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Monday, October 26, 2020

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'Nigerian' stowaways held after tanker stormed in UK

Seven stowaways, believed to be Nigerians seeking asylum, were handed over to Hampshire Police.

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Egypt sex attacks fuel 'feminist revolution'

Women and girls are fighting back against sexual harassment like never before.

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Confederation Cup: Moroccans RS Berkane win first African title

Morocco's RS Berkane win the Confederation Cup as they beat Egyptians Pyramids 1-0 in a hard-fought contest in Rabat.

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Silencing gene expression to cure complex diseases

Many people think of new medicines as bullets, and in the pharmaceutical industry, frequently used terms like “targets” and “hits” reinforce that idea. Immuneering co-founder and CEO Ben Zeskind ’03, PhD ’06 prefers a different analogy.

His company, which specializes in bioinformatics and computational biology, sees many effective drugs more like noise-canceling headphones.

Rather than focusing on the DNA and proteins involved in a disease, Immuneering focuses on disease-associated gene signaling and expression data. The company is trying to cancel out those signals like a pair of headphones blocks out unwanted background noise.

The approach is guided by Immuneering’s decade-plus of experience helping large pharmaceutical companies understand the biological mechanisms behind some of their most successful medicines.

“We started noticing some common patterns in terms of how these very successful drugs were working, and eventually we realized we could use these insights to create a platform that would let us identify new medicine,” Zeskind says. “[The idea is] to not just make existing medicines work better but also to create entirely new medicines that work better than anything that has come before.”

In keeping with that idea, Immuneering is currently developing a bold pipeline of drugs aimed at some of the most deadly forms of cancer, in addition to other complex diseases that have proven difficult to treat, like Alzheimer’s. The company’s lead drug candidate, which targets a protein signaling pathway associated with many human cancers, will begin clinical trials within the year.

It’s the first of what Immuneering hopes will be a number of clinical trials enabled by what the company calls its “disease-canceling technology,” which analyzes the gene expression data of diseases and uses computational models to identify small-molecule compounds likely to bind to disease pathways and silence them.

“Our most advanced candidates go after the RAS-RAF-MEK [protein] pathway,” Zeskind explains. “This is a pathway that’s activated in about half of all human cancers. This pathway is incredibly important in a number of the most serious cancers: pancreatic, colorectal, melanoma, lung cancer — a lot of the cancers that have proven tougher to go after. We believe this is one of the largest unsolved problems in human cancer.”

A good foundation

As an undergraduate, Zeskind participated in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition (the $50K back then) and helped organize some of the MIT Enterprise Forum’s events around entrepreneurship.

“MIT has a unique culture around entrepreneurship,” Zeskind says. “There aren’t many organizations that encourage it and celebrate it the way MIT does. Also, the philosophy of the biological engineering department, of taking problems in biology and analyzing them quantitatively and systematically using principles of engineering, that philosophy really drives our company today.”

Although his PhD didn’t focus on bioinformatics, Zeskind’s coursework did involve some computational analysis and offered a primer on oncology. One course in particular, taught by Doug Lauffenburger, the Ford Professor of Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Biology, resonated with him. The class tasked students with uncovering some of the mechanisms of the interleukin-2 (IL-2) protein, a molecule found in the immune system that’s known to severely limit tumor growth in a small percentage of people with certain cancers.

After Zeskind earned his MBA at Harvard Business School in 2008, he returned to MIT’s campus to talk to Lauffenburger about his idea for a company that would decipher the reasons for IL-2’s success in certain patients. Lauffenburger would go on to join Immuneering’s advisory board.

Of course, due to the financial crisis of 2007-08, that proved to be difficult timing for launching a startup. Without easy access to capital, Zeskind approached pharmaceutical companies to show them some of the insights his team had gained on IL-2. The companies weren’t interested in IL-2, but they were intrigued by Immuneering’s process for uncovering the way it worked.

“At first we thought, ‘We just spent a year figuring out IL-2 and now we have to start from scratch,’” Zeskind recalls. “But then we realized it would be easier the second time around, and that was a real turning point because we realized the company wasn’t about that specific medicine, it was about using data to figure out mechanism.”

In one of the company’s first projects, Immuneering uncovered some of the mechanisms behind an early cancer immunotherapy developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb. In another, they studied the workings of Teva Pharmaceuticals’ drug for multiple sclerosis.

As Immuneering continued working on successful drugs, they began to notice some counterintuitive patterns.

“A lot of the conventional wisdom is to focus on DNA,” Zeskind says. “But what we saw over and over across many different projects was that transcriptomics, or which genes are turned on when — something you measure through RNA levels — was the thing that was most frequently informative about how a drug was working. That ran counter to conventional wisdom.”

In 2018, as Immuneering continued helping companies appreciate that idea in drugs that were already working, it decided to start developing medicines designed from the start to go after disease signals.

Today the company has drug pipelines focused around oncology, immune-oncology, and neuroscience. Zeskind says its disease-canceling technology allows Immuneering to launch new drug programs about twice as fast and with about half the capital as other drug development programs.

“As long as we have a good gene-expression signature from human patient data for a particular disease, we’ll find targets and biological insights that let us go after them in new ways,” he says. “It’s a systematic, quantitative, efficient way to get those biological insights compared to a more traditional process, which involves a lot of trial and error.”

An inspired path

Even as Immuneering advances its drug pipelines, its bioinformatics services business continues to grow. Zeskind attributes that success to the company’s employees, about half of which are MIT alumni — the continuation of trend that began in the early days of the company, when Immuneering was mostly made up of recent MIT PhD graduates and postdocs.

“We were sort of the Navy Seals of bioinformatics, if you will,” Zeskind says. “We’d come in with a small but incredibly well-trained team that knew how to make the most of the data they had available.”

In fact, it’s not lost on Zeskind that his analogy of drugs as noise-canceling headphones has a distinctively MIT spin: He was inspired by longtime MIT professor and Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose.

And Zeskind’s attraction to MIT came long before he ever stepped foot on campus. Growing up, his father, Dale Zeskind ’76, SM ’76, encouraged Ben and his sister Julie ’01, SM ’02 to attend MIT.

Unfortunately, Dale passed away recently after a battle with cancer. But his influence, which included helping to spark a passion for entrepreneurship in his son, is still being felt. Other members of Immuneering’s small team have also lost parents to cancer, adding a personal touch to the work they do every day.

“Especially in the early days, people were taking more risk [joining us over] a large pharma company, but they were having a bigger impact,” Zeskind says. “It’s all about the work: looking at these successful drugs and figuring out why they’re better and seeing if we can improve them.”

Indeed, even as Immuneering’s business model has evolved over the last 12 years, the company has never wavered in its larger mission.

“There’s been a ton of great progress in medicine, but when someone gets a cancer diagnosis, it’s still, more likely than not, very bad news,” Zeskind says. “It’s a real unsolved problem. So by taking a counterintuitive approach and using data, we’re really focused on bringing forward medicines that can have the kind of durable responses that inspired us all those years ago with IL-2. We’re really excited about the impact the medicines we’re developing are going to have.”

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50 Cent said ‘Fu*k Donald Trump’ after recent support

50 Cent circled back after ex-girlfriend Chelsea Handler called him out

50 Cent said “Fu*k” President Donald Trump in response to his former girlfriend, comedian Chelsea Handler’s public chiding. Handler also jokingly alluding to rekindling their relationship if he were to denounce Trump.

On Sunday, 50, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, posted on Twitter and Instagram, a video of an interview between “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon and Handler, The Hill reported.

Read More: 50 Cent says ‘vote for Trump,’ slams Biden’s plan to tax the rich

“Fu*k Donald Trump, I never liked him. for all I know he had me set up and had my friend Angel Fernandez killed but that’s history. LOL,” 50 Cent tweeted.

In the interview, Handler noted that Jackson was her “favorite ex-boyfriend,” saying she was disappointed by his “endorsement.”

“He doesn’t want to pay 62 percent of taxes because he doesn’t want to go from 50 Cent to 20 Cent,” said Handler. “I had to remind him that he was a Black person, so he can’t vote for Donald Trump, and that he shouldn’t be influencing an entire swath of people who may listen to him because he’s worried about his own personal pocketbook.”

The “endorsement” stemmed from 50 Cent’s reaction to a screenshot of Democratic-nominee Joe Biden’s supposed tax plan.

As theGrio previously reported, 50 Cent shared a screenshot of CNBC infographic, taken out of context, highlighting that Biden’s plan would increase state and federal tax rate for top earners.

Read More: 50 Cent doubles down on Trump endorsement: ‘Don’t want to be 20 Cent’

50, alongside rappers Ice Cube and Kanye West, has received backlash from Black social media groups for assoicating himself with the Trump administration.

Regardless, White House officials like Trump’s senior campaign advisor, Katrina Pierson, are elated by the rapper’s “endorsement.”

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Tanzania elections: Why pop stars are hailing President Magufuli

Hugely popular "bongo flava" musicians are kept on a tight leash when it comes to politics.

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Trump says GOP retaining Senate will be ‘very tough’

Republicans in Senate are in danger of losing the majority

President Donald Trump admitted that it will be “very tough” for Republicans to retain the Senate in the upcoming election while in a private donor fundraiser.

“I think the Senate is tough actually. The Senate is very tough,” Trump said on Thursday at the Nashville Marriott, according to the Washington Post.

Read More: McConnell’s challenger: ‘You’ve been there for 36 years. How’s it looking, Kentucky?

“There are a couple senators I can’t really get involved in. I just can’t do it. You lose your soul if you do. I can’t help some of them. I don’t want to help some of them,” the president continued.

The attendee who attributed the president’s words is under anonymity as the event, held before the last presidential debate between Trump and Democratic-nominee Joe Biden, was a closed-door gathering.

Despite Trump anticipating some Democratic Senatorial candidates having the upper hand, he is adamant that Republicans can take back control of the House.

Senate election strategists say the Republican party has doubts about retaining the Senate and gaining in Congress, because of the president’s “unscripted, divisive rhetoric and his low poll numbers in key states,” WAPO reported.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the highest ranked member in the upper chamber, is anticipating his own replacement, saying in a recent radio interview that he has a “50-50” chance of losing to Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot and Democratic politician.

Read More: Lindsey Graham calls for investigation into Jaime Harrison’s fundraising

As theGrio previously reported, newcomer Jaime Harrison is raising more money than Sen.Lindsey Graham, a matter that Graham wants investigated.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine has the potential of losing to Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Sara Gideon, according to Bangor Daily News.

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Health agency halts Santa Claus coronavirus vaccine plan

The Trump administration’s vaccine effort has been criticized over what is viewed as political interference

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Health and Human Services cancelled a coronavirus vaccine advertising plan that would have provided Santa Claus performers, including Mrs. Claus and performing elves, with early access to a COVID-19 vaccine in exchange for touting its benefits to the public.

“This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won’t happen,” Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, told the Journal.

Read More: COVID-19 vaccine trial paused after participant gets ‘unexplained illness’

White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern told the Journal that President Trump was never informed about the plan to use Santa performers to promote the vaccine.

Dubbed as “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration’s vaccine effort has been criticized over what is viewed as political interference in an important scientific process. With the president repeatedly promising the approval of the vaccine by Nov. 3, he has been accused of trying to use the vaccine for his own political gain.

The plan would have cost taxpayers $250 million and was intended to “defeat despair” and “inspire hope” through TV, radio, online and podcast ads.

First suggested by HHS assistant secretary, Michael Caputo (who is now on medical leave), the public service ad campaign has been criticized by Democrats for being “politically motivated rather than being purely intended to promote public health,” the Journal said.

Expressing skepticism about the safety and effectiveness of the proposed vaccine, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will create an independent task force to review vaccine candidates before distributing any vaccine to New Yorkers.

Read More: Cuomo may withhold COVID-19 vaccine from New York

As coronavirus cases spike throughout the country, there is no indication that a vaccine will be ready for widespread distribution before the end of the year. In the absence of an effective vaccine, and to prevent further spread of the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested last week that a national mask mandate might be necessary.

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Pregnant women of color more likely to get COVID

The CDC has released information showing that Black and Hispanic women are at a higher risk

Pregnant women of color are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and face hospitalization.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released information showing that Black and Hispanic women are at a higher risk of getting the coronavirus than white women while they’re pregnant.

Read More: Kelly Rowland announces she’s pregnant with second child

In Magic Valley, Idaho, a doctor from St. Luke’s said this inequity has been happening nationwide, KSAW, an ABC News affiliated television station serving Boise, Idaho, reported.

“It’s probably very consistent with what we see nationally. Women of color in Idaho, maybe not many of the African Americans, but we probably see the Latino population twice as frequent hospitalizations,” said Clarence Blea, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at St.Luke’s Hospital.

Blea cites financial-related issues like getting affordable access to healthcare and cultural-related concerns as reasons for increased exposure to the virus. Nationally, underlying health issues in communities of color are also cited.

The Hispanic and Latino community in the Idaho public health system has had difficulties social distancing because of cultural differences, according to KSAW.

Read More: ‘RHOP’ star Ashley Darby pregnant with second child

“When you are asking a community that prioritizes large family gatherings, which is not just something they enjoy doing but is something that is a part of their culture and identity, then it does become more difficult to help that person understand why it’s important to stop that practice,” Brianna Bodily, South Central Public Health District Public Information Officer, said.

Dr. Blea told pregnant women of color they should follow her safety precautions: “Take care of yourself from a nutritional standpoint. Address your prenatal visits, do what you can to have this access, do what you can to distance and protect yourselves.”

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Detroit native opens first cider mill in the Motor City

The family-owned enterprise Detroit Farm and Cider is a first-of-its-kind for the majority-Black city

As a kid, Leandra King loved visiting the cider mill every autumn, but visits were limited as the trip required traveling outside county borders.

Now, the Detroit native has recreated the classic fall tradition in her hometown after launching the first cider mill in the Motor City, WXYZ reports.

“It was one of my fondest memories, going to Parmenter’s,” King told the local ABC affiliate. “I’ve been to Blake’s. I just remember going to Yates as a kid, and I just wanted to recreate that for the city of Detroit.”

Leandra King, founder of Detroit Farm and Cider (via website)

According to research by American Express, Black women are starting businesses at the fastest rate of any racial group. Since 2007, the number of firms owned by African-American women has grown by 164%.

Read More: Entrepreneur Mahisha Dellinger coaches Black women to take their business from the set up to the blow up

The family-owned enterprise is called Detroit Farm and Cider, and it’s a first-of-its-kind for the majority-Black city. It’s located in a mostly residential area on the city’s west side. The roughly four-acres cider mill also resides in a neighborhood with a rich history, the outlet said.

“So, this used to be Peck Elementary School. It was Divinity of the Sacred Heart before it was Peck Elementary School, and the city knocked it down,” King told 7 Action News while touring her orchards that consist of 139 fruit trees.

Last weekend the cider mill launched its first official season. It has everything you’d expect to find at a cider mill: cider and doughnuts, pumpkins and hay rides. But it also has some unexpected features like goats, a solar powered farm operation, fudge, a bonfire area, beehives, a rock wall tree, a zip line, local food vendors and live music.

Read More: Dr. Venus Opal Reese is empowering Black women to launch businesses

Admission to Detroit Farm and Cider is free. Hayrides are for purchase, while food and drinks are can also be obtained with food stamp benefits. Making sure Detroit Farm and Cider is affordable and beneficial to the surrounding community is one of King’s top priorities. She’s currently offering a discount for Detroit Public Schools.

The Midwestern city’s population of about 670,000 is nearly 80% Black. With a median household income of less than $29,500 in 2018, about 36% of Detroiters live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Jaime Harrison talks historical campaign and building a ‘New South’

EXCLUSIVE: The South Carolina U.S. Senate candidate weighs the historical nature of his enthusiastic campaign to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham

Jaime Harrison is on a mission to unseat longstanding U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina in the upcoming 2020 election, and with tens of millions of dollars raised and enthusiasm around his campaign, he just might be able to do it.

Of course, this is no easy feat by any measure. Harrison, who is a Black man running as a Democrat to beat an incumbent Republican in a red state, understands the political and historical nature of his campaign.

If elected, Harrison would become the first Black Democrat to serve as a U.S. senator from the Palmetto State and only the second Black senator in the southern state’s long, storied history.

Read More: Jaime Harrison breaks fundraising record for senate race

Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison addresses supporters at a drive-in rally on October 17, 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Harrison is running against incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). (Photo by Cameron Pollack/Getty Images)

Following in the footsteps of other Black history-making politicians like former President Barack Obama and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, Harrison would also become only the 11th African American to win a U.S. Senate seat.

But Harrison says winning Graham’s seat goes beyond the superlative “first” or being on the shortlist of Black political success stories. He’s also weighing the racist lineage of politicians who came before him and served in the very seat he hopes to claim on Nov. 3.

“This was a seat of John C. Calhoun. This was the seat of Strom Thurmond,” Harrison tells theGrio during a recent exclusive interview.

Read More: Lindsey Graham photographed with leader of white nationalist group Proud Boys

“This was the seat of a man called Ben Pitchfork Tillman, a man who was governor of South Carolina. He changed the Constitution because he didn’t want a Black person to ever be governor. But he was also a senator and he would go to the floor of the U.S. Senate and talk about the joys of lynching of Black folks.”

What’s more, Harrison acknowledged that, if elected, he and current Republican Senator Tim Scott, would also make history as the first state to have two Black senators serving at the same time.

Jaime Harrison, left, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), right. (Photo: Getty Images)

“It really is about closing the book on the Old South and writing a brand new book called The New South,” said Harrison. “And I think it will send a signal not only to South Carolina but to the region, but all across the country that we are making progress, that we are moving forward. And we’re doing it together. So I think it will be tremendous and I hope and pray that it happens.”

The 44-year-old candidate’s journey to politics is a classic story of the American Dream — particularly growing up Black and poor in America’s post-Jim Crow South. Born to a teenage mom in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Harrison says he was raised by his grandparents who had only a fourth and eighth-grade education.

Read More: Obama urges South Carolina voters to elect Jaime Harrison

“We didn’t have much in Orangeburg, but, you know, we were still rich in terms of the values that were in my family. My grandparents taught me the value of hard work. They taught me the value of helping other folks. And those are the things that still live with me to this very day,” he said.

Harrison was able to channel those values into an impressive rise to attend Yale University and Georgetown Law School and eventually working as an aide for longtime U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn, who now serves as House Majority Whip and later the first African-American executive director of the House Democratic Caucus.

Harrison also briefly worked as a social studies teacher to ninth graders in South Carolina and worked for a non-profit helping to improve the college and career pipeline for low-income youth. As a senator representing the entire state, he hopes to create more pathways for other young people to live out their own version of the American Dream.

South Carolina’s history of slavery and segregation is not lost on Harrison, in fact, he hopes his potential election win serves as an opportunity to begin building new bridges in the South — one that is inclusive for all.

Read More: Graham appears to imply Black liberals are not welcome in South Carolina

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (Credit: Jamie Harrison and U.S. Gov’t)

His opponent Lindsey Graham recently caused shock waves when he appeared to suggest that Black people were only welcomed in South Carolina if they’re conservative.

“I care about everybody. If you’re a young African American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state. You just need to be conservative, not liberal,” Graham said during a forum that was supposed to be his second debate against Harrison but was canceled after Graham declined to test for COVID-19.

Harrison says Graham’s comment only further illustrates why it’s time for a new senator in town.

“Lindsey Graham is a relic of an old south. And I’m talking about building a new South, one that is bold, that’s inclusive, that’s diverse,” Harrison said.

“When you are a U.S. senator, you represent all of your people, Black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and you represent them regardless of their political ideology, regardless of their religion, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison waves to supporters before speaking at a drive-in rally on October 17, 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Harrison is running against incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). (Photo by Cameron Pollack/Getty Images)

Harrison said he wants his election to be a turning point for the South, in which racism is a thing of the past. “We can’t be silent in the face of bigotry, in the face of hatred and division. It’s important that all of us stand up and say enough is enough,” said Harrison.

“If folks can stand up … and just let their words be spoken through their vote, we will change the direction of this country, we will change the direction of the lives of many people, and we’ll bring hope back to communities all across this state.”

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DJ Boof says Wendy Williams staff is ‘afraid to speak up’ as concerns for her health grow

The veteran TV host of ‘The Wendy Williams Show’ stammered and appeared unwell during Friday’s episode

Wendy Williams has a history of health issues that have caused her to time off from her morning talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, but she has always recovered and returned to the airwaves.

This week, however, left fans of the program concerned that signs of declining health may be showing during her tapings.

On Friday’s episode, Williams, 56, appeared to be stuttering through her dialogue during the “Hot Topics” segment. When discussing singer Adele‘s upcoming appearance on Saturday Night Live, which took place Saturday night, Williams referred to the multi-Grammy winner as “Hodel,” quickly acknowledging her gaffe. As the host continued, she stammered through her speech and appeared to be delivering her dialogue with labored breathing, taking multiple pauses.

Wendy Williams, the host of “The Wendy Williams Show,” has drawn concerns about her health after Friday’s episode. (Via screenshot)

A staff member even tried to intervene to get her mind back on track during the segment.

Williams misspoke again as she scolded Adele fans who criticized the singer for only hosting SNL and not doing a musical performance. Grammy-winning singer H.E.R. was the night’s music guest.

Williams called people who criticized Adele’s thin figure for being jealous and said those who said the “Hello” singer looked horrible were “mealous.” Once again, the veteran host acknowledged that she did not say “jealous.”

READ MORE: NeNe Leakes calls out Wendy Williams, Andy Cohen: ‘They both need my help’

DJ Boof, Williams’ former disk jockey, said Sunday on social media that he suspects that Williams is unwell. He made the comment while responding to a fan who suggested that she stop the show’s production, as seen in a screengrab by The Jasmine Brand.

“Wendy you need to stop your show and seriously get help,” one fan wrote on Instagram, accusing her camp of “just watching you spiral instead of sending help shame on them.” The user concluded by saying that they will not be watching the show until she checks into a rehabilitation center.

DJ Boof, confirming that he departed the show due to Williams being stubborn, replied to the post saying: “Y’all have no idea what’s really going on and everyone there is afraid to speak up because they don’t wanna lose their jobs.. this is going to play out bad.. i feel sorry for the workers and victims.”

READ MORE: Lifetime set to begin production on Wendy Williams biopic

Williams, who has been transparent about struggling with drug addiction in the past, disclosed that she had been residing at a sober house to deal with an addiction to an undisclosed substance back in 2019.

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Election could stoke US marijuana market, sway Congress

Cannabis initiatives on the ballot in multiple states will draw voters who could influence other races, including the tight U.S. Senate battle in Arizona

Voters in four states from different regions of the country could embrace broad legal marijuana sales on Election Day, and a sweep would highlight how public acceptance of cannabis is cutting across geography, demographics and the nation’s deep political divide.

The Nov. 3 contests in New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana will shape policies in those states while the battle for control of Congress and the White House could determine whether marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Already, most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some form and 11 now have fully legalized the drug for adults — Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont. It’s also legal in Washington, D.C.

In conservative Mississippi, voters will consider competing ballot proposals that would legalize medicinal marijuana, which is allowed in 33 states.

This May 20, 2019, file photo, shows a marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena, Calif. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Nick Kovacevich, CEO of KushCo Holdings, which supplies packaging, vape hardware and solvents for the industry, called the election “monumental” for the future of marijuana.

New Jersey, in particular, could prove a linchpin in the populous Northeast, leading New York and Pennsylvania toward broad legalization, he said.

READ MORE: Michigan Gov. Whitmer signs bill expunging certain marijuana convictions

“It’s laying out a domino effect … that’s going to unlock the largest area of population behind the West Coast,” Kovacevich said.

The cannabis initiatives will draw voters to the polls who could influence other races, including the tight U.S. Senate battle in Arizona.

In Colorado, one supporter of legal cannabis could lose his seat. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who is struggling in an increasingly Democratic state where some in the industry have lost faith in his ability to get things done in Washington.

Despite the spread of legalization in states and a largely hands-off approach under President Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate has blocked cannabis reform, so under federal law marijuana remains illegal and in the same class as heroin or LSD. That has discouraged major banks from doing business with marijuana businesses, which also were left out in the coronavirus relief packages.

“Change doesn’t come from Washington, but to Washington,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “States are sending a clear message to the federal government that their constituencies want to see cannabis legalization.”

The presidential election could also influence federal marijuana policy, though the issue has been largely forgotten in a campaign dominated by the pandemic, health care and the nation’s wounded economy.

Trump’s position remains somewhat opaque. He has said he is inclined to support bipartisan efforts to ease the U.S. ban on marijuana but hasn’t established a clear position on broader legalization. He’s appointed attorneys general who loath marijuana, but his administration has not launched crackdowns against businesses in states where pot is legal.

Joe Biden has said he would decriminalize — but not legalize — the use of marijuana, while expunging all prior cannabis use convictions and ending jail time for drug use alone. But legalization advocates recall with disgust that he was a leading Senate supporter of a 1994 crime bill that sent droves of minor drug offenders to prison.

Elizabeth Owens protests on the steps of New York City Hall in support of the proposed Fairness and Equity Act, which would attempt to reform racially biased arrests in regards to marijuana possession in New York state. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Even if there are lingering doubts about Biden, the Democratic Party is clearly more welcoming to cannabis reform, especially its progressive wing. Vice presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California has said making pot legal at the federal level is the “smart thing to do.”

Familiar arguments are playing out across the states.

Opponents fear children will be lured into use, roads will become drag strips for stoned drivers and widespread consumption will spike health care costs.

Those backing legalization point out the market is already here, though in many cases still thriving underground, and argue that products should be tested for safety. Legal sales would mean tax money for education and other services, and social-justice issues are also in play, after decades of enforcement during the war on drugs.

An added push this year could come from the virus-damaged economy — states are strapped for cash and legalized cannabis holds out the promise of a tax windfall. One Arizona estimate predicts $255 million a year would eventually flow for state and local governments, in Montana, $50 million.

READ MORE: Black techies behind Veriheal seek to de-stigmatize cannabis

Despite the pandemic and challenges including heavy taxes and regulation, marijuana sales are climbing. Arcview Market Research/BDSA expects U.S. sales to climb to $16.3 billion this year, up from $12.4 billion in 2019.

In New Jersey, voters are considering a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana use for people 21 and over. It’s attracted broad support in voter surveys. If approved, it’s unclear when shops would open. The amendment also subjects cannabis to the state’s sales tax, and lets towns and cities add local taxes.

In this March 22, 2019 file photo, shows marijuana buds being sorted into a prescription jar at Compassionate Care Foundation’s medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

The Arizona measure known as Proposition 207 would let people 21 and older possess up to an ounce or a smaller quantity of concentrates, allow for sales at licensed retailers and for people to grow their own plants. Retail sales could start in May. State voters narrowly rejected a previous legalization effort in 2016.

If Montana voters approve, sales would start in 2022. Montana passed a medicinal marijuana law in 2004 and updated it in 2016. The proposed law would allow only owners of current medical marijuana businesses to apply for licenses to grow and sell marijuana for the broader marketplace for the first year.

Perhaps no other state epitomizes changing views more than solidly conservative South Dakota, which has some of the country’s strictest drug laws.

The sparsely populated state could become the first to approve medicinal and adult-use marijuana at the same time. However, legalizing broad pot sales would be a jump for a state where lawmakers recently battled for nearly a year to legalize industrial hemp, a non-intoxicating cannabis plant.

Meanwhile, a confusing situation has unfolded in Mississippi, after more than 100,000 registered voters petitioned to put Initiative 65 on the ballot. It would allow patients to use medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions, as certified by physicians. But legislators put an alternative on the ballot, which sponsors of the original proposal consider an attempt to scuttle their effort.

Hawkins is among those already looking toward 2021, when a new round of states could move toward legalization, including New York and New Mexico.

“There is clearly a tide,” Hawkins said. “We are moving toward a critical mass of states that … will bring about the end of federal prohibition on cannabis.”


Associated Press writers Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; Bob Christie in Phoenix; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Montana; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; and Nick Riccardi in Denver contributed.

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Pence to continue campaigning after ‘close contact’ staff contract coronavirus

Multiple senior aides to the vice president have recently tested positive for COVID-19

While a number of people in Mike Pence‘s inner circle recently tested positive for COVID-19, the vice president reportedly has no plans to cancel his scheduled campaign events with the General Election drawing within a week away.

Pence apparently does not plan to self-quarantine to be sure not to spread coronavirus under the guise of being an essential worker, should he have unknowingly contracted the virus from one of his staff members. He and his wife, Karen Pence, tested negative on Saturday and Sunday, as reported by The New York Times.

According to spokesman Devin O’Malley, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short tested positive for the disease on Saturday. In addition to Short, four other members of his staff have also contracted the virus that has caused a global pandemic. Marty Obst, one of Pence’s advisors, also tested positive earlier this week, a person familiar with the matter said.

Vice President Mike Pence (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

 “While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the C.D.C. guidelines for essential personnel,” O’Malley stated.

Pence, under his role as second in command to President Donald Trump, is in charge of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

READ MORE: Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t think he can get COVID-19: ‘It’s mutual respect’

Despite these positive tests affecting people so near to him, Pence is choosing to continue traveling around the nation under his separate capacity as a vice presidential candidate and surrogate for the Trump reelection campaign, less than 10 days out from the Nov. 3 election. This comes weeks after Trump and First Lady Melania Trump contracted coronavirus earlier this month. The disease hospitalized the president for days.

Since the President’s diagnosis, it was reported that several other members of the Administration had contracted COVID-19. This includes former political advisor Kellyanne Conway, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, policy advisor Stephen Miller and campaign manager Bill Stepien.

Questions surrounding the safety protocols at the White House concerning coronavirus have been raised heavily since it penetrated to heavily weeks ago. President Trump has also returned to holding public campaign rallies, and the Washington Post reported that during the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, guests of Trump opted not to wear masks during the broadcast.

Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite an apparent outbreak of the coronavirus among his senior aides, the White House says. O’Malley said the vice president and his wife “remain in good health.”

READ MORE: Fauci advocates mask mandate amid COVID-19 surge across US

Trump commented on Short early Sunday after his plane landed at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington.

“I did hear about it just now,” he said. “And I think he’s quarantining. Yeah. I did hear about it. He’s going to be fine. But he’s quarantining.”

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, called Pence’s decision to travel “grossly negligent” regardless of the stated justification that Pence is an essential worker.

“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.

“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

After a day of campaigning in Florida on Saturday, Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force Two shortly after the news of Short’s diagnosis was made public. He is scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon in Kinston, NC.

Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force since late February, has repeatedly found himself in an uncomfortable position balancing political concerns with the administration’s handling the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans. The vice president has advocated mask-wearing and social distancing, but often does not wear one himself and holds large political events where many people do not wear face-coverings.

By virtue of his position as vice president, Pence is considered an essential worker. The White House did not address how Pence’s political activities amounted to essential work.

Pence’s handling of his exposure to a confirmed positive case stands in contrast to how Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris responded when a close aide and a member of her campaign plane’s charter crew tested positive for the virus earlier this month. She took several days off the campaign trail citing her desire to act out of an abundance of caution.

— The Associated Press’ Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Irving McPhail, new president of St. Augustine’s University, dies of COVID-19

Several people associated with the HBCU gathered outside his residence to pay their respects to the educator

Dr. Irving P. McPhail, who took over as president of St. Augustine’s University this summer, died earlier this month just days after testing positive for coronavirus. He was 71.

McPhail became the 12th president of St. Augustine’s on July 15, succeeding Dr. Everett Ward as head of the private historically black college in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Several students and faculty members of the school have gathered outside McPhail’s residence to honor the short-lived president, local newspaper The News & Observer reports.

Dr. Irving P. McPhail

In September, McPhail went into self-quarantine after being exposed to someone with coronavirus, the fast-spreading novel virus that causes the COVID-19 disease that been attributed to more than 1 million deaths around the globe in less than a year. This prompted him to give his Sept. 17 SAU fall convocation via a pre-recorded message, according to Richmond Free Press.

READ MORE: Fauci advocates mask mandate amid COVID-19 surge across US

McPhail first reported experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 on the weekend of Oct. 3 and was later taken to WakeMed Health and Hospitals, a health-care system in the capital area. An email from the university was sent out on Oct 12 saying that McPhail was “recovering” after “receiving expert care and treatment at a local hospital.”

The letter continued by reiterating that McPhail did not come into contact with COVID-19 while he was on the SAU campus and that he been taking every precaution whenever on campus.

“President McPhail has been a strong proponent of face coverings and social distancing. He has regularly communicated with the campus community about SAU’s COVID-19 protocols and expectations, through both formal and informal channels,” the message said.

READ MORE: Monica Roberts, trailblazing trans rights reporter, has died

James Perry, the chair of St. Augustine’s board of trustees, says McPhail stayed home and took over-the-counter medicine in the early stages of his quarantine, unaware if he had contracted the virus at the time. The late president was hospitalized after having trouble breathing.

Perry said that McPhail initially showed signs of improving health during his hospital stay, but his condition worsened as time went on.

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Minority communities question election-year push by EPA

Critics say new environmental spending is undercut by the White House’s rollback of environmental regulations and weak enforcement against polluters

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Theresa Landrum lives in southwest Detroit, where residents complain frequently about dirty air. Tree-shaded neighborhoods with schools, churches and parks lie on either side of an interstate highway and in the shadow of a sprawling oil refinery that belches soot and fumes.

Landrum, a Black retiree from General Motors and a longtime anti-pollution activist, wasn’t impressed when Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler recently pledged $200,000 to promote “community health initiatives” in her section of the city during his blitz of visits to battleground states in the presidential election campaign.

“Is this a joke?” she said. “It would take billions of dollars to fix what is wrong with our environment here. All of a sudden he’s going to throw somebody a grain of sand in a community where people have been poisoned for decades?”

Under President Donald Trump, the EPA has slashed support for some programs and regulatory protections benefiting disadvantaged communities. His budgets have proposed killing or cutting funds to enforce regulations promoting environmental justice — fair treatment of racial minorities and low-income residents who live near polluting industries and are disproportionately exposed to contamination — although Congress has continued most of the spending.

Theresa Landrum is photographed near the Marathon refinery, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Detroit. Landrum wasn’t impressed when told that Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler had pledged $200,000 to promote “community health initiatives” in her section of the city during his blitz of visits to battleground states in the presidential election campaign. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Now, the agency is portraying itself as a champion of such communities — an initiative skeptics contend is more about wooing Black and Latino support as Trump seeks re-election than protecting their air and water.

Wheeler’s approach amounts to “window dressing” intended to divert the attention of minority voters from the Trump administration’s weak environmental protection record, said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation.

Wheeler and other top EPA officials have fanned out nationally in recent months, particularly in swing states such as Michigan, holding news conferences to distribute grants and tout the Trump administration’s record. During his latest Michigan visit Friday, he announced $10.7 million to replace lead service lines in disadvantaged communities in Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor, and educate the public about dangers of lead-tainted drinking water.

Trump’s EPA “has taken meaningful steps to improve the health and environmental conditions for Americans everywhere, especially those in low-income and under-served communities,” Wheeler said Sept. 30 in Traverse City, Michigan, where he announced the $200,000 for Detroit.

The funds will help develop strategies for notifying vulnerable residents more quickly about public health risks, including the coronavirus, EPA said.

READ MORE: Harris appeals directly to Black men: ‘Honor the ancestors’

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat whose district includes the section of Detroit targeted for the spending, described it as “an insulting drop in the bucket.”

“These grants are a pitiful attempt to distract from the sky high, mounting costs of the Trump EPA’s prioritizing corporate polluters over Black and brown communities,” Tlaib said.

Nine other grants of the same amount were awarded this year for neighborhood and tribal projects. One in Minneapolis will provide education on lead paint dangers, asthma hazards and use of disinfectants to prevent coronavirus. Another will focus on minimizing air and water pollution during wildfires, floods and other disasters at the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians Reservation in California.

In a September speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of EPA’s founding, Wheeler said such efforts would be a focal point of a second Trump term. The agency would promote “community-driven environmentalism” built on restoring polluted industrial sites, better treatment of drinking water tainted with lead or chemicals, and other locally focused actions, he said.

Zug Island, a heavily industrialized island at the southern city limits of Detroit is seen, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Detroit. The area in Southwest Detroit has been the subject of numerous air pollution and public health studies. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The agency lost sight of its core mission before Trump’s arrival, Wheeler said, focusing excessively on climate change to impress “foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country.”

But critics say the administration’s spending in those communities is undercut by its rollback of environmental regulations and weak enforcement against polluters.

“It’s like a doctor knowing what the root cause of a problem is but saying we’re going to just deal with the symptoms and not focus on a real cure,” said Ali, a former EPA senior adviser who worked on environmental justice for 24 years before resigning less than two months after Trump took office. “If you’re not willing to strengthen existing laws and make sure people are protected, it’s just sugar coating.”

Academic studies have shown low-income and minority communities suffer disproportionately from pollution, partly because so many landfills, factories and other sources are located there. Wheeler acknowledged that in his speech. But he said environmental regulation sometimes makes things worse by, for example, making it hard to build new factories on contaminated sites.

READ MORE: Black youth activist movement at the forefront of political change

The Trump administration has hampered research identifying unfair burdens on such communities while weakening standards for pollutants that hit them especially hard, such as mercury, ground-level ozone and coal ash contaminants, the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a 2019 report.

Wheeler says “environmental justice is an important concern to the agency, but his agency’s actions aren’t following through with his promise,” said Anita Desikan, a research analyst with the nonprofit advocacy organization.

She also noted EPA’s decision to cut back on enforcing key regulations for polluting industries over the summer — a move Wheeler said was necessary to help businesses take coronavirus precautions.

Wheeler defended EPA’s enforcement record during his September appearance in Michigan. When proposing regulatory rollbacks, he said, the agency has offered replacements that would protect the environment in more cost-effective ways.

This photo taken Sept. 30, 2020, shows U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler during an appearance in Traverse City, Mich., where he announced an environmental justice grant for Detroit and pledged a more community-oriented focus in a second Trump administration. (AP Photo/John Flesher)

Southwest Detroit has been the subject of numerous air pollution and public health studies. The 250-acre Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery reached a proposed settlement with state regulators this summer for 10 air quality violations. The area also has a coal-fired power plant, steel mills and other industrial sites.

An hour’s drive north is Flint, a majority Black city of nearly 100,000 still recovering from lead contamination of its drinking water that prompted $100 million in federal assistance for replacing service lines and other infrastructure. Karen Weaver, who was mayor at the height of the crisis, said the problem might have been avoided if governments had given due regard to environmental justice.

“It seems late to be having this conversation, but of course better late than never,” Weaver said, adding that the city could have used one of the $200,000 grants.

Landrum, the Detroit activist and a member of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, said the Trump administration must do more than provide modest grants and make promises to earn credibility with environmentally degraded communities.

“Environmental racism, systemic racism, exists in Detroit and Michigan and throughout the U.S.,” Landrum said. “But people don’t want to see.”


Associated Press reporter Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City contributed to this story.

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Black contractor braves threats in removing Confederate statues in Richmond

An accomplished Black businessman, Devon Henry took on a job the Virginia city says others were unwilling to do

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Devon Henry paced in nervous anticipation, because this was a project like nothing he’d ever done. He wore the usual hard hat — and a bulletproof vest.

An accomplished Black businessman, Henry took on a job the city says others were unwilling to do: lead contractor for the now-completed removal of 14 pieces of Confederate statuary that dotted Virginia’s capital city. There was angry opposition, and fear for the safety of all involved.

But when a crane finally plucked the equestrian statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson off the enormous pedestal where it had towered over this former capital of the Confederacy for more than a century, church bells chimed, thunder clapped and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Henry’s brother grabbed him, and they jumped up and down. He saw others crying in the pouring rain.

“You did it, man,” said Rodney Henry.

Devon Henry, owner of Henry Enterprises, gestures during an interview Tuesday Sept. 15, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Success came at some cost. Devon Henry faced death threats, questions about the prices he charged, allegations of cronyism over past political donations to the city’s mayor and an inquiry by a special prosecutor. But he has no regrets.

“I feel a great deal of conviction in what we did and how it was done,” Henry, 43, told The Associated Press in the only interview he has given.

As recently as a few years ago, the removal of Richmond’s collection of Confederate monuments seemed nearly impossible, even as other tributes to rebel leaders around the U.S. started falling.

It was a particularly charged issue in a historic city with a central role in the Civil War. And the statues, especially along historic Monument Avenue, were breathtaking in size and valued for their artistic quality, drawing visitors like Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.

The tide turned after the death of George Floyd in police custody, which ignited a wave of Confederate monument removals. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and the city council committed to removing the statues, something the Democrat-led General Assembly had authorized earlier in the year.

READ MORE: Charlottesville tears down Confederate statue outside courthouse

Stoney, who is Black and has also faced backlash to his role in the monument removals, including racist and threatening voicemails, said in a debate in early October that “what we did was legal, it was appropriate, and it was right.”

Henry “put his life on the line, put his family’s lives on the line, he put his business on the line. And we removed those monuments,” the mayor said.

This Wednesday July 1, 2020, file photo shows workers preparing to remove the statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson from its pedestal on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The man who oversaw the statue removals is a Virginia native with an easy laugh and warm smile, the son of a single mother who had him at 16 and worked her way up from a crew member at McDonald’s to the operator of five stores. He, his college sweetheart and their two kids live in suburban Richmond. People who have worked with him describe him as humble and immensely likeable.

Henry is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., one of five Black intercollegiate fraternities and was founded at Howard University. The organization counts the late Congressman John Lewis, scientist George Washington Carver, author James Weldon Johnson and others among its ranks.

Records show his Newport News-based Team Henry Enterprises has won more than $100 million in federal contracts in the past decade. The company has handled projects ranging from invasive species removal to crane services for the U.S. Army to general construction. Team Henry was the general contractor on the recently completed Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia.

He serves on several boards, including those of a bank and a health system foundation, and is a member of the Board of Visitors at his alma mater, Norfolk State University, where he endowed a scholarship.

Henry said the city’s Department of Public Works asked him in mid-June if he would be interested in the statue project. A contractor who turned the city down gave them his name, he said.

Henry huddled with his family to make sure everyone was on board. His son and daughter “started Googling” and “there was most definitely a level of concern” when they read about what happened in Charlottesville (where plans to remove a Robert E. Lee statue sparked a deadly white supremacist rally in 2017) and New Orleans (where a contractor had his car firebombed).

Ultimately, they all agreed to take the job. This was an opportunity to be a part of history.

This Tuesday July 7, 2020, file photo shows crews at they lower the statue Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart in preparation for transport after removing it from its pedestal on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

For safety, he said, he sought to conceal his company’s identity, creating a shell entity, NAH LLC, through which the $1.8 million contract was funneled.

Stoney’s administration initially declined to say who was behind the company, but the arrangement eventually came to light through public records requests and reporting by local news outlets. One blog ran a story headlined, “The Gory Details of Levar Stoney’s Statue Contract.” It was also reported that Henry had donated a total of $4,000 to Stoney and his political action committee.

Since his name and company became public, Henry said he’s received death threats. He’s added extra cameras to both his home and office security systems, he’s gotten a concealed carry permit, taken defensive shooting classes and now carries a weapon wherever he goes.

He said he’s also faced business repercussions. Some subcontractors have declining to work with him, he said, or doubled their prices.

An ongoing inquiry by a special prosecutor into the contract was initiated after Kim Gray, a city councilwoman who formerly opposed removing the monuments and is one of Stoney’s opponents in the November election, raised concerns about the deal.

Some of the mayor’s critics have questioned whether the price tag for the project, which included the removal of both large figures and smaller plaques, was reasonable. The statues are gone, but their enormous pedestals remain in place.

Some U.S. cities have paid more, like New Orleans, where it cost more than $2.1 million to remove four monuments. Others, like Baltimore, have paid far less. That city paid under $20,000 for four statues, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In this photo provided by Sanjay Suchak, Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale, left, talks with Devon Henry during the removal of the J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue on Tuesday July 7, 2020 in Richmond, Va. Sanjay Suchak via AP)

Andrew Baxter, a nationally known conservator of outdoor sculpture who has worked on projects at the White House and the National Gallery of Art and has conducted extensive restoration work in the past on several of Richmond’s largest Confederate monuments, was critical of the mayor’s handling of the situation. Stoney acted without the city council’s formal sign-off and before completing procedural steps in the new law.

Still, Baxter said the amount the city paid seemed reasonable.

Henry said the safety considerations of the job were a consideration in setting the price.

READ MORE: Virginia senator charged with 2 felonies after Confederate monument protest

“It’s not a situation where you’re just putting in a crane on the street and you’re putting an air conditioner on top of a unit,” he said.

There was trouble finding subcontractors. Even a company he worked with on the UVA memorial gave him a resounding “hell no” when asked to participate, Henry said. A representative of another company suggested he should go take down a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. Truckers involved didn’t want their vehicle logos showing. Workers ended up traveling in from Wisconsin and Connecticut.

Henry negotiated the security plans, eventually working with the city sheriff’s department because he said the police department was not willing to participate. (A police department spokesman declined comment.) He also hired private security.

In the end, the project went on without incident.

In an interview a block away from the pedestal that once held Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s statue, Henry mused about his participation in two very different projects reflecting this moment in the story of race and America.

Devon Henry, owner of Henry Enterprises, adjusts his mask in front of the pedestal that used to hold the statue of Confederate General J.E.B Stuart during an interview Tuesday Sept. 15, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

He helped build the UVA memorial, two nested granite rings, one with a timeline of the history of slavery at the school — a tribute to the enslaved people who built and maintained one of the country’s most prestigious public universities but had long gone unrecognized.

And he helped remove the Richmond statues, which he called tools of oppression against Black Americans.

“To be a Black man in the middle to do it, it felt pretty good,” he said.

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