Donnie "Dirtwoman" Corker is the first to tell you he's not unfamiliar with a dimly lit downtown Richmond street corner.
He's certainly walked his fair share of sidewalks during his storied career; trolling Richmond's dark corners and emerging occasionally under the sickly yellow glow of the occasional streetlamp to offer his services; pancake-thick mascara and bruise-like rouge offering scant camouflage for chin stubble.
Corker, 56, thought he'd left that life behind when he found God a decade or so back. But at the June 6 First Fridays Artwalk, Dirtwoman was at it again, this time practicing the world's other oldest profession: the politician.
"Go get 'em, Donnie!" comes from one affluent-looking couple, offering wholehearted encouragement for Corker's bid to get on the November mayoral ballot. They stop to sign a petition sheet Corker has on a card table in front of him.
"I've gotten 76 signatures on my 'titions tonight," Corker says, adorned in a floral muumuu and what looks like a crushed Easter bonnet. Sitting at the corner of North Jefferson and West Broad streets, he strains the design capacity of a folding chair that is his perch.
Corker's Friday night effort wasn't enough. His petition drive fell far short, garnering the required 50 signatures from only two of Richmond's nine City Council districts. He needed all nine.
The Fan loves Corker: In the 2nd District, he amassed 110 names. In the 8th District, where Corker lives, he collected just 18. That's not to say Corker and his campaign organization -- yes, he had one: made up of a loose association between the Richmond gay community and elements of the city's young urban hipster crowd -- didn't try. In the end they'd nailed down more than 450 signatures.
"I guess we all knew it was a long shot to begin with; if only there was a little more time," one campaign worker wrote in an e-mail to others June 9, the night before all petitions were due at the registrar's office. "There's always the write-in. ..."
A serious bid by Dirtwoman for mayor may well be one of Richmond's most surreal events in recent years, though Corker certainly has provided the city with more than his fair share of surreal memories.
He first gained infamy when he was arrested for prostitution. Awaiting transport in the back of a squad car, he earned his Dirtwoman moniker on the vinyl seat. Next came his first official encounter with Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder at the then-newly minted governor's inauguration: Corker was given a press pass by a radio station and was arrested for crashing the gates at the ceremony.
Corker says he's heartbroken at not making it onto the mayoral ballot. He ran on a platform no less ambiguous than the seven candidates who managed to make the mayoral cut (clean up city government, end division, blah, blah).
To prepare for his new life as a professional politician, he'd gone to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his first ever official identification card. He celebrated that evening by getting Chinese food.
"It's the principle of the thing," Corker says of his reason for running, casting himself as a candidate for the people, even as he considers gearing up for that proposed write-in campaign.
And for one shining moment on that Broad Street corner on First Friday, Corker's not-always-proud past was history: "My mother would be so proud of me right now."
-- Chris Dovi