Home Virginia Politics Why Justin Fairfax Should Speak 

Why Justin Fairfax Should Speak 

by Lauren Victoria Burke
I wasn’t paying attention to Virginia’s Democratic Party Convention much until learning at about noon yesterday that there was a controversy over the speaking order at the convention.  Two candidates running for office that Governor McAuliffe is quite fond of, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn and former Secretary of the Commonwealth and Mayoral candidate Levar Stoney are speaking today — but interestingly, none of their opponents are.

Typically the goal of a party convention is to make sure there’s “unity” and excitement around party candidates.  In a Commonwealth that’s 20 percent African American, unity, inclusion and turnout is key 142 days to election day.  Even though today’s speaking list includes Rep. Bobby Scott, State Sen. Don McEachin and Stoney, is it really a great look to turn away the rarest of all political candidates in U.S. politics and in the Commonwealth of Virginia: an African American running for statewide office?  And that would be one Justin Fairfax — someone who Virginia’s Democratic Party won’t allow to speak today.

Allowing someone to speak is not an endorsement. But not allowing them to speak when you have their likely opponents on the program is a clear message.  Yeah, yeah everyone knows: Stoney is Terry’s buddy and Filler-Corn is the “it girl” the Governor will likely support for Lt. Governor — assuming he’s not serving as Secretary of Commerce after President Clinton takes office. That said: What’s the big deal if declared candidates speak for two minutes at the party’s convention? Isn’t the whole point of the convention to “unify” to be “inclusive” in an effort to stoke excitement?

Del. Filler-Corn hasn’t declared she’s running for Lt. Governor. Fairfax has. He’s been a very active Democrat as Sen. Mark Warner’s campaign co-chair in 2014.  Fairfax is also a sponsor of the convention, buying a table and an ad and sponsoring the Young Democrats After Party talking place tonight.  Virginia’s Democratic Party had no problem contacting Fairfax for his money many months ago. But yet somehow it didn’t cross their mind that a declared candidate for statewide office should speak at the convention?

Fairfax made an impressive showing as a candidate for Attorney General, narrowly losing to current AG Mark Herring in 2013. And if never holding office is an issue for some we need to remember that Virginia has a sitting Governor and U.S. Senator who never held office before the statewide office they’re in now. Much like Fairfax, they were very active in the party with their money and personal support before running.

After Fairfax’s campaign and a reporter from The Virginian-Pilot questioned questioned today’s speaking arrangements that would include his likely 2017 opponent, the Virginia Democratic Party Executive Director Becca Slutzy released a statement that can only be defined as over-the-top, daffy and bizarre.

“Our speaking program has been in development since before Mr. Fairfax announced his candidacy and it’s disappointing that he is seeking to divide our party at a time when there’s so much stake with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Mr. Fairfax’s campaign brought concerns to our attention only 24 hours before DPVA’s Convention Weekend began with the expectation that we accommodate him in a solidified speaking program. It simply was not possible this late in the game. Nothing is more important that uniting to defeat Donald Trump and that’s exactly what we will do tomorrow at our state convention,” Slutzky’s statement read.

Frankly after reading the above I thought maybe a mischievous hacker was responsible, so I e-mailed a few party honchos to make sure the statement actually came from the Democratic Party of Virginia. It did.

Was the intent of the statement to blow the story up bigger? Why would party leadership in a state with a large Black electorate accuse a Black Democrat of assisting a nut like Donald Trump? Why would the party flip out over a declared candidate asking for for 2 minutes at a state party convention? Fairfax just spoke at the Loudoun Jefferson Jackson Dinner and received a standing ovation after speaking on “unity.”

If the Virginia Democratic Party is truly the party of inclusion and the goal is “unity” it’s time to wake up.  If the party is attempting to galvanize one if its most loyal constituencies for November 8th, African American voters, there is no reason for the statement above.  One would think Virginia’s Democratic Party would want as many African American faces under the age of 40 as possible on stage today.  It was Black voters who put the current Governor and Attorney General in office.  It’s one thing to talk about the future of the party and “inclusion” and unity.  But those concepts should be displayed in the party’s actions, not just its words.
  • That statement by DPVA is just a weeeee bit defensive and over-the-top.

  • notjohnsmosby

    Fairfax shouldn’t be on the agenda since he’s not an elected official. Neither should Lavar, so it’s pure BS that he gets to speak. Filler-Corn? At least she’s a delegate, and has spoken at DPVA events before.

    • Anonymous Is A Woman

      thank you, notjohnmosby. Eileen also is an elected leader, a chair of a caucus, and an elected delegate. That’s why she was asked to speak, not because she is running for office. She has not announced, may announced, may not announce (ok, probably will, but hasn’t yet and isn’t campaigning yet).

  • Justin Fairfax came very close to eliminating Mark Herring. He’s paying for that.

  • John Farrell

    I’m told that Filler Corn is a lobbyist on Capitol Hill ten months a year. Anyone know who’s on her client list?

  • …And if never holding office is an issue for some we need to remember that Virginia has a sitting Governor and U.S. Senator who never held office before the statewide office they’re in now..

    Wut? I’m pretty sure that Kaine & Warner were both governors before they got elected to the senate.

    • Just 2 B Clear

      Bruce, prior to being Gov. Warner did not hold a political office and Terry did not hold political office.

    • Anonymous Is A Woman

      His not having experience in office is not an issue. That does not disqualify him from running. And as you point out, Bruce, other successful candidates with no experience have won and been successful leaders, including both Kaine and Warner. But that is not the issue. Nobody to my knowledge is questioning Fairfax’s right to run or his qualifications.

      My objection, personally, is that he claims he was not treated fairly because Eileen Filler Corn was asked to speak because of her role as an elected leader in the House of Delegates. Just because people expect her to enter the Lt. Governor race at some point in the future, does not mean that Fairfax was denied equal time. Indeed, other people are rumored to be considering the race besides Eileen, so Fairfax was not singled out and unfairly denied a speaking spot.

      Those who spoke all seemed to have some official connection, either being an elected leader, or having recently been an elected leader. They were not there solely as candidates.

      None of that has anything to do with Fairfax’s qualifications. He is a bright, promising young man, and I look forward to him making his case for the seat. I just do not buy that he was singled out and denied a role because of favoritism.

  • Anonymous Is A Woman

    The first thing a blogger should do when posting is make sure their first paragraph is accurate. While it is generally believed that Eileen Filler Corn will run for Lt. Governor, she is not currently an announced candidate. What she is, though, is an elected delegate to the House of Delegates. One who has a leadership position as Chair of the Outreach committee. She spoke in a time slot reserved for other elected officials who held leadership positions, including Don McEachin, Dick Saslaw, and Charniele Herring.

    I also had heard, at the convention, that Eileen was asked by David Toscano to speak as his surrogate because he could not make it in time. Our programs had listed David Toscano, Don McEachin, Dick Saslaw, and Charniele Herring. And Eileen spoke in Toscano’s slot. I have since heard, however, that Eileen told somebody she was invited to speak, as outreach chair, not as Toscano’s substitute. Since there is an obvious discrepancy between what I was told Saturday and what a friend has posted on Facebook, I will have to check that one out further.

    But since Eileen Filler Corn is not yet an announced candidate (and might not announce at all), but she is an elected delegate and a member of the House Democratic leadership, her invitation to speak seems legitimate. At this point, I have heard that others are also eyeing the Lt. Governor’s race, so Justin Fairfax is the first to announce but may not be the only one in it.

    Also, Levar Stoney also spoke, and yes, he is a candidate for Mayor of Richmond. But he also has served as Secretary for Commerce until very recently. So, he too was speaking in his role as a long time party leader and elected official, albeit one who just stepped down.

    Nobody is more sensitive to fairness issues, and the frequent lack of sensitivity to them in the DPVA than I have been. I’ve often fought on the side of the underdog and outsider. But this time the anger seems misplaced.

    Justin Fairfax is not an elected leader, He is a candidate. So far, the only candidate in the Lt. Governor race, so it is hard to claim it was unfair that he was denied a speaker’s role while other candidates were on the podium. He was not denied equal opportunity with an opponent.

    • John Farrell

      Why not have Lu Ann Bennet or some of the other Congressional challengers speak?

      They could have benefited from the exposure this year.

      Instead someone wanted to promote Stony and Filler-Corn with pretty flimsy justifications for the preferential treatment.

      Denying that intent just looks silly.

      Many of us are sick of the powers that be within the Democratic hierarchy dictating to the rest of us who our candidates will be.

      This is just another example of the oligarchic habits of the Party.

      • Anonymous Is A Woman

        Since I am not a party official, I cannot answer for them. But here are some guesses. With limited time, it was important to hear from those people running for spots on the DNC and as delegates to the national convention because those are the people we were actually going to vote on.

        Other speakers were there to speak about what they were doing in the legislature or the administration. So, Eileen Filler Corn gave the minority report on behalf of David Toscano, who could not make it (now confirmed). Others spoke on other subjects about the session and the leadership’s plans. They did not speak specifically as candidates.

        No candidates spoke specifically about their candidacy. Justin Fairfax wanted to speak as a candidate, which would have meant making an exception for him. Thank you, though, for pointing out that Lu Ann and other congressional challengers did not make an issue of this, as Justin did.

        Was it a wise decision to not feature the candidates in speaking spots? That’s not my call (I am not even a member of the FCDC anymore, so I am hardly one of the “oligarchs” or insiders knowledgeable about their decision making process).

        But I do know the facts do not support Justin’s claim that he was unfairly denied a spot that other candidates had. His objection was that a potential candidate, who is a member of the House leadership, got to deliver a minority report. But she did not speak on behalf of her campaign, which she has not yet announced.

        What irritates me is lack of a factual basis for complaint. And every time I or others answer the objections, Fairfax’s supporters pull out more and more objections that are less relevant. Indeed, complaining because none of the candidates spoke undercuts the argument that he was singled out for unfair treatment. That, in fact, has been my argument all along. None of the candidates, except for elected party leaders, spoke. And they spoke about party matters and reports from Richmond.

        • John Farrell

          And yet none of the forgoing explains Levar Stony speaking on the program.

  • DPVA apologize to Justin Fairfax – “His request should not have been called divisive and we apologize for that.”


  • Video: On Roland Martin Show, Justin Fairfax says there’s been a “massive backlash against this online…I’m the only declared Lt. Governor candidate;” hope this will never happen again