Verizon Attorney Becomes First Black Woman Elected to Serve Virginia in U.S. House of Representatives

by Xara Aziz
Credit: Human Rights Campaign

A Virginia lawyer and Democratic politician sailed an easy conquest Tuesday after winning a special election, making her the first Black woman to represent the state of Virginia.

Rep. Jennifer McClellan will represent Virginia’s 4th Congressional District after beating Republican pastor Leon Benjamin Sr. The win will shrink the GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It blows my mind that we’re still having firsts in 2023,” McClellan said. “But it is an incredible honor.”

The election was called after the sitting politician Rep. Donald McEachin died form cancer complications weeks after winning last year’s November re-election.

McClellan, an attorney who did legal work for Verizon and served on Virginia’s General Assembly, is considered to be a close ally of Sen. Tim Kaine, who unsuccessfully ran for Virginia’s governor in 2021. She supported several key bills passed by Democrats during their two years in control of the state Legislature from 2020-21, notably a law that orders the “decarbonization of Virginia’s electrical grid by 2050 and one rolling back abortion restrictions previously passed by Republicans,” according to an NPR report, which added that “McClellan is used to working across party lines; she noted that she’s been in the minority for 14 of the years she’s served in the Legislature.”

“The first step is really listening, trying to find common ground where you can and if you can’t you just keep pushing until you get to the solution,” McClellan said.

A political science professor at Howard University says McClellan’s appointment to the post “will enable Democrats in Congress to get more things done,” adding that her lawmaking expertise and record of bipartisanship would help in making significant contributions in the state.

“Given the history of struggle that Black women have faced in Virginia for centuries, her win tonight elevates the story and power and resilience of black women in politics,” professor Ravi Perry wrote in an email to NPR.

McClellan will become the 30th Black woman to join Congress, all of who are Democrats.

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