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Justin Fairfax Will Formally Announce Gubernatorial Run

Justin Fairfax speaks to protestor
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks to a protester at Lee Monument in June. (Photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax will formally announce a run for governor on Saturday, over 18 months after two women accused him of sexual assault.

Fairfax is just the second Black man to win statewide office in Virginia, after former Gov. Douglas Wilder, and is framing his candidacy in historic terms.

He’ll open his campaign at the historic Fairfax County Courthouse, where the enslavement of his ancestors ended in 1798. The Democrat’s campaign is backed by Lord Nicholas Fairfax, a white, English relative of the family who enslaved and freed those ancestors.

“We need leadership that has focused on justice, fairness, and opportunity and has a vision for lifting up eight and a half million Virginians, and, and that's what I've been focused on my entire time in public service,” the lieutenant governor said in an interview.

Some voters may better remember Fairfax for the accusations leveled against him in February, 2019.

There were a few days that month where Fairfax seemed poised to become Virginia’s governor. Democrat Ralph Northam was facing widespread calls to step down as he struggled to explain how a racist photo ended up in his 1984 yearbook page.

Then two women accused Fairfax of sexual assault in separate encounters dating back to 2000 and 2004.

Fairfax has called the claims “ nonsense,” attacked the women’s motives, and suggested the accusations were a “hitjob.”

“Regardless of what they’ve thrown at us, people have always shown up for us at the ballot box,” Fairfax said.

Attorneys for his two accusers -- Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson have stood by their story and have called for a legislative hearing into the allegations -- something Democrats have refused to do.

“We hope the Virginia legislature finally holds the long-promised hearings about the rape allegations against now-candidate Fairfax by two Black women,” said Nancy Erika Smith, an attorney for Watson, in an email statement. “Voters have a right to know the truth.”

“The Virginia legislature’s failure to provide Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson with the opportunity to testify publicly about the sexual violence they experienced at the hands of Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has deprived citizens of the Commonwealth of information necessary to make a fully informed decision about his character and fitness to hold public office,” wrote Tyson’s attorney, Debra Katz, in a statement.

In the months since the allegations surfaced, Fairfax lost his law job and filed a $400 million defamation lawsuit against CBS News. A judge rejected his arguments, but Fairfax’s appeal is currently under consideration.

Fairfax said education will be a central plank of his campaign, with a push to set aside $30 billion for school modernization, raise teacher salaries to the national average, and guarantee a summer job or “enrichment opportunity” for any student seeking one.

The office of lieutenant governor is a part-time job tasked with presiding over the senate and casting decisive votes if the body is deadlocked. Fairfax pointed to his tie-breaking vote on Medicaid expansion in 2018 as a signature accomplishment.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) announced gubernatorial bids earlier this year. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe formed a gubernatorial fundraising committee last month but said he hadn’t made up his mind yet on a possible bid. Those candidates’ fundraising has dwarfed Fairfax, whose political action committee had roughly $80,000 on hand at the end of June.