Democrat Jennifer McClellan has made history as the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress, U.S. media projected Tuesday. The 50-year-old state legislator from Richmond defeated Republican Leon Benjamin in Tuesday’s special election in the 4th Congressional District.
She will succeed Democrat Rep. Donald McEachin, who died last November not too long after winning re-election. McClellan will also now be among 29 other Black women in the House and she wants to ensure that she will not be the last, she said.
A member of the state Senate since 2017, McClellan served 11 years in the House of Delegates and ran for governor in 2021 but lost. The legislator and mom of two’s campaign message centered on expanding voting rights, protecting domestic workers and access to abortion, and ensuring environmental justice. She has over the years sponsored bills catering to the above.
She is all about voting rights because of how her family members, who were mostly domestic workers, struggled to vote in the past. McClellan recalled in an interview that her grandfather had to take a literacy test before he could vote while her great-grandfather was nearly denied the right to vote because of his role as a community leader.
“I brought those experiences and those stories with me into the public policy arena,” McClellan said. A graduate of a suburban Richmond high school, McClellan developed an interest in politics while in middle school. She became a student at the University of Richmond and earned her law degree from the University of Virginia. She is an associate general counsel for Verizon, where she has worked for 20 years, according to AP.
“It still blows my mind that we’re having firsts in 2023,” McClellan said in an interview. “My ancestors fought really hard to have a seat at that table, and now not only will I have a seat at the table in Congress; I’ll be able to bring that policymaking table into communities that never really had a voice before.”