FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax formally kicked off his campaign for governor Saturday, a year after facing two allegations of sexual assault.
Fairfax delivered a campaign speech at the Old Court House in Fairfax in northern Virginia.
In February 2019, Fairfax faced calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats after two women publicly accused him of sexual assault.
Meredith Watson, who attended Duke University with Fairfax, said he raped her in 2000. Vanessa Tyson, a California professor, said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex when they both attended the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.
Fairfax has denied the allegations and accused the women of being part of a “smear campaign” to end his political career.
“The voters are incredibly smart. They see through this kind of destructive, politically motivated kind of politics. And they are ready to move to higher ground,” he told The Associated Press this week.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Debra Katz, Tyson’s attorney, renewed calls for a public hearing by the General Assembly on the allegations. Democrats have previously rejected those calls.
“Apparently Lt. Governor Fairfax believes that the citizens of the Commonwealth have forgotten about the serious and credible allegations of sexual assault made against him by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson and about his deplorable treatment of them after they came forward,” Katz said in a statement.
Fairfax, the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia, has repeatedly likened the accusations against him to the lynching of African Americans during the Jim Crow era, and said they are a product of ongoing systemic racism.
On Sunday, Fairfax is scheduled to speak at Fort Monroe in Hampton, where in 1619 the first enslaved Africans in English North America arrived 401 years ago.
Fairfax was elected Virginia’s lieutenant governor in 2017.
The sexual assault allegations against Fairfax were made soon after Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls for his resignation over the disclosure of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook. Northam says he was not in the image, but acknowledged he had worn blackface for a Michael Jackson costume when he took part in a 1984 dance contest in Texas.