For Democrat Justin Fairfax, the race for lieutenant governor of Virginia has been a test of his toughness and his fortitude as he catapults into the national political spotlight.
As his opponent, Jill Vogel, continues to witness the shrewdness of the longtime D.C. resident’s campaign, she’s resorted to name-calling and — according to many — racist attacks.
“I clearly think [Fairfax] is not informed enough on those issues to talk intelligently about them. I just have to put that out there,” Vogel, a Republican, chirped in the most recent debate between the contestants.
Her campaign doubled down on the remarks.
“All that we have to say is that Sen. Vogel stands by her comments,” said Chris West, Vogel’s spokesman.
Those who witnessed the debate were stunned.
“I was dumbfounded and astounded to hear those words come out of her mouth,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said on a conference call for reporters with Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond).
“For those of you that were there, like Senator McClellan was, or for those of you who watched the video, you could audibly hear the gasp in the room,” Swecker said. “Justin is a former prosecutor with degrees from Duke and Columbia and to question his ability to quote ‘talk intelligently’ unquote is more like something from 1957 instead of 2017.”
State Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), in a tweet, shared his take on Vogel’s comments:
“What condescending & racist crap is this?” he wrote.
Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), who attended the debate, said the situation is unfortunate.
“Like most in the room I cringed when I heard what sounded like dog whistling politics,” he said in a statement. “It was my hope that Senator Vogel would retract her statements and provide clarity but instead she has decided to double down and that is unfortunate.”
For Fairfax, it’s all a part of his steady climb toward the second-highest office in Old Dominion.
“I grew up with my mom, grandparents and siblings just off North Capitol and Evarts in northwest D.C. Growing up in D.C., we didn’t have much money but we had a lot of people who poured into our lives, giving us spiritual wealth,” Fairfax said.
“I always imagined paying that back with a life of public service just as my grandparents did. My grandfather Charles Butler Sr., was a World War II veteran and served in the Red Ball Express and my grandmother, Alcynthia, was a nurse at what was then called Freedmen’s Hospital [now Howard University Hospital] for over 20 years. I think it’s important to give people the life and opportunities to which I had access,” Fairfax said.
Fairfax and each of his three siblings went on to higher education, with Fairfax receiving scholarships to Duke University, where he graduated with a degree in Public Policy Studies, and Columbia Law School, where he was selected for the Columbia Law Review.
Always determined to repay his spiritual debt, Fairfax decided to dedicate himself to public service — to help others gain access to the kind of opportunities he had to pursue his American dream, no matter where they start in life, he said.
He’s worked in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, developing a keen insight into solving the challenges he and his team said face Virginia families today.
As an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and the deputy coordinator of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, Fairfax said he witnessed the power that law enforcement and criminal justice reform can have to keep communities safe, while providing appropriate second chances, saving hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and changing communities and lives.
He said his primary focus as lieutenant. governor would be the economic security and opportunity for all residents.
“It is imperative that we give people the chance to rise to make a better future for themselves and their families” Fairfax said. “I support raising the minimum wage to a living wage, offering a state refinancing system for student loans and increasing access to affordable capital for small businesses.”
Fairfax also said he understands how individuals can be cynical and disheartened with the current state of politics. However, he’s refused to use that as an excuse and doesn’t want his constituents — including those in the African-American community — to miss the mark.
“I would encourage them to believe that we created our own destiny,” Fairfax said. “Democracy is a participation sport, meaning that we have to petition our leaders. We have to keep pressing for answers at every level of government and make our voices heard by not just voting but running for office.”
Raising the minimum wage should help level the playing field, Fairfax said.
“Focus on lowering college debt and making it easier for people to move from one level to the next economically,” he said of some of the pressing challenges facing African-Americans in Virginia.
As a father of two and a small-business owner with his wife, Dr. Cerina Fairfax, the Northern Virginia resident said he understands the importance of strengthening the state’s economy.
He said the challenges faced by Virginia families are unprecedented — when one bad life event can turn into a cascade of failures.
Fairfax also said activism counts as important today as it ever, adding that even some conservatives have acknowledged the racial bias in America’s justice system.
“We see examples of why it resonates right now in Virginia’s statewide races” Fairfax said. “The current Republican nominee for governor, Ed Gillespie, has run a spate of ads vilifying immigrants as dangerous and violent. As long as you have those who would brand immigrants to violence and crime, there will be a need for activists to speak out.”
So, as his Republican challenger wages a war of insults and, perhaps, race-baiting, Fairfax remains focused.
“I think it’s important to have a perspective on issues that includes those who have actually had to struggle to get from point A to point B on the income ladder,” he said. “I believe my work as a prosecutors, as an assistant U.S. attorney, positions me to understand some of the issues people face on both sides of the justice system.”