Jones hits Herring over ‘no empathy’ blackface admission in first Democratic AG debate

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring and Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk.
Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring and Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk.(Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 8, 2021 at 1:14 PM EDT
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As he tries to become Virginia’s first Black attorney general, Del. Jay Jones made clear on the debate stage Wednesday night that he wasn’t going to tiptoe around the topic of race.

Facing off against incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring in the first televised debate of the Democratic primary, Jones introduced himself as the descendant of slaves and the grandson of civil rights activists, going on to make several references to the perspective gained from his “lived experience as a Black man.”

Perhaps the most remarkable experience Jones recounted on the debate stage was being in the room in early 2019 when Herring met with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to deliver a pre-emptive apology for wearing blackface while in college at the University of Virginia.

“I was there when you took that paper out of your jacket, smoothed it out on the table and read us a statement with no empathy, no compassion, no feeling for how we felt as Black legislators, as Black people,” Jones said. “And frankly, that still pains me to this day.”

“I am very sorry for what I did one time at age 19,” Herring said in response. “It was over forty years ago, and I’m very sorry for that. It does not at all reflect the person I’ve matured into, let alone the public servant I became decades later.”

The exchange occurred as Herring and Jones sparred over who’s shown more commitment to civil rights causes, a topic that took up much of the hourlong debate hosted by D.C.-based WJLA. Jones, who trails Herring in polls, has mounted an aggressive campaign that’s pulled few punches as he seeks to unseat Herring. A Christopher Newport University poll conducted in mid-April found Jones gaining ground on Herring, but still far behind the incumbent. Herring led Jones 42 percent to 18 percent, with 34 percent undecided.