After winning reelection, Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) announced Thursday that he is resigning to focus on his family at the end of 2021, setting off a last-minute scramble to find candidates and hold a special election in House District 89 on January 11. Jones cited personal changes that have happened since he first announced his candidacy in 2017, including getting married and now expecting a baby in summer 2022.
“As most parents can attest, bringing a child into this world is a massive time commitment and every second with your family and child is worth its weight in gold. I’m 32, a practicing attorney, and have given everything that I have in my soul to serving Norfolk and the Commonwealth since 2017. But my new job-to-be is as a father, and I’m ready to make that the highest priority in my life,” he wrote in a public letter.
“To that end, I wanted you all to know that I’ll be stepping away from the House of Delegates at the end of this year. I want to put my family first and be the best dad and the most supportive and present husband that I can possibly be. Serving in the House has been the experience of a lifetime – I have forged relationships that I will cherish forever,” he wrote.
Jones as a Delegate
Jones’ father Jerrauld Jones held the 89th district seat from 1988 through 2002. In February 2019 Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax were suddenly embroiled in scandal, two of them over wearing blackface decades ago. In the House of Delegates, Jones earned a standing ovation after a speech responding to the scandals.
He said, “I decided to speak today because of another reaction I have heard personally and seen in the media: the reaction of one of surprise that things like blackface and other expressions of racism and white supremacy, still occurred in our society in the 1980s and even today. That surprise has been a luxury to many Virginians, most of them white. For many of us in this chamber, and millions of people around the country, the events that have gripped Virginia, they weren’t an aberration, an abstraction, or an anachronism. They aren’t a unit in a history book. To me, and many people like me, these events are a window into a struggle that defines daily life for Black Americans from the day we are born until the day we die.”
Jones summarized his family’s experience as victims of racism and oppression. He highlighted the racial chasm and the way it shifted throughout Virginia’s history and called for immediate change, alongside forgiveness, without papering over past mistakes.
In July 2020, Jones announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, when current Attorney General Mark Herring was expected to run for governor. Herring, whose brand was damaged after his blackface scandal, instead eventually announced his campaign for reelection in December 2020. Herring had the support of many leading Democrats, but Northam notably endorsed Jones. Herring won the nomination with 57.12 percent of the votes.
Jones went on to win reelection for his House of Delegates seat easily, beating Republican Hahns Copeland 79.76 percent to 19.95 percent in November 2021.
In his letter, Jones said he’s not leaving public service. He said he would continue to work to train candidates of color and women for state and local office.
“My commitment to helping those who have been marginalized, left out, and left behind remains stronger than ever and I maintain that our justice system is the best way to effect the changes we’d like to see,” he said. “Let me be clear, our work is not done and I intend to serve the people of Virginia for years to come. And that work may well mean a run for Attorney General in 2025.”
Parties Work Behind the Scenes to Line Up New Candidates
Copeland may not run again.
“I am pursuing other opportunities that may conflict with running for this seat. I have not yet made up my mind whether to re-run for this office,” he told The Virginia Star on Friday.
Former chair of the Republican Party of Norfolk Pam Brown told The Star that with no time to hold a party nomination process, the candidate will be decided by the 89th district legislative district committee: her husband Norfolk Chair Bob Brown and the committee Chair Ian Cummings. Brown said timing of the announcement of the Republican candidate would depend on when Democrats announce their candidate. All candidates must be certified by Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Norfolk Democrats will hold a drive-through caucus on Tuesday; they have not yet announced candidates.
On Saturday morning, Norfolk City Council Member Andria McClellan, who ran for the 2021 Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, teased a big announcement on Twitter. She was rumored to be about to announce her candidacy for the special election.
A few hours later, instead of announcing her candidacy, McClellan posted an update to her Facebook:
“I anticipated making a big announcement this afternoon. But as is the case in life and politics, things change and one must be ready to adjust, adapt and do the right thing,” she wrote.
McClellan said she would endorse someone else: “I will be endorsing a new candidate for the 89th District. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with her, and she will do a great job in this role. She will be able to continue the legacy of the many great leaders that have come before her. She loves Norfolk as much as I do, and I look forward to working together to ensure that our community thrives.”
Pam Brown speculated that Democrats may nominate attorney Alicia Smith. Brown also said that Jackie Glass, who came in second in a five-way race for a City Council seat in November, may be the Democrats’ nominee.
The seat is a strong Democratic seat under current lines, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The special election will likely be very low turnout, and with no incumbent, Republicans have a better chance than they did in November, but will still face an uphill battle.
In January 2021, in neighboring Norfolk district House District 90 Republican candidate Sylvia Bryant lost to Democrat Angelia Graves who got 63.49 percent of the vote. Graves spent $37,982, while Bryant spent $15,037.
Brown said avoiding a similar result in HD 89 in January 2022 will require getting strong turnout among 1,900 hard Republicans in 10 specific precincts. Getting that kind of turnout in less than a month will depend on candidate quality and on whether or not the House Republican Caucus decides to provide resources to the candidate. With recent Republican wins in the House, Republicans already control the chamber.
“It’s about who can get their voters to the polls. There are 10 of the precincts I would work, hard Rs only. There might be time for one mailing. Otherwise, this is a phone and text race,” Brown said.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Del. Jay Jones” by Jay Jones. Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0.