Members of Virginia's disability community are slamming Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe after he ditched a candidate forum hosted by a disabilities advocacy group to attend a swanky Las Vegas fundraiser.
Mike Murphy, a Virginia father whose son has Down syndrome and autism, said that while he "leans Democrat," he found McAuliffe's decision to abandon the forum "completely inexcusable." Murphy noted McAuliffe "has long said that he is a champion for those who are vulnerable" but "proved just the opposite."
"Actions speak louder than words. It made him come across as disingenuous. It's just very disappointing," Murphy told the Washington Free Beacon. "We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe he had another commitment as it relates to his family. He flew to Las Vegas, from what I'm told. That makes it completely inexcusable, and he owes us an apology."
McAuliffe has yet to address his early exit from the forum and did not return a request for comment. The fiasco could create a political headache for the Democrat, who is embroiled in a closer-than-expected race against GOP challenger Glenn Youngkin. Murphy said that unlike McAuliffe, Youngkin "comes across as just an extremely sincere, caring individual."
"He was very kind to us. He is not a run-of-the-mill politician—I can tell he comes from the heart when he speaks and when he makes decisions," Murphy said of Youngkin. "So I'm very hopeful that he—someone who is not a career politician—can invoke some sort of change."
The Arc of Northern Virginia, a local nonprofit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sponsored the Thursday night candidate forum. While McAuliffe made a short appearance at the event, he left abruptly to fundraise in Las Vegas alongside Nevada governor Steve Sisolak (D.). Guests paid at least $500 to attend, with the fundraiser's "sponsors" contributing $5,000.
Arthur Talley, another Virginia parent whose son has autism, said he felt "horrified that Terry McAuliffe would leave us high and dry" in favor of a campaign fundraiser.
"That decision was disrespectful, reprehensible, and shows bad judgment not at all fitting of someone who wants to be governor," Talley said in a statement. "A vote for [McAuliffe] represents a continued status quo of a system not working for our families and a worsening of services for families in Virginia."
Other forum attendees criticized McAuliffe's early exit before the event concluded. Arc of Virginia executive director Tonya Milling thanked "the candidates that made this event a priority. Unlike former [governor] McAuliffe, who made it known before we started that he would only take one question." Another participant, Jacob Matthes, noted lieutenant governor hopeful Hala Ayala was "the only Democrat on this call."
With McAuliffe, Youngkin, and other statewide nominees set to square off in November, Murphy said he is focused on backing "sincere, empathetic candidates." He added that his son is "literally non-verbal," stressing the need to "ensure that when we have an opportunity to have a voice, someone doesn't just get up and leave and fly to Las Vegas."
"I still don't know why [McAuliffe] went there," Murphy said. "I guess what happens in Vegas really does stay in Vegas."