A lapse in security at Gov. Bob McDonnell's inaugural ball appears to be less of an isolated snafu and more of a weakness in the system set up to keep guests and dignitaries safe.
As recounted in Style Weekly last week, this reporter walked through a door held open by a police officer at the Jan. 16 ball, unintentionally moving from the sidewalk outside the Greater Richmond Convention Center and into a private dinner attended by McDonnell, his friends, family members and elected officials. No one asked for the reporter's name or identification, or screened him with a metal detector.
Since that story was published, a second Richmonder has shared his experience walking through that same entrance about a half-hour later — with no ticket to the ball. No one asked who he was or attempted any kind of security screening, he says.
McDonnell's office appeared unconcerned about the incident, refusing to answer questions about it and instead offering a statement praising those in charge of security.
Style knows but agreed to withhold the name of the Richmond businessman, and verified his attendance the night of the event. He first thought it was amusing, joking with a friend about the White House party crashers. “It hit me once I got into that ballroom,” he says: “If I was up to no good this could really be a big deal.”
At other entrances, guests appeared to be screened closely — even those with press credentials issued by the inaugural committee. A Style reporter and photographer entering the ball elsewhere passed through metal detectors and had their cell phones checked.
The Richmond man says he came upon the open door at the corner of Broad and Fifth streets just as a bus let off a group of about a dozen 20-somethings there around 9 p.m. “So I just followed the crowd like most people do,” he says.
A police officer allowed them in: “Did he care? No. I just think he saw a bunch of people who were in tuxes and looked like they knew what they were doing.”
Inside, the man says he looked for a place to check in. But someone opened a black curtain to the left of the entrance and directed the group upstairs to the ball.
McDonnell's press secretary, Stacey Johnson, said last week that the situation this reporter encountered was being reviewed. When told of the second incident, she provides a blanket statement thanking the work of the Virginia State Police, the Richmond police and the Capitol Police, declining further comment.
As for the ball, the Richmond man says he enjoyed the event and came prepared to pay. He carried a $100 check in his pocket to buy a ticket, he says, but no one ever asked for it.