When lightning strikes and thunder rolls, it's good to be plugged in. Tom Farrell is a case in point. It seems no matter the storm — literal or figurative — the chairman and chief executive of Dominion Resources, the state's largest electric utility, manages to get the lights on.
Farrell is kind of like Richmond's surge protector. He's the steady hand at the top-secret CEO club, the Management Roundtable; the lead business community liaison to Mayor Dwight Jones (No. 2); and the old high-school buddy on whom Gov. Bob McDonnell (No.8) leans in a pinch.
Moreover, he's increasingly asserting himself in some of the city's most-critical issues. The Middle School Renaissance program, which pairs city school principals with area executives, among other things, wouldn't have happened without Farrell, perhaps Superintendent Yvonne Brandon's most important ally. And the most pressing regional issues — plans for a new ballpark and Richmond Coliseum, the 2015 World Cycling Championship and the ever-elusive dream to create a true regional mass-transit system — will require leadership from the business community. This means Farrell.
In our ninth-annual running of the Power List, Farrell's the first to win a second No. 1 title (he was first in 2010). And it comes at a critical time for Richmond. Henrico County's top boss, County Manager Virgil Hazelett, is retiring early next year, and Jones faces this year's election unopposed, which all but assures he'll win a second term. The city is growing in population while City Hall is stabilizing. And there's change afoot in Henrico, which could bode well for regional efforts in the next few years.
The Power List is Style Weekly's attempt to hold up a mirror to Richmond, to reveal who holds key political influence and who controls the economic resources — in short, the money and muscle to get things done. At Richmond's highest levels, those people usually are white, male and Republican.
There are exceptions. Sen. Donald McEachin (No. 10) jumped 30 spots after helping to usher in new blood in Henrico County. King Salim Khalfani (No. 41), the head of the state chapter of the NAACP, played a significant role in exposing the city's mishaps procuring a new city jail and the problems at the juvenile-detention center. He scares the bejesus out of just about everyone, from Mayor Jones to Gov. McDonnell.
Farrell just might have the staying power to hold onto the top spot for a while. Take the recent leadership crisis at the University of Virginia. Two members of Dominion's board who happen to be on the university's board of visitors — Helen Dragas and Mark Kington — orchestrated the short-lived ouster of President Teresa Sullivan. The media onslaught bounced right off of Farrell, a former U.Va. rector.
Meanwhile, back in Richmond, Farrell continues to rise in stature. He plays a key role as chairman of the Richmond Performing Arts Center, which recently secured $14 million from the city to renovate the Landmark Theater. Just last week, City Council approved a new connector road, from Second to Tredegar streets, primarily to help the 650 or so employees at Dominion headquarters beat the afternoon rush.
This is the state of power in Richmond. The 2012 List may have a familiar look, but for those looking for change there's hope. There are back-to-back national and state elections coming. The economy's picking up. And for the first time in a long while, the door is open to those willing to push their way across the threshold.