by G. Francis Mullins
Last October, Chris Dumler, a Democrat from Scottsville and a member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, was arrested on felony charges of forcible sodomy. On January 31, 2013, Dumler plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery. Because of the plea deal, Supervisor Dumler was able to maintain his status in the Virginia Bar Association, and was not required to step down from his post on the Board. Despite demands for his resignation from local residents, a majority of the Board, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA), and Charlottesville city councilor and former mayor Dave Norris, Dumler refuses to relinquish his position. Local residents have circulated a petition calling for Dumler’s removal from office, and according to some reports, enough signatures have been gathered to force the matter before a judge, who some believe has the power to legally remove Dumler from office.
Dumler has strong ties to the University of Virginia community. He graduated from the School of Law in 2009, and has received numerous political contributions from people employed at all levels of the University. Several faculty and staff donated to Dumler’s 2011 campaign, including economics professor Bruce Reynolds ($750), law professor Jason Johnston ($250), architecture lecturer Lucia Phinney, and James Savage, professor of politics in the Batten School. The Chief Financial Officer of the UVa Physician’s Group, Eric Strucko, who is also on the Albemarle County School Board, donated $250 to Dumler, but Mr. Strucko recently did the honorable thing and called for Dumler to resign. Brevy Cannon, a writer in the University’s media relations department, donated $250. Several Health System employees donated to Dumler’s campaign, and there were also some high-profile donors. Famed novelist John Grishman donated $5,000. Prominent investment banker and author Hunter Lewis donated $20,000, while his wife, Elizabeth Sidamon-Eristoff, donated an additional $10,000. Silvercrest Asset Management Group, a local investment firm that advises on over $11 billion in assets, donated $5,000 to Dumler. Silvercrest’s president and chief executive officer, G. Moffett Cochran, is a graduate of the College, and earned a J.D. from the School of Law. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, a University-affiliate that provides scholarships to PhD, J.D., and MBA candidates.
There is no doubt that most of the people who donated time or money to help Chris Dumler win would not have done so had they known he would soon be arrested for and convicted on serious charges of a sexual nature. We have already seen some of these folks speak out against Dumler, including some members of SARA who also contributed to his campaign – and for that they should be applauded. It is incumbent upon those who helped this predator get into office to pressure Dumler to resign, and to do so publicly, especially those with high public profiles or those charged with teaching the community’s students. However, the University community has been almost completely silent on the matter.
Susan Payne, a prominent Charlottesville business-woman who was listed as the 15th most powerful person in Charlottesville in C-Ville.com along with her husband LF, contributed $350 to Dumler. Her public relations firm, Payne Ross, contributed another $2,000 worth of services for Dumler. Payne Ross has represented Hunter Craig, a member of the University’s Board of Visitors. Mr. Craig, a local real estate developer, was reported by the Daily Progress to be linked to a $100 million improvement project in Dumler’s hometown of Scottsville, sponsored by Albemarle County, and championed by Dumler.
Mrs. Payne’s husband, LF Payne, is a former U.S. Representative from Virginia’s 5th District and a Darden graduate. He is currently the president of the consulting wing at McGuireWoods, a powerful Richmond-based law firm. Mr. Payne was an adjunct professor for the University’s Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, and he too sits on the Board of Visitors.
The silence from powerful people who have helped Dumler’s election efforts is troubling. No one is accusing any of these well respected members of the University community of any specific wrong-doing, but their actions to put Dumler on the Board of Supervisors demands an equal, if not greater, reaction to his criminal conduct. Dumler’s conviction, along with the subsequent thumbing of his nose at the public by saying that he, too, “should sign the petition” to have been ousted from office, demonstrates a brazen contempt for justice, for the public, and for the rights of women.
The only organizations within the University to issue any sort of statement regarding Dumler have been the Virginia Advocate, The Cavalier Daily, and the University of Virginia Women’s Center. The Advocate published a story outlining the Dumler case. The Daily published a piece, written by its ombudsman Tim Thornton, declaring that it, “was correct not to cover a news story outside of its journalistic purview.” Thornton’s piece explains the reasoning behind the Daily’s decision, and quoted an email from senior news associate Joseph Liss, who wrote that, “the more reasoned course of action was to avoid the rehashing of the story lines of the Daily Progress, NBC 29, Newsplex and others in order to cover more news that is more interesting to and more applicable to students, staff and faculty around the University.” If students, staff, and faculty are more interested in the “Love Connection” or the “Top Ten Things That are Worse Than Taking Midterms” (#3 is Snow/Rain/Cold) than they are in sexual violence perpetrated by an elected official whose donors include powerful University-connected people and whose government-owned office is located within Charlottesville city limits, then Mr. Jefferson must be rolling in his grave.
Local residents recently flooded the Facebook page for the University of Virginia Women’s Center asking for the Center to release a statement of condemnation of Dumler’s actions. In response, the Center wrote: “We appreciate the questions and concerns we have received on this page regarding a local elected official. The U.Va. Women’s Center is an academic and administrative unit of the University. The Center’s mission is ‘To educate U.Va. students in how to create change in themselves, their communities, and the world, with a special emphasis on gender equity.’ In concert with the other departments and programs at U.Va., the Center cannot take stands on individual partisan or political matters, as this would compromise our educational mission.” The fact that the Center cannot even bring itself to mention Dumler’s name is beyond shameful – it is cowardly. Its statement is hypocritical, and it is fundamentally flawed. Spreading awareness about the injustice of the Dumler case is well within the scope of the Center’s mission. Dumler is not a private citizen, nor is he a purely political figure. Rather, he is a public servant who has been entrusted with great responsibility to be a leader and exemplify justice – including gender equity. Those within the community who purposefully act against the stated mission of the Center are certainly subject to public denunciation by the Center – regardless of their profession – just as those who promote the values of the Center are subject to the Center’s praises.
Each year since 1991, the University of Virginia Women’s Center has presented a female graduate with the Distinguished Alumna Award. The award goes to a woman who has demonstrated leadership in her field and has used her talents to change her field for the better. Recipients include notable graduates such as former Arizona governor and current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Cheryl Mills, the counselor and chief of staff to Secretary of State Hilary, and Shelley Capito, US Representative from West Virginia. Each of these women was either in elected office or serving as a political appointee when awarded by the Women’s Center. If the Center can recognize active politicians and political figures for works it believes advances gender equity, it seems very much reasonable to speak out against acts of sexual violence towards women.
Had Dumler simply been convicted of a so-called “victimless crime,” such as a drug conviction, the Women’s Center and the University obviously would not have any obligation to address the issue. Had Dumler quietly resigned and slipped away into seclusion, there would be no need to call upon the powers that be at the University and in Charlottesville who supported Dumler to own up to the spoiled fruits of their labor and do everything they can to send Dumler packing. But Dumler has made it quite clear to the public that he has no intention of resigning. It is time for the wealthy elite and academic elite at the University and in the Charlottesville who helped Dumler get elected to follow the lead of SARA and Mr. Strucko, and publicly call for Dumler’s resignation.