Meet Justin Fairfax, who is poised to become Virginia's governor if Ralph Northam resigns

Justin FairfaxVirginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax gestures during remarks before a meeting of the Campaign to reduce evictions at a church meeting room in Richmond, Va., Tuesday,Sept. 25, 2018.(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
  • Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been thrown into the national spotlight as calls mount for the state's governor, Ralph Northam, to resign. 
  • Prominent Democrats are calling for Fairfax, a 39-year-old lawyer and descendant of slaves, to step in to replace Northam. 
  • Fairfax hasn't called on Northam to resign, but said he was "shocked and saddened" by the revelation that Northam featured a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. 

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has found himself in the national spotlight as calls mount for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after a racist photo was found on his medical school yearbook page. 

Prominent Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, are calling on Northam to step aside and allow Fairfax, a 39-year-old progressive lawyer and descendant of slaves, to replace him. 

"Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately," Biden tweeted on Saturday. "Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now."

Northam, a fellow Democrat and pediatric neurologist, has denied that he is pictured in the photo of two men in blackface and Ku Klux Klan costumes and has so far resisted escalating pressure to resign his post

Fairfax hasn't called on Northam to resign, but said he was "shocked and saddened" by the revelations. 

"I cannot condone the actions from [Northam's] past that, at the very lease, suggest a comfort with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation," Fairfax said in a statement. "At this critical and defining moment in the history of Virginia and this nation, we need leaders with the ability to unite and help us rise to the better angels of our nature." 

In a development that could complicate his political future, Fairfax on Monday morning denied an unsubstantiated allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2004, which was reported by the same right-wing website that first reported on Northam's yearbook photo, Big League Politics.

Fairfax's chief of staff and communications director called the allegation "false" and said that he had "never assaulted anyone - ever - in any way, shape or form" in a statement posted on Twitter at around 3 am. 

The staffers said that the Washington Post had investigated the person's claims in early 2018, around the time of Fairfax's inauguration, but wasn't able to find corroborating evidence. They suggested that the allegation was politically motivated and said Fairfax "will take appropriate legal action" against his accuser. 

A rising star in the Democratic party

After attending Duke University for undergraduate studies, Fairfax worked as a US Senate staffer and then attended Columbia Law School. The young lawyer quickly moved into politics, working on former Sen. John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign.

The Washington, DC native ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2013. He then went on to co-chair Virginia Sen. Mark Warner's reelection campaign.

In 2017, he became the second African-American to be elected to state-wide office in Virginia. If he steps in to serve out Northam's remaining three years in the governor's mansion, he would become his state's second African-American governor and the country's third-ever African-American governor. 

A liberal, Fairfax holds mainstream progressive positions on a range of issues, including climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, and healthcare reform. 

Because the lieutenant governor position in Virginia is historically a part-time position, Fairfax also serves as an attorney at a private Washington law firm, Morrison & Foerster. 

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