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Cardwell’s Challenge at 6: Beat Gene and Sabrina

On a late morning just before Labor Day weekend, news director Mark Neerman called Cardwell, 38, into work early. Neerman says his request must have concerned Cardwell, because he appeared “almost nervous” when he arrived.

“You never know what’s behind those eyes of Mark Neerman. He’s kind of wily,” Cardwell says with a laugh.

Wily, indeed.

Instead of pulling Cardwell into his office to congratulate him, Neerman says he and Peter Maroney, vice president and general manager for the station, had something different in mind. Plus, a question remained.

Neerman’s office is a fishbowl, he says, where any matter of business can be easily guessed. “I said, ‘C’mon, let’s go for a ride,’” Neerman says, “and then he really thought I was crazy.”

Just like that, the two were in Neerman’s Audi, driving around Richmond. Neerman turned onto Monument Avenue. After proceeding a mile or so east, he pulled over and parked. He told Cardwell to get out of the car. Then the two walked up to the towering monument of Robert E. Lee. In the shadow of the Confederate general’s likeness, Neerman pointed to the figure and asked Cardwell: “So what do you see?” This was it: the moment of truth.

Perplexed, Cardwell says he told Neerman: “It’s very symbolic. It holds a lot of meaning here.” The answer was precisely what Neerman says he wanted to hear. Next he asked Cardwell what symbolizes Richmond television. “Gene and Sabrina,” Cardwell answered, of the venerable Channel 12 co-anchors. Again, Neerman says he was impressed. He told Cardwell, who joined the station in 1999, that he had the job. Then, half-seriously, he said it would be the new anchor’s job to knock the Gene-Sabrina off their high horse. Says Cardwell: “It was very poetic.”

Naturally, he was overjoyed. “I think I picked Mark up and spun him around a few times,” Cardwell says. “Then we handshaked and high-fived about it.”

Neerman says Cardwell didn’t seem to mind the unconventional job offer. “It’s a moment — a day he won’t ever forget,” Neerman says, adding: “and neither will I.” — Brandon Walters

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