Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax joins Black women in governor’s race

Justin Fairfax formally kicked off his campaign for governor Saturday

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FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax formally kicked off his campaign for governor Saturday, a year after facing two allegations of sexual assault.

Fairfax delivered a campaign speech at the Old Court House in Fairfax in northern Virginia. Three Black Democrats, including Fairfax, are currently vying for the party’s 2021 nomination to the governor’s house. The other names in the mix are Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Black woman serving her second term in the state House, and Jennifer McClellan, a seasoned Black politician serving her first full term in the state Senate.

Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks to demonstrators in front of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is pictured on June 4, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia.(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Should either of the candidates win the gubernatorial race in November 2021, they would be the second Black governor in Virginia’s history and just the third Black person elected governor in U.S. history.

Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, was elected Virginia’s first Black governor in 1989. Deval Patrick, also a Democrat, was elected as Massachusetts Black governor in 2006.

Democrat David Patterson took over as New York state governor, the first Black person to hold the seat, in 2008 after Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned. P. B. S. Pinchback, a Republican, in the Reconstruction Era was sworn in as the first Black governor in U.S. history to serve about six weeks to finish out impeached Louisiana Gov. Henry Warmoth‘s term.

READ MORE: Jennifer Carroll Foy seeks to make history with run for Virginia governor

Should Foy or McClellan win the Virginia gubernatorial election, they would be the first Black woman to do so in American history.

Jennifer Carroll Foy is pictured in 2017. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In February 2019, Fairfax faced calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats after two women publicly accused him of sexual assault.

Meredith Watson, who attended Duke University with Fairfax, said he raped her in 2000. Vanessa Tyson, a California professor, said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex when they both attended the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.

Fairfax has denied the allegations and accused the women of being part of a “smear campaign” to end his political career.

“The voters are incredibly smart. They see through this kind of destructive, politically motivated kind of politics. And they are ready to move to higher ground,” he told The Associated Press this week.

READ MORE: Virginia state senator becomes second Black woman to declare for governor’s race

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Debra Katz, Tyson’s attorney, renewed calls for a public hearing by the General Assembly on the allegations. Democrats have previously rejected those calls.

Jennifer McClellan (Credit: Jennifer McClellan)

“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,” Katz said in a statement.

Fairfax, the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia, has repeatedly likened the accusations against him to the lynching of African Americans during the Jim Crow era, and said they are a product of ongoing systemic racism.

On Sunday, Fairfax is scheduled to speak at Fort Monroe in Hampton, where in 1619 the first enslaved Africans in English North America arrived 401 years ago.

Fairfax was elected Virginia’s lieutenant governor in 2017.

The sexual assault allegations against Fairfax were made soon after Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls for his resignation over the disclosure of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.

Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) speaks during a news conference on June 4, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Northam says he was not in the image, but acknowledged he had worn blackface for a Michael Jackson costume when he took part in a 1984 dance contest in Texas.

TheGrio staff contributed to this report.

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