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Virginia delegate hosts listening session at church to hear what constituents are feeling

Mark Levine (ABC7)

On a typical Sunday, full pews at Third Baptist Church in Alexandria isn’t an unusual sight but in the afternoon, the church was filled with people for a political listening session, not a service.

Delegate Mark Levine hosted the gathering for his constituents in the 45th District. The Commonwealth is reeling from three separate scandals starting at the top. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring both admitted to wearing blackface. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is accused of sexual assault.

The meeting started with a prayer and introduction by Levine. He explained he wanted to hear what Virginians were feeling. The more than two-hour long conversation included open microphones being passed to men and women in the crowd. Some stated their names and where they lived, some did not.

“He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” said a woman named Shirley.

“There is a major problem: racism,” said another woman who explained she experiences racism in Alexandria.

“I’m sorry, Governor. I’m sorry Lieutenant Governor, but my reservoir for tolerance for these types of shenanigans in the public eye is completely tapped out,” said a man who cited other national political scandals.

“I could be tarred and feathered for this, but I don’t want Ralph Northam to resign,” said a woman named Judith said she is Jewish and does not condone blackface.

“I’ll tell you one thing. If anybody has to have a problem, it should be me. I’m a black man and I’m offended,” said a man who also is a member of the Third Baptist Church.

“I recognize in Ralph something in myself that is hard to admit, but a lot of white people are going to say and do racially insensitive things because we are racially illiterate,” said a woman named Gail who said she grew up in New York state with a racist mother who she confronted as an adult.

“My family members are not racist. My friends, my classmates are not racist. We didn’t put on any blackface or dress up like members of the Ku Klux Klan. So, I resent being painted with the same brush as Governor Northam,” said a woman named Margarite.

Lieutenant Governor Fairfax is also embroiled in scandal and denies two accusations of sexual assault.

“I believe the women. I believe Dr. Tyson, I believe Miss Watson,” said a man named Boyd.

“I believe in innocent until proven guilty,” said a teenage boy who said he interned with Fairfax over the summer.

There was no clear consensus among the group of around 100 people. Delegate Levine said that was okay.

“My hope is by hearing someone they disagree with, respectfully state their position, that folks won’t be angry at each other for disagreeing,” he said. “We might disagree on what best to do now, but we all share the same values.”

Levine has called on both Northam and Fairfax to resign. However, he said he would not support impeachment for them. He has not called on Herring to step down.

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