Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder on Thursday night backed Democrat Justin Fairfax for lieutenant governor, but declined to weigh in on the contests for governor or attorney general.
Without naming names, Wilder faulted state Democrats for what he sees as mistreatment of Fairfax.
“Justin, in my judgment has not been dealt a good hand,” Wilder said in a brief interview after announcing his endorsement of Fairfax at the end of “The People’s Debate,” a two-hour program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, sponsored by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
“And I think it’s very good that he would be seen as someone credible and worthy of endorsement.”
Earlier, during the forum, Wilder expressed concern about an episode last month in which the campaign of Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, printed some fliers that omitted reference to Fairfax at the request of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The union requested a flier without Fairfax on it because the group had not endorsed him, according to a spokesman. Fairfax opposes two proposed natural gas pipelines that the union backs.
The Northam campaign has said that fewer than 15,000 Fairfax-free fliers were printed, out of 3 million pieces of literature in total, and only 1,000 of the fliers were distributed during door-to-door canvassing in Northern Virginia.
Wilder also cited a June 2016 incident in which state Democratic Party officials denied Fairfax a speaking slot at the state Democratic convention.
“I’m not faulting anybody,” Wilder said after the program.
“What I’m saying is that to the extent that it happens, anyone who permitted it to happen should be blamed,” Wilder said.
He added: “If I’m the candidate for governor, I’m responsible for whatever takes place in my campaign.”
Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, is running against state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier.
“I think Justin Fairfax is as qualified a candidate as you would have running for lieutenant governor, and has been for a long time,” Wilder said, citing Fairfax’s accessibility and “issue-oriented” campaign. “I feel that he is representative and would be representative of all the people in Virginia.”
Wilder said he has talked to both major party candidates for governor but that he has not talked to Northam in several months.
During the “People’s Debate,” Wilder and a panel that included academics and a Danville city councilman answered questions about state and national issues posed by Bob Holsworth, a veteran political analyst and former VCU dean, and from members of the audience.
Wilder, 86, the nation’s first elected black governor, is a professor at the Wilder School.
Fairfax would be the second African-American to win statewide office in Virginia after Wilder, who was elected lieutenant governor in 1985 and governor in 1989.
Wilder endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor in 2013, but did not back Democrat R. Creigh Deeds in 2009.
A spokesman for the Northam campaign could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday night.