RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) filed paperwork with the state on Friday to run for governor in 2021, a day before officially kicking off his campaign with two events over the weekend in Fairfax and Hampton.
The former federal prosecutor was elected lieutenant governor in 2017 after he garnered nearly 53 percent of the vote, becoming only the second African American to win a statewide election in Virginia. Fairfax said that he aims to follow the path of L. Douglas Wilder (D), the first African American candidate to win a statewide contest, who served as lieutenant governor before being elected governor.
“The campaign is focused on justice, fairness and opportunity,” Fairfax told 8News in an interview Friday, “and bringing that to 8.5 million Virginians.”
Fairfax touted a “bold” campaign agenda, including his $30 billion proposal to rebuild all K-12 schools in Virginia that are more than 40 years old, an effort to raise teacher pay in the commonwealth and continuing with police reform measures.
He also stressed his desire to improve the state’s healthcare system, noting that while presiding over the state Senate as lieutenant governor he was the tie-breaking vote to expand Medicaid to as many as 400,000 uninsured residents. Virginians became more familiar with Fairfax in 2019 after it seemed as if he would take over for Gov. Ralph Northam, who faced mounting pressure to resign after racist photos were discovered on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.
Fairfax was quickly engulfed in his own scandal after two separate women accused him of sexual assault before he was elected to public office. When asked whether he worries if the allegations impact the impression voters have of him, Fairfax plainly said “No, not really.”
“The allegations are false, after two years they’ve gone nowhere,” he added. “Virginians are really tired of those kinds of destructive politics.”
Fairfax, who claimed “political rivals,” including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, coordinated the effort to smear his name, filed a $400 million defamation suit against CBS claiming the network’s interviews with Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, the two women accusing Fairfax of sexual assault, inflicted emotional distress and “promoted false statements.” The lawsuit was thrown out by a federal judge but the lieutenant governor’s legal team has since filed an appeal.
“Apparently Lt. Governor Fairfax believes that the citizens of the Commonwealth have forgotten about the serious and credible allegations of sexual assault made against him by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson and about his deplorable treatment of them after they came forward. For over a year, they have asked for an opportunity to testify publicly about the violence they each reported having experienced at the hands of Mr. Fairfax and they have steadfastly denied the baseless political conspiracy theories he has spun to explain why they each spoke out publicly, at great personal risk,” Debra Katz, Tyson’s attorney, said in a statement.
Katz continued by saying that the state legislature failed to give Fairfax’s accusers an opportunity to testify and that Dr. Tyson remains open to a public hearing, a possibility that the lieutenant governor dismissed in an interview with 8News last July.
With Attorney General Mark Herring planning a reelection campaign and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe still on the outside, Fairfax is currently going up against two state lawmakers in the Democratic primary: Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (D-Prince William). If either are elected, they would become the first African American woman to be elected as Virginia’s governor.
This story is developing. Stay with 8News for updates.