RICHMOND — Democratic leaders called on Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to resign after a second woman stepped forward Friday and accused him of sexual assault
Meredith Watson said Fairfax raped her when they were both students at Duke University in 2000, according to a news release posted by her lawyers. “Mr. Fairfax’s attack was premeditated and aggressive,” the release said.
Watson’s accusation follows a public statement by Dr. Vanessa Tyson two days earlier, alleging Fairfax assaulted her in 2004.
Fairfax, a Democrat, has denied both accounts. He called Watson’s accusation “demonstrably false” and said he “never forced himself on anyone ever.”
“I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations. Such an investigation will confirm my account because I am telling the truth. I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide,” Fairfax said.
On Friday night, House and Senate Democrats issued a statement saying, “Due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lieutenant Governor Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the Commonwealth. He needs to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down.”
At the beginning of the week, state leaders took a “wait and see” approach toward Tyson’s allegations against Fairfax. In the wake of a new accusation, state and national leaders issued an avalanche of statements calling for Fairfax to resign — and even threatening impeachment.
Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, stated that on Monday, he would introduce “articles of impeachment for Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax if he has not resigned before then.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called for Fairfax to resign.
“We remain steadfast in our conviction that every allegation of sexual assault or misconduct be treated with the utmost seriousness. While we believe that anyone accused of such a grievous and harmful act must receive the due process prescribed by the Constitution, we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role,” the group said.
A joint statement issued by U.S. Reps. Abigail Spanberger, Don Beyer, Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton and Gerry Connolly – all Virginia Democrats – said they believed both women and questioned Fairfax’s ability to govern.
“The lieutenant governor of Virginia presides over the Virginia Senate and must be prepared to fill the role of governor. It is unacceptable that either of these weighty responsibilities be entrusted to someone who has engaged in the behavior described by Dr. Tyson and Meredith Watson, particularly in light of Gov. Northam’s situation, which we continue to believe requires his resignation.”
The Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition, consisting of groups that support women’s right and abortion rights, echoed that sentiment.
“We believe Dr. Tyson, and we believe Ms. Watson. This new allegation suggests a pattern of behavior that is as disturbing and disqualifying. It’s time for the Lt. Governor to resign. He cannot in good conscience continue to hold public office,” the coalition said in a statement.
Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who called for Northam’s resignation, was also quick to demand Fairfax’s resignation once the second accuser came forward, calling the allegations “serious and credible.”
“It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia as Lieutenant Governor,” McAuliffe wrote. “I call for his immediate resignation.”
Republicans in the General Assembly also called on Fairfax to quit.
“For the second time this week, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has been accused of actions that, if true, constitute major felonies in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are shocked and dismayed by these credible and serious allegations,” said a statement issued by the top GOP leaders in the House and Senate.
“These accusations necessitate comprehensive, thorough, and immediate investigations by law enforcement authorities in Massachusetts and North Carolina.”
Momentum was building before Watson’s account
Women’s rights groups and Virginia Democratic leaders signaled support for Tyson once she made a public statement.
“We trust women. We believe survivors. We believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson,” the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition stated in a press release Thursday. “The harrowing experience she describes is both cruel and disgusting, and the story she shared must be met with support.”
Tyson, a political science professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, described the alleged assault in a detailed written statement released through her lawyers. Tyson said Fairfax had forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 while they were in his hotel room at the Democratic National Convention. Tyson and Fairfax were working at the convention. Fairfax, 39, now a married father of two, was not married at the time.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson said. “Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch.”
She said she did not want to have oral sex and gave no consent.
Tyson has years of experience working with sexual assault survivors. She regularly volunteered at a rape crisis center and detailed her own molestation as a child in a 2007 video. She stated that her experience with Fairfax was “especially degrading” considering her volunteer work.
Fairfax vehemently denied Tyson’s allegations, stating that their encounter was consensual and the allegations were a smear campaign against him to prevent him from becoming governor.
Virginia’s Democratic leadership has been entangled in a series of interlocking scandals since the discovery last week of a racist picture on Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 medical college yearbook. The photo showed two men, one in a Ku Klux Klan costume standing beside another in blackface.
Northam apologized for the photo and then denied he was in it but acknowledged that he had worn blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984. He continues to face widespread calls for his resignation.
When the news broke, there was talk that Fairfax would be sworn in as governor if Northam resigned. But by early Monday, the same conservative website that first released Northam’s yearbook photo also published news of the alleged sexual assault by Fairfax.
“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this smear comes out?” Fairfax asked a group of reporters on Monday.
On Wednesday, Fairfax issued a statement saying, “Reading Dr. Tyson’s account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests.”
“Any review of the circumstances would support my account, because it is the truth. I take this situation very seriously and continue to believe Dr. Tyson should be treated with respect. But, I cannot agree to a description of events that simply is not true,” Fairfax said.
Tyson, calling herself a “proud Democrat,” said her accusation wasn’t politically motivated. She said she waited to disclose her story due to feelings of “deep humiliation and shame.”
On Thursday night, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus reiterated its position that Northam should resign and said Tyson’s allegation against Fairfax should be “fully and thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies.”
While controversies dogged Northam and Fairfax, a fellow Democrat — Attorney General Mark Herring — acknowledged Wednesday that he had worn blackface to a college party in 1980 and apologized, saying “that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”
By Arianna Coghill/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.