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Woman claims lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her; attorney general admits to wearing blackface
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — The turmoil in the top echelons of Virginia politics took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when a women publicly accused Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as a teen, echoing a controversy already swirling around Governor Ralph Northam.
A little more than a year after Democrats swept to victory in all three statewide races, party leaders are reeling, as their three top state officeholders battle for political survival.
With Northam under pressure to resign, Fairfax and Herring are next in the line of succession to the governorship. Should all three be forced to depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.
The most serious charges have been raised against Fairfax, 39, a rising star in Democratic politics who was elected to lieutenant governor in 2017.
Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor in California, released a statement putting on the record her allegations against Fairfax, which were first published on a conservative website, Big League Politics, based on a private Facebook post.
Tyson said she decided to go on the record after Fairfax strongly denied the allegations, said the sex was consensual and threatened legal action against news organizations pursuing the story.
“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions,” she said in the statement, issued through her attorneys. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”
Tyson said that during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, she accompanied Fairfax to his hotel room, where he forced her to perform oral sex after “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”
“Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me,” she said. “I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.”
At the time of the convention, Fairfax was an aide in the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry; Tyson was working at the convention.
Tyson, who holds a doctorate and is a tenured professor at Scripps College near Los Angeles, said the news that Fairfax might replace Northam “flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger.”
She said she began sharing the story of her encounter with Fairfax in 2017, when she learned that he was seeking office in Virginia.
She also spoke with the Washington Post, and, when the post decided not to run the story, “I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained.”
The Post has said it did not pursue the story because it could not corroborate either Fairfax or Tyson’s versions of event.
In response to Tyson’s statement, Fairfax issued a statement of his own again insisting that the sexual encounter was consensual.
“While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly,” he said. “I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”
Tyson’s statement came just hours after Herring apologized for wearing blackface back in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
“Some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” he said in a statement. “That conduct shows clearly that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”
He also said that “the shame of the moment has haunted me for decades” and “that I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”
Despite having this episode at UVA in his background, Herring had called on Northam to resign last week after a photo published on Northam’s yearbook page showed a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
Northam said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the 1984 photo and did not see it until it surfaced on Big League Politics. While he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he also admitted that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.
Northam has come under increasing pressure from Republicans, civil rights groups and even fellow Democrats — including both of Virginia’s U.S. senators and much of the 2020 presidential field — to step aside. He has so far refused.
After Herring’s admission, the Republican Party of Virginia called on him to resign as well, although the party has not yet issued a similar call for Fairfax.
“Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable,” said Jack Wilson, GOP state chair, in a statement.
“As we renew our call for Governor Northam’s resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring’s name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern.”
Herring, 57, was elected as attorney general in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. Both he and Fairfax had been considered as possible candidates to succeed Northam as governor in 2021.