NY Times on Virginia's unresolved scandals: 'It just went poof'

The NY Times published a piece today about the trio of scandals that overwhelmed Virginia in February. It’s a curious fact that after numerous Democrats called for the resignation of Gov. Northam (over a blackface yearbook photo) and Lt. Gov. Fairfax (over alleged sexual assault), both men are still in office and seem to have no intentions of leaving.

In the space of a week in early February, the public was stunned by revelations about each of the three highest statewide elected officials, all Democrats: the racist photo in the governor’s yearbook; accusations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor; and the attorney general’s appearance in blackface at a party in college. Protesters and news crews swarmed the Statehouse. Calls for resignations came from fellow Virginia Democrats, Republicans and even 2020 presidential candidates.

And then? “It just went poof,” said Natalie Draper, a librarian sitting in the back of a coffeehouse last week in Richmond. “It’s like it never happened.”

How did this happen? The real answer seems to be that Democrats in Virginia decided they might be better off ignoring the scandal than caring about it:

Whatever may happen in the 2021 election for governor, every seat in the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly will be up this November, and Democrats have a chance to take back power in at least one chamber of the legislature. That will be hard enough now, given the bales of fodder Republicans now have for attack ads. But the idea of trying to raise money and hold rallies while spurning the three highest officeholders in the state came to be seen by many Democrats as just a needless handicap.

Betsy Carr, a Democratic delegate, said shortly after stepping off the stage last week with Mr. Northam that voters “want to move on.” “They want positive things to happen, they’re concerned about the elections,” she said.

When you put this in perspective it’s very striking. If you had to rank the importance of allegations of racism and sexual abuse/harassment in terms of everyday Democratic priorities, you’d have to say they ranked pretty high. And yet, here you have Virginia’s top two figures caught in serious scandals involving these very topics and the response is to shrug and move on. Gov. Northam has promised to make race the focus of his remaining tenure in office and Lt. Gov. Fairfax seems to have found some kind of political edge in being accused of sexual misconduct:

At a Baptist church in Richmond on a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Northam delivered brief remarks referring to lingering inequities at a ceremony in honor of Dorothy Height, a grande dame of the civil rights movement. He was followed at the pulpit by Mr. Fairfax — the first time they appeared in public together since the scandals erupted…

Mr. Fairfax began with praise for Ms. Height’s “oratory around the issue of anti-lynching,” but it quickly became clear he was also talking about other matters.

“She saw what was happening in this country, where people were being falsely accused,” Mr. Fairfax said. “They were not given due process. They were having their lives in so many ways impacted negatively, in some ways taken away, because people wanted not to get to the truth but ultimately wanted things changed in a negative way for nefarious reasons.”

It was barely subtext, and he would revisit these themes more forthrightly two nights later at a Women’s History Month mixer in Hampton, Va., an event sponsored by the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. After the lieutenant governor gave a short speech on his fight against “fabricated claims and false allegations,” the crowd erupted in cheers of support.

Yesterday, Ed wrote about CBS This Morning’s interview with Vanessa Tyson, the first woman to come forward and accuse Fairfax of sexual assault. Today, CBS aired its interview with the 2nd accuser, Meredith Watson. “I want some action from the Virginia legislature,” Watson told Gayle King. She said she’s not seeking any money from this. She just wants the truth to come out and she wants to support Vanessa Tyson. If you watch this clip to the end, you’ll see why. Watson blames herself for what happened subsequently to Vanessa Tyson. This interview is hard to watch but for the moment it seems Democrats in Virginia are content to keep ignoring her story.