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Governor's aides perplexed by pervasive rumors … 

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Gilmore Rumors Vex His AidesOnline Witnesses to Circuit City's FuneralThat's No Richmonder, That's Dr. PervertSometimes only milk will do.

Gilmore Rumors Vex His Aides

Gov. Jim Gilmore's top aides have become increasingly frustrated by their vain attempts to quash a rumor that just won't die.

The rumor, alleging an affair between the governor and a female state delegate, first surfaced almost a year ago. And, despite the fact that no one has come forth with any evidence to support it, the story — and its many variations — haven't gone away. Indeed, they have spread beyond Richmond's political set and taken root throughout the state.

That fact is deeply painful to the governor and to the first lady, say people close to the Gilmores, who describe the couple as strongly committed to each other.

"It's just amazing how this thing keeps on going," one exasperated Gilmore confidant says. "People ask me about it all the time. And it's just not true."

Though all the people involved have repeatedly — and sometimes angrily — denied them, the stories continue to spread.

The details vary, but most versions claim that the governor and the first lady have split up as a result of an affair. Some versions say Mrs. Gilmore has moved into another residence — variously reported as a carriage house near the Executive Mansion, a house on West Avenue and the home of novelist Patricia Cornwell, a longtime Gilmore supporter.

Mrs. Gilmore hasn't moved anywhere and remains at the mansion. Still, reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Richmond Times-Dispatch have attempted to uncover facts that would support these allegations. So far, though, no major newspaper has run a word about it.

"Everybody has heard this from somebody else," says a close Gilmore associate, "but nobody has seen a thing. Nobody has proven a single thing. That's because there's nothing to it."

Gilmore's associates have fought hard to keep the story out of sight. So far they have largely succeeded.

For example, a few months ago Gilmore's chief of staff, Boyd Marcus, and his communications director, Mark Miner, met with Times-Dispatch Editor Bill Millsaps about reporter Bill McKelway's attempts to land the story, say people close to the newspaper and to the governor.

Marcus and Miner argued that an article charging an affair would be baseless and hurtful, these people say. No story has run in the Times-Dispatch.

Nonetheless, the rumors have spread far enough that their sheer pervasiveness seems to have given them the patina of fact. One state delegate, a Democrat, recounts that during the latest General Assembly session, groups of Assembly members would burst into titters upon seeing the governor walk by.

But the governor's hands may be tied. After all, no savvy politician would hold a press conference to deny a rumor, no matter how pervasive.

"We just don't know what to do at this point," a Gilmore associate says.

Greg Weatherford and Brandon Walters

Online Witnesses to Circuit City's Funeral

Other than the usual unverifiable rumors and exclamation-mark-sprinkled sales pitches in ALL CAPS, the Internet bulletin boards devoted to Circuit City had been relatively quiet recently.

No doubt that's the way Circuit City liked it. The Richmond-based company has a history of keeping a tight lid on corporate information, releasing information only when necessary.

But as Circuit City found out last week, corporate secrets just aren't the same as they used to be.

For one thing, old-school bosses didn't have to deal with such things as the online bulletin boards, which allow any Internet user to post messages.

At 10:16 a.m. last Wednesday, someone using the online handle one_morrissey_fan posted a note on Yahoo.com's bulletin board about Circuit City headlined "LAYOFFS ARE BEGINNING AT CIRCUIT."

"The rumors are true," the posting said. "Several depts. at Circuit Corporate began announcing layoffs this morning." The firings, one_morrissey_fan wrote, had begun just 16 minutes earlier.

That posting kicked off a flurry of responses from around the country — and inside the company's offices.

So, even as the company's designated firers were marching through Circuit City headquarters and escorting the now-ex-workers out of the offices, a sort of spy network-cum-online support group formed to link people inside the offices to other Circuit City workers and to observers around the world.

"Confirming the layoff," mrastronomydomine wrote at 10:41 a.m. "500 at corporate. Extra security outside the building."

Half an hour later, Preceptor8 wrote: "Lots of boxes waiting to be packed. Not all groups know yet what is happening — more layoffs to come."

For the rest of the day, even as Circuit City executives stonewalled reporters' requests for information, the board hummed with anger ("Five minutes to clean out the desk after five years. … What a mismanaged company," snarled catch22nholdem, while mofocadiz wrote "I got whacked today after 4 years"), attempts at analysis ("When a team underperforms it's the coaches that go first, however in business its the players," opined returnfocused) and news ("There is a big meeting at 4:00 EST. I guess this is the announcement").

By the time Circuit City formally announced that evening that it had cut 275 headquarters workers, the online funeral had been underway for hours. Wrote one_morrissey_fan: "[M]y friends are dropping like flies all around me. I feel terrible — like someone has died." And, by then, the Yahoo board had moved on to the wake.

As in any bereaved community, there were notes of commiseration ("Sorry about what's happening. Best of luck to you") and come-ons ("Come to Capital One!!!" one chirpy poster invited the laid-off Circuit City workers).

Eventually, somebody suggested: "If anyone gets hit today lets go for drinks at Tripp's. Forget these guys!!!"

And what do the Circuit City executives think of all this? Not much, apparently. "We don't spend a lot of time on those chat rooms," sniffs corporate spokesman Jim Babb. "We are very busy with other legitimate duties of the business."

G.W.

That's No Richmonder, That's Dr. Pervert

If you've read the March issue of Vanity Fair you might think twice about cuddling up to the likes of Snoopy or Winnie the Pooh. And forget about Tickle Me Elmo and Curious George — deviants that they are.

In jaw-dropping detail, Vanity Fair writer George Gurley explores the strange world of "furries" — people with a fetish for stuffed animals.

And the piece gains a great deal of its authority from former Richmonder Katharine Gates.

Gates, an artist, publisher and promoter, may be remembered for her Shockoe Bottom art gallery, Key, and her publishing company, Gates of Heck. "I moved to Richmond in 1991 to have a little peace and quiet away from the competition and snottiness of the New York art world," says Gates in an e-mail to Style. "Richmond provided a safe haven for me to re-discover my love of art, eccentricity and history."

But now that she's the author of "Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex" (Juno Books, 2000), she has entered a new career phase as, in Vanity Fair's words, "Dr. Pervert."

Furries and "plushies," by the way, are folks with an unusually strong — and often erotic — interest in stuffed animals and cartoon characters.

By the article's estimation there are thousands of them. They collect the toys, dress up in animal costumes, chat online in their own "furry" language and attend conventions. (One of the furries interviewed for the story says: "If a mascot walked into a room surrounded by naked women, I'd be thinking about the mascot.")

In the article, Gates plays along with the theme. For example, she claims she has had fantasies about Little Red Riding Hood, and that in the fantasy realm, "furry stuff is hot." Furries, she insists, "may think of stuffed animals instead of Pamela Anderson, but they're very ordinary people."

"All kinds of people have fetishes," Gates tells Style. "Every race, age, class, education level, gender and sexual orientation. I don't particularly feel that there is a hard line between those who act on them and those who don't."

Gates lives with her husband in Brooklyn Heights. Her book deals with everything from furries to balloon fetishes to crush enthusiasts — people who are turned on by watching women in stilettos crush insects and small animals with their heels. (Crush videos were made illegal in 1999.)

Gates says the fetishists she's met are varied in their appetites. "A few are nuts," she says, adding: "But most are incredibly ordinary folks just trying to get along in life who may have just a bit more active an imagination than most."

B.W.

Sometimes only milk will do.

From Mona Lisa to Spike Lee, white mustaches have adorned thousands of celebrity faces in what has become one of the most famous ad campaigns in history.

Now, for the first time in its nearly decade-long run, the ad gets its first noncelebrity poster girl: Courtney, a 15-year-old student at Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville.

Courtney, whose last name is being withheld at the request of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, has leukemia. But, as her wish reveals, Courtney doesn't let the often-fatal disease define her.

Last year she told the folks at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Richmond and Western Virginia that what she wanted most was to be in a "Got Milk?" ad.

As president and CEO of the foundation, Karen Webb had heard all kinds of requests from kids with life-threatening illnesses. Since 1987, the foundation has granted more than 900 wishes to kids throughout the state. Mostly, she says, they ask for trips to places like Disneyland. So when she heard about Courtney's wish, she was surprised.

"This has been the first one of its kind," says Webb. And, she says, it took some creative planning.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation spent nine months working out details with BSMG Worldwide, the Chicago-based ad agency that handles the campaign. In October, Courtney and her family went to Baltimore's Inner Harbor for a daylong photo shoot. There she was fussed over by photographers, hair and fashion stylists and a makeup artist. She was photographed in five different outfits. "She had a ball and she looks so beautiful," says Webb.

Flip open this month's Teen People magazine and you'll see Courtney sporting her mustache. The ad also will run in Young Miss and other national magazines are likely to pick it up. Hopes are the ad might even spark the attention of TV shows like Entertainment Tonight, the Today Show and Good Morning America, says Webb.

The follow-up press, says Webb, "will give her the full experience of being a model."

But most of all, Courtney says, the gig was fun. She sums it up precisely: "It was just really cool."

B.W.
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