Less than a month after defeating Republican Ken Cuccinelli to win the state of Virginia’s top political office, Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has already begun to fill the state’s bureaucracy with political operatives. On November 18 McAuliffe named 31 year old Levar Stoney, who was implicated in the coverup of the tire slashing of 25 vans by Democratic operatives in Wisconsin on election day in 2004, to the cabinet position of Secretary of the Commonwealth.
The appointment of Stoney to this critical position of public trust was so blatantly political that even the very liberal Slate Magazine disapproved. On Wednesday the headline of their story on the appointment read “Terry McAuliffe Begins His Reign of Sleaze.”
A 2004 graduate of James Madison University, Stoney was McAuliffe’s deputy campaign manager. He previously worked for McAuliffe at the controversial GreenTech Automotive, where he served as Director of Public Affairs from May 2010 to December 2012.
During the presidential election of 2004 Stoney was part of an out-of-state team of Democratic political operatives responsible for a ” ‘get out the vote’ effort targeting black voters in the hotly contested state of Wisconsin, which John Kerry won by little more than 10,000 votes in the 2004 presidential election,” according to Court TV.
On election day, November 2, 2004, Court TV reported that “Republican campaigners had rented more than 100 vehicles for a get-out-the-vote campaign. The vehicles were parked in a lot adjacent to a Bush campaign office, and party workers planned to drive poll watchers to polling places by 7 a.m. on Nov. 2 to deliver any voters who needed a ride.”
According to prosecutors “five defendants left the Democratic campaign office at about 3:30 a.m. the morning of the election and slashed the tires of the vans around the perimeter of a dirt parking lot to prevent the GOP efforts.”
The FBI and Milwaukee police charged five defendants, Michael Pratt, Sowande Omokunde, Justin Howell, Lewis Caldwell and Lavelle Mohammad, with the crime. Court TV reported that “Pratt, the son of then acting Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt; Omokunde, the son of Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.); and the three other defendants are all charged with criminal damage to property — a felony that carries a maximum sentence of three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the incident which left 40 tires on 25 vans flat. Jurors will also have the option of convicting them of a lesser misdemeanor charge.”
At the trial in January, 2006 Alicia Smith, one of four members of the national political operative team that included McAuliffe’s selection for Secretary of Commonwealth Levar Stoney, testified that “[t]he five defendants, Michael Pratt, Sowande Omokunde, Justin Howell, Lewis Caldwell and Lavelle Mohammad all stormed into the Democratic campaign office here and began bragging about the slashings on the morning of Nov. 2, 2004.”
“I heard the group come in and they were saying, ‘We got ’em! We got ’em! They won’t be moving their vans in the morning. We got ’em. We slashed their tires,'” Smith, who resided in Virginia at the time, told the court.
Court TV reported that “[t]he testimony of Smith and her three out-of-state co-workers, Myesha Ward, Levar Stoney and Lashaunda Williams generally echoed previous statements of Opel Simmons III, an earlier witness and the leader of the get-out-the-vote group who told jurors of the defendants’ behavior after the alleged slashing.”
“But,” according to the Court TV report, “like Simmons, the witnesses all admitted to lying to police in the hours after the slashing and then changing their stories in interviews with FBI agents during the months after the election.”
Court TV reported that Stoney, McAuliffe’s new selection to be Virginia’s Secretary of the Commonwealth, “said he initially lied to police because he did not want to give up the names of the defendants, whom he grew close to during long days courting voters in Milwaukee.”
“I wasn’t going to try and get my friends, my colleagues, in trouble. Nor was I going to get the Democratic Party in trouble as well,” Stoney admitted in court.
Stoney, however, changed his tune “as soon as the FBI agents began calling him in Virginia.” That’s when “he decided to come clean about what happened on the morning of the election.”
Stoney’s subsequent testimony against the five defendants was critical to the prosecution. As Court TV reported, “Stoney was also the only witness to describe a weapon — a brown-handled kitchen knife –in the hands of one of the defendants, although he could not remember who held the blade then threw it away.”
Defense lawyers told jurors Tuesday that the five campaign workers were innocent and that their party’s “professional political operatives” actually damaged the tires and then pointed police in the direction of the defendants.
“Like troop movements in a war, these people came to Wisconsin as it became apparent that Wisconsin was in play,” attorney Robin Shellow said. “These are people who stepped over the line and now, because of what they do for a living, they blame our clients.”
The Washington Post reported on January 21, 2006 that four of the five defendants pled “no contest” to misdemeanor charges, while one was acquitted:
Four Democratic presidential campaign workers pleaded no contest to charges that they punctured the tires of 25 vehicles Republicans had intended to use to get out the vote on Election Day 2004. Those agreeing to the misdemeanor plea were Sowande A. Omokunde, son of Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.); Michael Pratt, son of former acting Milwaukee mayor Marvin Pratt; and Lewis Caldwell and Lavelle Mohammad, both from Milwaukee. Justin Howell was acquitted.
Secretary of the Commonwealth is one of twelve cabinet level positions in the state government of Virginia. It pays $155,849 per year. Janet Vestal Kelly serves in that role currently in the administration of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell.
The position is sometimes referred to as Secretary of the State, because the office has some of the responsibilities usually assigned to that position in many other states, such as registering businesses. However, unlike other Secretary of State positions, the Secretary of the Commonwealth does not oversee elections.
The full description of the duties of the Secretary of Commonwealth, according to the state of Virginia’s official website, says the Secretary is responsible for the following:
In addition to managing extraditions, clemency petitions, service of process, restoration of voting rights, pardons, authenticating foreign adoption documents, certifying notary publics, handling lobbyist registration, disclosures and conflict of interest filings, one of the key functions of our office is to assist the Governor in the appointments of over 4,000 individuals to serve on Virginia’s boards and commissions. All qualified and service-minded Virginians are encouraged to participate in the government of our Commonwealth by offering to serve on a board or commission, or by recommending qualified candidates.
The appointment of Stoney is but the first of many controversial personnel appointments expected to be made by McAuliffe.
Image: Washington Blade