But efforts to aid Fairfax through less than official means continued last week as well. On February 12, Politico reported that Watson was once the subject of a restraining order in 2008 in Maryland, after she allegedly harassed a man she’d been in a relationship with, and that she’d threatened “tearing him down.” Watson’s lawyer told Politico that the man “abandoned the effort after hearing from Ms. Watson’s lawyer.” Prior to Politico’s story, an anonymous email account sent scans of the restraining order to several outlets, including The Atlantic, indicating that the documents “might suggest a pattern of behavior.”
It’s unclear from whom or where the documents originated, but the email does point to the conspiratorial aura that the response to scandals surrounding Fairfax—and Virginia politics as a whole—has taken on, and the real fault lines that have now perhaps irrevocably divided Virginia’s Democrats. Fairfax and his allies say the allegations are part of a political attack. After Watson’s initial allegation, the lieutenant governor said that “a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me.” While a conservative blog did make the first reports that damaged both Northam and Fairfax—during a time when national outrage was focused on Northam for an awkward statement he delivered on late-term abortions—Fairfax has seemingly indicated that he believes that the hidden hand here is a Democratic one, not a Republican one.
After Tyson’s claims made their way to the Richmond rumor mill, the Collective PAC, which has supported and worked closely with Fairfax, implied that Northam and his allies were behind the propagation, tweeting, “Governor Northam’s team and advisors have now decided to start attacking Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax by spreading lies to reporters and state leaders,” presumably in order to draw fire away from Northam’s own scandal and make the prospect of replacing him less appealing.
Later, Fairfax and his associates pointed to a rival, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, as a potential culprit. During a February 4 press conference, after a reporter asked whether Stoney, also a rising star within the state Democratic Party, might have some connection to Tyson’s allegation resurfacing, Fairfax responded obliquely, saying, “You’re great reporters, and you’ll get to digging, and you’ll get to make some connections.” It has also not escaped the notice of Fairfax’s advisers that state Senator Jennifer McClellan, whose husband, Dave Mills, headlined the recent exodus from Fairfax’s office after the second allegation, was the odds-on favorite among party insiders to be appointed lieutenant governor should Fairfax resign or be forced out.
Neither Stoney’s nor McClellan’s spokespeople have responded to requests for comment, although Stoney’s spokesperson did tell The Washington Post, “This insinuation is 100 percent not true.” But it is clear that—whether or not his claims of political interference and smear campaigns are vindicated—Fairfax’s plight exposes the internal workings of Richmond-area politics. The woman whose screenshots of Tyson’s claims were forwarded to Big League Politics, Adria Scharf, is married to a former Stoney adviser.* Fairfax’s election to lieutenant governor was widely seen as the final stepping stone in his ascendancy to the governorship in 2021, and Stoney—who is also black, and is three years younger than Fairfax—was one of the few politicians with the clout, story, and youth to challenge Fairfax’s meteoric rise. And now, with Northam facing an extended lame-duck period in his term-limited governorship, and with Fairfax’s and Herring’s chances of ever being nominated to become the Democrats’ choice for governor most likely undone, the chessboard atop the party now belongs to Stoney and McClellan.