Terry McAuliffe, the leading candidate in this year’s Democratic primary for governor of Virginia, faced a series of attacks from his rivals in a debate Tuesday night aimed at diminishing his broad support from black voters. In the most extraordinary barrage, the state’s black Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax accused McAuliffe of treating him like George Floyd or Emmett Till after Fairfax was accused of sexual assault by two women in 2019.
McAuliffe, a former white state governor who has the backing of many of the state’s top black elected officials, made a public call that year for Fairfax to resign.
Fairfax’s comments Tuesday, in which he compared himself to two black people killed in episodes of white violence, were the most direct attempt by one of three black candidates in the race to racially distinguish between themselves and McAuliffe. . who aims to recover the position he held from 2014 to 2018.
The impeachment came at the end of the debate, the first of five Virginia Democrats running for governor. In response to a question asking candidates to envision the future of law enforcement in Virginia, Fairfax said the theoretical descriptions were unnecessary because it was a living embodiment of the harm that false accusations and the rush to pass judgment can do. .
“Everyone here on this stage called for my immediate resignation, including Terry McAuliffe three minutes after a press release came out,” Fairfax said. “He treated me like George Floyd, he treated me like Emmett Till, without due process, he immediately took my fault. I have a son and a daughter, and I don’t want my daughter to be assaulted, I don’t want my son to be falsely accused. And this is the real world we live in. Therefore, we must tell the truth to power and be very clear about how that affects people’s lives. “
Mr. McAuliffe did not respond to Mr. Fairfax on the stage of the debate. His spokesperson declined to address the comments.
In February 2019, amid a simultaneous scandal involving a photograph from Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook with black faces, two women accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting them in separate episodes, allegations Fairfax has always denied. Fairfax faced a torrent of calls for his resignation. Weeks later, in a speech delivered to the full Virginia Senate, he compared himself to the victims of a lynching.
Fairfax wasn’t the only candidate Tuesday night trying to separate black voters from McAuliffe. The few public polls of the race have found McAuliffe to have a considerable advantage over his four opponents, and no polls have shown him with less than a two-to-one advantage over his closest rival.
Jennifer McClellan, a state senator running for governor, accused Mr. McAuliffe of failing to fund the state’s probation system, striking deals with the National Rifle Association during his tenure as governor, and being a late advocate for racial justice. .
“Racial justice is more than criminal justice reform,” said McClellan, who is black. “It’s built into all the systems we have in government, and it didn’t need the George Floyd assassination or the Unite the Right rally to teach me that.”
McAuliffe, during his speaking turns, emphasized his relationships with Northam and President Biden, two Democrats who owe their positions to strong relationships and the support of black voters. He highlighted his move to restore the voting rights of 206,000 criminals in the state and said that all police officers in the state should use a body camera “so we can see what’s going on.”
“Thank God we had all those people who had those cell phones when George Floyd was killed,” he said.
McAuliffe barely mentioned his rivals during the debate, except to remind the audience that Ms. McClellan was a frequent associate of his when he was governor. But Fairfax, at the end of the debate, tried to define himself as the main rival of the talkative former governor.
“There seem to be two sets of rules here, one where the governor can talk as long as he wants and do whatever he wants, and one for everyone else,” Fairfax said. “I think that’s part of the problem, that we have so many disparities in our society.”