Washington Post (July 13) reports the gift scandal of Maureen McDonnell, wife of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell under the headline, “Va. first lady plays central role in gift”.

The article reports that Maureen received a $50,000 check and other monetary benefits from a wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and that the state and federal investigators are looking into the relationship between the McDonnell and Williams. It says:

Some of Maureen McDonnell’s closest friends are surprised by the reports, saying she is as sweet as her public image. But some people she has worked with at the governor’s mansion and in state government paint a different portrait: one of someone unable to make the leap into the Richmond fishbowl.

What does “one of someone unable to make the leap into the Richmond fishbowl” mean?

I know what “pop out of the fishbowl” means, but I cannot get the idea of deliberately “leaping into the fishbowl.”

If "the fishbowl" means the brilliant cream of society, isn’t the Virginia’s First Lady already there in the luminant fishbowl?

Who is “one of someone,”? Is it a person who has worked with Maureen, or Maureen herself?

Additional question:

The line, “some people she has worked with at the governor’s mansion and in state government paint a different portrait” confuses me. Does Virginia Governor’s wife work at the governor’s mansion and in state government like a staff? Shouldn’t it be “some people who have worked with her paint a different portrait”?

  • "[Maureen] McDonnell and Williams" or "the McDonnells ...", but not "the McDonnell". – hunter2 Jul 15 '13 at 7:24

The fishbowl is the fishbowl of public scrutiny.

The one in one of someone is the portrait.

So this is the portrait of a person unable to make the transition to a life wide-open to public scrutiny.

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    See definition 2 here: macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/fishbowl – bib Jul 14 '13 at 23:10
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    I don't know the details of Richmond Va. politics and society, or how Mrs McDonnell fits in there, but isn't it possible/likely that "public scrutiny" in this case means fitting in with the "closed shop" political/legal coterie/establishment there, rather than "wide-open" public exposure (typically, through the media)? – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '13 at 23:26
  • @FumbleFingers I really don’t think so. – tchrist Jul 15 '13 at 0:27
  • Well it does say as sweet as her public image, which suggest that to the public at large (who don't see her "up close and personal") she's okay. Perhaps only the people who see her often in person have it in for her. – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '13 at 3:13
  • Perhaps only her "closest friends" think that she and her public image are sweet. Being sweet, having a positive public image, disliking publicity, and accepting a (potentially inappropriate) check can all be mutually exclusive. – hunter2 Jul 15 '13 at 7:29

The image below (from fishbowl at yourdictionary.com) shows a fishbowl, as often used stereotypically to portray how visible fish are when they live in a transparent glass bowl that anyone can see through. Saying that Governor McDonnell and his wife are in “the Richmond fishbowl” refers to them being highly visible to one and all. Their privacy is limited because they are prominent public figures, at the top of the heap among important people in the Virginia capitol.

stereotypical fishbowl

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    Who’s that hanging out with the governor and his wife there? – tchrist Jul 15 '13 at 0:16
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    tchrist. It’s Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of the dietary supplement manufacturer, Star Scientific Inc. who allegedly had previously given a $50,000 check to the governor’s wife. According to Washington Post, Williams gave $145,000 in total to the Williams family in 2011 and 2012. – Yoichi Oishi Jul 15 '13 at 5:54
  • Correction:Jonnie R. Williams gave $145,000 in total to the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012. – Yoichi Oishi Jul 15 '13 at 6:33

A fishbowl is a highly visible way of housing a pet such as a goldfish, because they are on display 24/7.

Richmond is the state capital of Virginia, and the "Richmond fishbowl" is a reference to the fact that being a governor (or first lady) of Virginia in Richmond is like "living in a fishbowl."

The comment was that the "portrait" of Mrs. MacDonnell "painted" by co-workers, was of someone unable to make the leap from "private person" to the "fishbowl" that a First Lady occupies.

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