He’s facing two public allegations of sexual assault, insists he is innocent and has been charged with no crime. Should Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax be allowed to purchase a table at his party’s big June fundraiser?
The Democratic Party of Virginia doesn’t think so.
After Fairfax’s team told the party his PAC wanted to make a $2,500 donation to reserve a table at the Blue Commonwealth Gala, the party responded that it would not accept the donation. Fairfax issued a statement Tuesday slamming the state party, saying he had planned to bring a group of African-American pastors to the June 15 event in Richmond.
The request from Fairfax came around the time that his two accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, did interviews with CBS alleging he sexually assaulted them years ago.
“We were not comfortable accepting the Lieutenant Governor’s PAC’s contribution and we let his team know that when they reached out,” Democratic Party spokesman Jake Rubenstein said by email, later saying in an interview that “we are evaluating the ongoing situation.”
Fairfax will not be denied entry if he has a ticket, Rubenstein said, but the party can control whose donations it accepts.
Neither Gov. Ralph Northam nor Attorney General Mark Herring had inquired about attending the Blue Commonwealth Gala, Rubenstein said.
Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said Northam is not planning to attend the June 15 gala; he’s scheduled to attend the Paris Air Show, an aerospace-industry exhibition taking place June 17 to June 23.
Tyson has accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in a Boston hotel room in 2004. Watson has accused Fairfax of raping her while the two were students at Duke University in 2000. Through their lawyers, Watson and Tyson asked for a bipartisan hearing in the Virginia General Assembly. House Republicans proposed a process for holding such a hearing, but House Democrats have remained staunchly opposed.
Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke said in a statement:
“The Lt. Governor’s We Rise Together PAC was planning to have a group of African-American pastors and other supporters sit at his table. He is innocent and has passed two polygraphs and repeatedly called for an investigation. DPVA has assumed he is guilty of a violent criminal act with no investigation or even a conversation to ascertain his version of events.
“This is beyond comprehension for a state party claiming dedication ‘to the preservation of all the rights enumerated in Article One of the Constitution of Virginia.’ That article, of course, provides for due process of law. If the Lt. Governor can’t receive due process from his own party how can we assume the average Virginian can?”
Rubenstein responded that the characterization was “very unfortunate.”
Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax County said the party should allow Fairfax to purchase a table.
“He hasn’t been charged with anything,” Saslaw said. “It’s their call, but it seems to me if he’s willing to pay I don’t see what the problem is.”
The allegations against Fairfax surfaced as he faced the possibility of becoming governor should Northam have resigned in a scandal that started with a racist yearbook photo from 1984. The photo on Northam’s page showed a person wearing blackface and a second person wearing Ku Klux Klan robes.
Herring faced his own scandal in February after calling on Northam to resign but then admitting under pressure of media inquiries that he had once worn blackface in college.
After apologizing for appearing in the photo, Northam resisted calls that he resign and said the next day that he was not in the photo, but that he had worn blackface at another time in 1984 during a dance contest in Texas.
The identities of the people in the photo remain unclear. Eastern Virginia Medical School hired the law firm McGuireWoods to investigate, which is continuing.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., a Democratic presidential candidate, is scheduled to speak at the gala, and the party’s website says more presidential candidates are expected. More than 1,500 people are expected to attend the event at Main Street Station in Richmond.
This is not the first time the Democratic Party hindered Fairfax’s participation in an annual event.
He was running for lieutenant governor in 2016 when he learned that the party had added a potential candidate for that post, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax County, as a speaker at the party’s convention. He asked if he could speak as well, and was told no. When Fairfax’s team said the decision was puzzling and unfortunate, a party official attacked Fairfax for “seeking to divide our party.”
Filler-Corn is now the House Democratic leader. She said she was not aware of the current dispute and didn’t have enough information to comment on it.