Outside Richmond’s Miles Jerome Jones Elementary School during a chilly fall morning, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced he would seek another term, promising “big, bold” plans to rescue the state from its pandemic perils.
The first of those plans is anchored on education and McAuliffe announced it at a Richmond public school. He pledged to champion a $2 billion per year investment in education if elected governor, to boost teacher pay and address inequities.
“We need to finally tackle inequities in education and build the nation’s best workforce for the nation’s great job creators that I constantly try to recruit to come here to Virginia,” McAuliffe said.
“I’m going to dramatically increase teacher pay. We are going to ensure that every single student in Virginia is online. We are going to ensure that and expand that every 3- and 4-year-old child at risk here in Virginia gets preschool education.
“And finally, address the inequities that we have in our schools,” he added, seemingly referring to disparate outcomes for students of color and low-income students in the state.
McAuliffe was flanked by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — three prominent Black leaders McAuliffe tapped to chair his campaign.
“I know how desperately we need Terry,” Lucas said. “We need him to lift the Black community from the crippling pandemic, because he knows that it has hit the Black community and brown communities harder than anyone else. We need him to bring his energy, and a bold vision for Virginia to our post-COVID recovery.
“We need his experience and tested leadership! Tested leadership! Tested leadership!”
McAuliffe promised policy plans in the coming months “on how to build a stronger and fairer post-COVID economy.”
“By continuing the fight for civil rights and voting rights; attracting businesses and creating the best jobs and raising wages; and, ensuring that all Virginians have access to affordable health care and building a clean energy economy to address climate change. And we do need to address the issue of affordable housing that is affecting so many of our communities,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe’s announcement followed 20 months of speculation after he announced in April 2019 that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for president. He went on to campaign heavily for President-elect Joe Biden, who during a March 1 campaign stop in Norfolk referred to McAuliffe as the “once and future governor of Virginia.”
McAuliffe had for months encouraged speculation around his run, as he built a team of allies and confidants to make a formal launch.
McAuliffe comes into a Democratic race that so far had included only candidates of color, including two women. The race could yield the first Black female governor in the United States. Virginia elected the nation’s first Black governor since Reconstruction in Doug Wilder, who was the first African American elected governor in any state.
The other candidates in the Democratic contest are Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William; Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, this week filed paperwork with the state to raise funds for a campaign for governor but has not formally announced a run.
Former House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, is seeking the Republican nomination. State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, says she will run as an independent after GOP leaders chose to pick their party’s nominee in a convention.
On Tuesday evening, Politico reported that McAuliffe’s decision had “rankled” a number of national groups dedicated to electing female candidates and candidates of color.
Asked about such criticisms Wednesday, McAuliffe said: “I am laying my agenda out about how we take Virginia to the next level. Other candidates can release their plans. I’m telling you what I want to do for all Virginians.”
He then turned to the elected officials flanking him. Lucas stepped up to the podium and said: “Terry has a track record of being responsive to Black and brown communities. ... This has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with who can best represent Virginia and bring us to where we need to be in this 21st century.”
McAuliffe’s contenders quickly reacted to his announcement.
Carroll Foy said in a statement: “While I respect Terry McAuliffe’s service, he doesn’t understand the problems Virginians face. A former political party boss and multi-millionaire, Terry McAuliffe is simply out of touch with everyday Virginians.”
McClellan said in a statement: “At this time of tremendous change and challenge, Virginians must look to the future for leadership. I welcome Terry to the race, but I look forward to discussing my 15 years of experience delivering progressive change and my vision for the future.”
Fairfax said: “The future of our politics must be about lifting up all Virginians and fighting to give justice, fairness, opportunity and hope to those who have been denied them too long.”
Cox, a retired teacher who has also said he hopes to raise teacher pay above the national average, said: “The people of Virginia deserve better for the next four years than a self-motivated political retread who will be forced to adopt every extreme position of the national Democratic party to get the nomination.”
Chase could not be immediately reached for comment.