“We can’t just talk theoretically about what generally happens, but we have a real-world example where I was falsely accused in 2019,” said Fairfax, who is Black. “Everyone here on the stage called for my immediate resignation, including Terry McAuliffe. … He treated me like George Floyd. He treated me like Emmett Till — no due process, immediately assumed my guilt.”
CNN has reached out to McAuliffe for comment on Fairfax’s statement.
Fairfax said during the answer that the “murder of George Floyd was horrific,” adding that it “recalls a history in Virginia and in our nation where African Americans, particularly African American men, are presumed to be guilty, are treated inhumanely, are given no due process.”
Fairfax is one of five Democrats vying to be the next governor of Virginia, joining McAuliffe, former Virginia state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Del. Lee Carter and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan onstage.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam cannot run for reelection, because the Virginia Constitution prohibits governors from serving two successive terms.
Fairfax has repeatedly denied the allegations and called for investigations into the accusations, saying he was “confident” that it would clear his name.
All the Democrats onstage Tuesday, in some way, had called on Fairfax to resign over the allegations in 2019. McClellan was a leader in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus when the group called on Fairfax to resign but did not personally put out a statement. But it is the fact that McAuliffe called on Fairfax to resign so quickly that has long bothered the lieutenant governor.
McClellan was the first candidate to respond to Fairfax on Tuesday, saying, “The murders of Emmett Till and George Floyd were traumatic and triggering for generations of Black people. The Lt. Gov’s comparison was shocking, unseemly, and insensitive.”
Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke responded to criticism of his comments, saying: “There’s no one addressing these allegations were never investigated as his opponents keep bringing up justice reform and the overall treatment of Black men.”
Fairfax’s comment on Tuesday came at the end of an otherwise tame debate that focused primarily on battling the coronavirus, curbing gun violence and revamping criminal justice.
McAuliffe, four years removed from his time as governor, is attempting to do something that few other Virginians have done: Serve two terms as governor.
The three other Democrats onstage in addition to Fairfax — Carter, Foy and McClellan — also looked to critique McAuliffe in different ways, but the bulk of the debate was far more focused on what each candidate would do in office.
McClellan’s most direct attack on McAuliffe came when she said the former governor “could have gone farther” on guns during his four years in office.
Speaking about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected families in Virginia, Foy mentioned her family’s student loan debt and the cost of child care, adding, “We need a governor that understands the challenges that Virginia families face. I don’t have to empathize, because I understand.”
McAuliffe, much like his campaign to date, largely focused on his own plans.
When Foy attacked him on guns, the former governor said the bill that was passed was bipartisan and noted that McClellan, who was standing next to him, had helped to pass it.
McAuliffe repeatedly attempted to position himself as the person with the most experience for the job, especially amid a crisis like the coronavirus.
The former governor pledged to focus on the pandemic — “I want to first thank Gov. Ralph Northam,” he said in his first answer of the debate — and said the commonwealth will soon have enough vaccine doses for everyone — including himself.
“I still don’t have it; I’m too young,” the 64-year-old former governor said with a smile. “I don’t fit the category yet, so I’m still waiting to get my vaccine. But as soon as we move it up, I will get it.”