For the second time in less than a week, national Democrats are faced with the question of whether one of their own should be purged from Virginia’s Capitol.
On Wednesday, Dr. Vanessa Tyson went public with a harrowing and graphic allegation of sexual assault by Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson alleged. “Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him. I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent.”
The lieutenant governor later responded in a statement, saying, “Reading Dr. Tyson's account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests.” He added: “I take this situation very seriously and continue to believe that Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect. But, I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true.”
The allegation first emerged in less detail on Monday and Fairfax vehemently denied them that morning.
While Democrats were largely silent prior to Dr. Tyson’s statement, by mid-day Wednesday several prominent lawmakers started to come down on the lieutenant governor following her public account.
Though none have issued a full-throated call for resignation, several have called for a thorough investigation of the facts, underscoring an increasing sense of the severity in the unfolding crises.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was among the first few 2020 presidential aspirants to address the allegation against Fairfax. “I'd say the allegations are extremely disturbing,” he told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on Wednesday afternoon. “And they deserve to be fully investigated.”
Buttigieg stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s resignation but said an investigation would lend more answers, after which “decisions can be made accordingly.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a fellow Democratic 2020 hopeful, also commented Wednesday, telling CNN’s Manu Raju that while he hasn’t read the specific allegation, he believes “it takes tremendous courage for someone to come forward in the way that she did.”
According to CNN, the senator further noted: “This is a deeply disturbing allegation that should be thoroughly investigated.”
Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), a freshman congresswoman who won in a northern Virginia district in 2018, tweeted that she believes Fairfax’s accuser, stopping short of calling on Fairfax to step down.
The lieutenant governor’s scandal has unfolded as part of a multi-pronged crisis engulfing Virginia, which began last Friday when Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical-school yearbook page surfaced showing one person wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.
During a bizarre Saturday press conference, an embattled Northam retracted an earlier statement admitting to being one of the two pictured individuals, and instead revealed that he did previously wear blackface for a Michael Jackson costume. At one point during the presser, the governor appeared to look around the room for a space to show off his moonwalk dance.
Northam was called upon to resign both by his Democratic colleagues in Virginia and national presidential aspirants in a swift domino effect, threatening the remainder of his tenure as governor.
Former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julian Castro was the first to make a public declaration among his 2020 cohort, tweeting: “It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign.”
The rest of the field quickly joined, denouncing Northam and urging him to step down.
In the ensuing days, Northam has resisted those calls while other scandals have unfolded around the two men next in line to succeed him as governor.
To add the chaos, the man who would be third in line for the governorship—Attorney General Mark Herring—admitted Wednesday that he too had once donned blackface in college. Herring said he dressed as rapper Kurtis Blow when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in 1980.
“It sounds ridiculous now even writing it,” he wrote in a statement. “But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes—and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others—we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.”
Herring also stepped down from his role as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association in the aftermath of his statement.