News & Features » News and Features

In the Loup

City Council President G. Manoli Loupassi is stepping down. So what's next?


It was quite a turnabout for the 38-year-old Loupassi, who became the first council president under the city's new charter last summer. Viewed as an early Wilder ally, before the inevitable fighting started, Loupassi often played the role of political deer in the headlights — always shocked, angry, flustered by the veteran, savvier Wilder.

"The beauty of our government is, everyone's replaceable. George Washington was replaceable and he set the tone," Loupassi says of his decision not to seek a fourth term. "You're keeping the seat warm for the next person."

So what's next for the squash-playing defense attorney, husband and father of three? Not a run for mayor, he insists — but a statewide office, maybe. "If a significant number of people come to you and want you to serve, the electorate decides," he says. "It's beyond your direct control."

Loupassi's impromptu announcement came just weeks after Council had voted him president for a second time. The move — ostensibly a show of support from colleagues — has made Loupassi consider the mixed blessings of public service.

"We're not going to have any kind of scrapes or confrontations," he assured the Richmond Times-Dispatch in January, referring to the kindred spirit Council and the mayor would soon be forging.

It's classic Loupassi. Ever the ideologue, if a bit naive. With a mayor such as Wilder, scrapes and confrontations appear intertwined with progress. Personalities do too. "He's a figure that's bigger than life and often confrontational," Loupassi says of Wilder. "It's his ship and he's the captain."

Loupassi, 1st District councilman, has become known for challenging the mayor's scope of power — despite saying that the two agree "99 percent of the time" — and for pressing the General Assembly to define that power within Richmond's city charter.

"I live what I do," Loupassi says, unapologetically. "When I go to cocktail party, I talk business. I don't want anyone to think it's a bad time. I'm not running or hiding from anything. I find community service invigorating. I'm kind of the anti-misanthrope."

While Loupassi may not sound the sage after six and a half years on City Council, he's learned a thing or two about provincial politics and when to pry open doors. The question may be whether it's enough to parlay the experience into a statewide office, and if so, which one?

For Loupassi, a conservative Republican, there seem to be options. Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor may have a tight hold on the 7th District congressional seat, but U.S. Sen. George Allen's name has been bandied about as a possible contender for president in 2008. His senior Republican colleague, Sen. John Warner, turns 80 on his next birthday.

Loupassi wouldn't likely win his party's nomination against incumbent state Sen. John Watkins to run for the 10th Virginia Senate District, but he could muster much support from Republicans in the 68th Virginia House of Delegates District. That's where Independent Katherine B. Waddell barely defeated incumbent Brad Marrs in November.

An online blog called Commonwealth Conservative, run by Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Chad Dotson, posts this prediction: "[I]t looks like a big battle is brewing over the seat currently held by independent Katherine Waddell. … everyone has known that the Republicans were going to pull out all the stops to win the seat back." The site goes on to credit Loupassi with "putting together a plan to win this seat. He has begun rounding up names of activists to meet with about the GOP nomination, and he's very serious about this effort."

Loupassi won't comment on the blog report. For now, he has some personal matters to attend to, he says, such as selling his Near West End home so his growing family can move into a more suitable one. It was rumored that he was moving so he could run for Waddell's seat. Not so. His current home is in the same 23226 ZIP code.

His political future is not a given. Loupassi is known as a straight-talking politician who doesn't hide behind platitudes. He always returns phone calls, and speaks publicly and privately with brutal honesty. But that's also a hindrance at times, some political observers say. Loupassi tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve and at times lacks the poise expected of aspiring politicians.

Amid his first major battle with the mayor last summer, when Council and Wilder faced a budgetary impasse, at times Loupassi sounded off without a filter.

"We need to concentrate our energies on attacking the devil that is killing us," he said, referring to the violent crime in the city, not Mayor Wilder. "Rather than killing each other, we need to be attacking those that are killing in the street. That's our devil."

A defense attorney in private practice, Loupassi's also faced criticism by some of his West End constituents, some of them neighbors, for representing a 23-year-old man who was charged with indecent exposure, accused of masturbating in public in their Westhampton neighborhood. (The man pleaded guilty.) Loupassi says he didn't realize the incident took place where it did — in his district, at the intersection of Grove and Seneca avenues — in April. But he stood by the decision on the principle that everyone deserves representation and that he had an obligation to his client once he took the case. The fallout was minimal.

Loupassi has come to learn that getting elected isn't merely a matter of winning votes by dogged campaigning and strengthening connections with the deep-pocketed and influential establishment. He's done both. At 32, he won his elected post to City Council by stumping door-to-door, proving he was the candidate to fill the seat of the widely popular John Conrad, who left Council to try, unsuccessfully, to become Virginia's attorney general. At the time, Loupassi had the nod of Conrad and former Delegate Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes, predecessor to Marrs and, now, Waddell.

Since then, Loupassi has made more friends. He's been elected twice more to Council. In his 2004 bid — his last — he raised nearly $80,000 in an uncontested race. He gave money to the campaigns of fellow City Council members Jackie Jackson, Delores McQuinn and Bill Johnson — who was defeated by Chris Hilbert — and to newcomer Kathy Graziano and contributed $2,000 to Wilder's campaign for mayor. In the meantime, the names contributing to Loupassi's campaign appear as an A-to-Z of local elite. There's Armstrong, Capps, Davis, Goodwin, Gottwald, Gumenick, Minor, Massie, Reynolds, Rosenthal, Scott, Ukrop and Valentine, to name a few.

But with political sights beyond the back yard come the challenges of getting more than the endorsements from the city's most affluent and, arguably, most socially connected district.

Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Kimberly O'Donnell says Loupassi may meet those challenges. "Manoli has a big presence," she says of working with Loupassi as he was starting out as a young city prosecutor. "He has the heart the size of Manhattan. … He's a hard worker and is not likely to sit by and watch while others roll up their sleeves."

Though they differ politically, Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring, a Democrat, says Loupassi knows when to put partisanship aside.

"The good thing about Loup is, he's going to call it like he sees it, and worry about the fallout later. It's something atypical in politics," Herring says.

Loupassi and Herring served as prosecutors together and in their respective roles Herring observed Loupassi as "zealous," he says. "Sometimes I thought he was too harsh and needed to temper some of his positions," Herring recalls. "But with Loup, what you see it what you get." S

News editor Scott Bass contributed to this report.

Add a comment