A turbulent weekend in Virginia politics got even rougher Monday

By: and - February 4, 2019 8:37 pm

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is surrounded by members of the media in February in the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

A weekend that had much of Richmond waiting to see if Gov. Ralph Northam would resign after a racist image from his medical school yearbook surfaced last week took a new tumultuous turn early Monday morning involving the man waiting in the wings to replace him if he steps down: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

The Capitol — and the rest of the state — awoke to the news that the same right-wing website that published the photo from Northam’s yearbook had published an allegation of sexual assault against Fairfax, who issued issued a strongly-worded denial about 3 a.m. Monday. Both Northam and Fairfax are Democrats.


Fairfax said the Washington Post investigated the claim more than a year ago and opted not to publish a story in “the absence of any evidence corroborating the allegation, and significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegation.”

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax talks to reporters in the Capitol Monday in the wake of a sexual assault allegation that surfaced over the weekend. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

In a story posted Monday afternoon, the Washington Post disputed that account, writing they did not publish the story because they could not independently corroborate it, citing the fact that the woman didn’t tell anyone about what had happened and that interviews with Fairfax’s past acquaintances did not turn up any similar complaints of sexual misconduct.

The Post wrote that they did not find “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.”

According to The Post:

Fairfax (D), who was not married at the time, has denied her account through his attorneys and described the encounter as consensual.

The woman described a sexual encounter that began with consensual kissing and ended with a forced act that left her crying and shaken. She said Fairfax guided her to the bed, where they continued kissing, and then at one point she realized she could not move her neck. She said Fairfax used his strength to force her to perform oral sex.

That was just one episode in a whipsaw day that saw a political action committee suggest that Northam’s camp was behind what Fairfax called a “smear.”

“I don’t know precisely where this is coming from,” Fairfax said. “We have heard different things.”

Ofirah Yheskel, a spokeswoman for Northam, called that insinuation “absolutely untrue.”


Later Monday, Fairfax said he had “no indication”  that Northam’s team was involved.

“I did not suggest that,” he said. “You’re great reporters and you’ll get to digging and you’ll get to make some connections. And as I said earlier, facts matter.”

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is surrounded by reporters Monday in the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

But then, Fairfax was asked by a reporter about the fact that the wife of a former adviser to Mayor Levar Stoney, seen as a potential Democratic rival in the 2021 governor’s race, was connected to the allegation by his accuser.

The Facebook message sharing the allegation – the one that was screenshotted and posted on Big League Politics, which first published the allegations – bears the name Adria Scharf. And Scharf’s husband, Thad Williamson, is a former policy adviser in Stoney’s administration.

Fairfax responded: “You’re a great reporter.”

He then smiled and walked away from the scrum.

Williamson did not respond to messages seeking comment. Scharf told the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier in the day that she did not communicate directly with Big League Politics but the paper says she did not respond to further questions.

A spokesman for Stoney denied the mayor is involved.

“This insinuation is 100 percent not true,” he said in a text message.

UPDATE: The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which has called on Northam to resign, said it “takes all allegations of sexual assault or misconduct with the utmost seriousness.”

The caucus said it would “continue to assess the developing situation as more details become available.”


And, lest Northam be forgotten in Monday’s whirlwind, the for-now governor reportedly huddled with cabinet members as General Assembly leaders acknowledged there was little basis to remove him on their own.

Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox renewed his party’s calls for Northam to resign on Monday morning.

“It’s become clearer to us … regardless of the veracity of the photograph, the governor has lost the confidence of the people and cannot effectively govern,” he told reporters outside his office in the Capitol.

But Cox said he would be reluctant to support forcibly removing Northam from office.

“I think there’s rightful hesitation about removal from office, because obviously you have to consider that to some degree you’re overturning an election,” he said.

“I think the constitutional provisions are very specific on succession of office. It really does call for mental and physical incapacitation.”

“That’s why we have called for resignation. We hope that’s what the governor does. I think that would obviously be less pain for everyone.”

— Editor Robert Zullo contributed.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.

Robert Zullo
Robert Zullo

Robert spent 13 years as a reporter and editor at weekly and daily newspapers and was previously editor of the Virginia Mercury. He was a staff writer and managing editor at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., before spending five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Contact him at [email protected]