Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a private attorney and former federal prosecutor, is poised to become the 74th governor of Virginia if Gov. Ralph Northam resigns amid the storm of controversy that enveloped Richmond this week.
That would make Fairfax, 39, the second African-American governor in Virginia’s history and just the fourth to hold the office nationwide in recent years. In 1990, L. Douglas Wilder became the first elected African-American governor in the United States.
Like Northam, Fairfax is a Democrat. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2017, defeating the Republican nominee, state Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County. This is Fairfax’s first term in elected office.
Fairfax, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a descendent of Virginia slaves. When he was sworn into office, Fairfax was carrying in his breast pocket the manumission papers that freed his great-great-great-grandfather.
He is a graduate of Duke University and Columbia Law School and in 2013 won the National Bar Association’s “Nation’s Best Advocates Award,” which recognizes 40 top attorneys nationwide under the age of 40.
He and his wife Cerina Fairfax, a dentist, live in Annandale with their two young children.
In a statement following the Northam’s Saturday press conference, Fairfax did not join other Democrats calling for the governor’s resignation. Fairfax said of Northam: “While his career has been marked by service to children, soldiers and constituents, I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation.”
As lieutenant governor, Fairfax is the presiding officer in the Virginia Senate. Republicans have a 21-19 advantage over Democrats in the Senate. The lieutenant governor votes only in the case of a tie.
Under the Virginia Constitution, if Fairfax succeeds Northam, the Senate’s president pro tempore would serve as the Senate’s presiding officer. That position is currently held by Republican Sen. Stephen Newman of Bedford.
Newman issued a statement Saturday saying that “my wife and I have asked God to give our Governor wisdom in the coming hours, and for the health, clarity and resolve to do the right thing for the people of Virginia.”