By Reginald Stuart

Progressive Democrats in a special election in Virginia last week, selected, Jennifer L. McClellan, a black state senator as their candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, to replace Rep. Donald McEachin, her late husband who died at age 61 of prostate cancer in November, a week after winning re-election.

McClellan, who garnered more than 82 percent of the votes cast in the special contest that ran a week, is essentially assured election when the general contest is held in late February, she would become the first black woman to serve in Congress from Virginia.

McClellan joins the Democrats who will start next year’s session of Congress with a razor thin voting minority. The new team will have Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a young Democrat from New York City as House Minority Leader and be anchored by South Carolina Democratic Minority Whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.

“I feel him here,” said senator McClellan, acknowledging the loss of her husband, asserting she would “carry on his work.”  “This country was built on the backs of Black women,” she said. “It is time for us to take the lead in shaping how public policy is going to impact, not only our communities, but every community,” McClellan said. 

McClellan, a state lawmaker for 17 years is a communications lawyer for Verizon. She has represented Richmond in the Virginia state senate since January 2017. She pointed to a long list of progressive legislation she has helped lead through the Virginia General Assembly since first winning election to the state House of Delegates in 2006.  

That list includes bills and actions aimed at “dismantling the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow,” she proclaims, including championing legislation to abolish the state’s death penalty and expanding state support of funds for financial aid to undocumented immigrants.

Still, the University of Richmond and University of Virginia law school graduate, won the election primary with the backing of several dozen established local political leaders and organizations to several bearing national brand names, including EMILY’s list and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).

Sen. McClellan, a Petersburg native, who championed the 2020 efforts to elect President Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, grew up in a family lead by education and civil rights advocates. That perked her interest in history, one that continues. The fruit didn’t fall far from the tree.

She graduated as valedictorian from Matoaca High School at age 17, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond and a law degree from the University of Virginia. 

In college, she got involved as a volunteer with an alliance against sexual and domestic violence after a fellow student was killed by an ex-boyfriend. 

In law school, student McClellan became active in the Young Democrats Club, stitching valuable life links upon which she continues to build. She went to work as a telecommunications lawyer for Verizon.

No stranger to politics, McClellan dove into the political arena, winning a House of Delegates seat in 2006, where she became an advocate for tightening the state law regarding marriage of teenage mothers, strengthening, and improving laws regarding student suspensions starting with pre-K through third grade and strengthening domestic violence laws. Among her legislative peers, she rose to be a leader in the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus.

Her efforts face determined opposition from the majority white, conservative GOP legislators in the U.S. House. Still, her seasoning for battle as a progressive coming from a politically conservative state legislature make her no rookie coming on the larger political play field. Given her background, observers say she should be a welcomed teammate to blend with a handful of colleagues to raise progressive issues.