the press release snafu, despite it being an election year.

"The Virginia Economic Development Partnership has a policy that everybody announces together and everybody gets to share the credit," she says. "That didn't happen this time, and we'll all survive. … The bottom line is, good news is good news."

And as a sign of community spirit, the state's press release included congratulatory back pats — in the form of quotes — to Warner, Nelson of Philip Morris and Robert T. Skunda, president and chief executive of the biotech park.

Wilder was quoted, too, in the final paragraph. — Scott Bass



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