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Democrats Cancel Key Fundraiser Following Northam’s Positive Test

Dick Saslaw speaks behind podium surrounded by Democrats
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) speaks at a press conference in January flanked by top Democrats, including Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (left) and Gov. Ralph Northam (right). (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Top Democratic lawmakers cancelled a marquee annual fundraiser set for Saturday following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

It’s unclear if the event cancellation, which was relayed to lawmakers Friday afternoon, was related to the governor’s positive COVID-19 test result. Spokespersons for the Democratic caucus in the Senate and House of Delegates declined to comment beyond confirming the cancellation.

The Joint Democratic Caucus’ Annual Gala traditionally attracts a slew of lawmakers, donors, special interests and other power brokers to the Homestead resort.

This year, organizers had opted to move it outdoors, to Lickinghole Creek Brewery in Goochland.

An outline of the event sent to guests noted that tables would be spaced apart, face coverings would be mandatory while moving around the 290-acre venue, and staff wearing masks and gloves would serve food directly at guests’ tables.

“It is casual and we will entertain a smaller group of people in order to meet all COVID safety requirements,” the outline said.

Rich Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said Democrats risked looking like they weren’t taking the pandemic seriously if they had followed through on the event.

“Particularly when your leader has actually tested positive, and you're trying, just on just on the grounds of science, to convince Virginians that they should be staying home, that they should be avoiding large events -- it does seem like the right thing to do would be to cancel an event like this,” Meagher said.

Democrats and public health experts have expressed concerns about the health risks posed by President Donald Trump’s rally scheduled for Friday evening inside a hangar at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. Unlike the Democratic caucus’ fundraiser, it will be held in a contained space, where studies show the coronavirus spreads most easily.

In a fundraising email sent Friday, Rep. Don Beyers (D-VA) called it “a super-spreader rally.”

Politicians from both parties have held fundraisers throughout the special session -- a practice that’s prohibited in their regular sessions. Lawmakers are currently hashing out the state’s two-year budget, a topic that generally attracts large interest from lobbyists.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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