Northam Lawyer to Host Buttigieg Fundraiser

'Mayor Pete' called for Virginia governor to resign over racist yearbook photo

Pete Buttigeig / Getty Images

A top lawyer for Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D.) is hosting a fundraiser for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who earlier this year called on Northam to resign from office.

The South Bend, Ind., mayor will be in attendance for the nearly sold out Friday night fundraiser in Alexandria, Va., where tickets went for as much as $1,000. Among the hosts of the event is Jessica Killeen, who has been a top lawyer for the governor since the day he took office.

Northam's office confirmed Killeen's involvement in the fundraiser and said it cleared the political activity.

"Ms. Killeen's participation adheres to Governor's Office guidelines on political activity, which stipulate that she notify the Chief of Staff in advance of the activity and engage in her personal capacity outside of regular work hours and on her own personal leave time," said Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel.

Buttigieg was among the first to call on Northam to step down from office after a picture on his medical school yearbook page was discovered showing a man in Ku Klux Klan robes alongside a man in blackface.

"Ralph Northam should resign," Buttigieg said on Feb. 2, a day after the photo surfaced. "I have high regard for Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, and he will serve Virginia well."

Northam held a meeting with senior members of his staff a day after the photo surfaced where it was decided he would defy calls from Buttigieg and others for him to resign. It remains unclear who exactly was in the meeting.

Killeen joined Northam's office after working as a top official for the Virginia Democratic Party during its campaign to get Northam elected in 2017. She was deputy director of voter protection for the Virginia Democratic Coordinated Campaign.

Buttigieg's campaign did not respond to questions regarding whether it was aware Friday's fundraiser was hosted by Northam's lawyer, and whether he still believes Northam should resign.

Buttigieg has emerged as a top contender in the 2020 Democratic primary, but he has struggled to gain traction with black voters. A recent poll in South Carolina found Buttigieg in second place among white voters at 18 percent, but in last place with black voters at 0 percent.

"I need help," he told an overwhelmingly white crowd in South Carolina, to "find people who perhaps do not look like you and make sure that they are aware of this message and they are communicating to us how this campaign can best speak to them."

David Axelrod, the top campaign strategist for President Barack Obama, pinpointed the racial makeup of Buttigieg's supporters as a sign of his campaign's weakness.

"Crowd seems very large, very impressive but also very white—an obstacle he will have to overcome," Axelrod said in April.

His failure to connect with black voters has put his relationship with black constituents in South Bend under the microscope. The New York Times reported in April that one of Buttigieg's first actions as mayor was to fire the town's black police chief, a decision that permanently strained his relationship with the black community.

Buttigieg is attempting to reverse his shortcomings. Last week, he attended the Democratic National Committee's African American Leadership Council Summit in Atlanta.

Buttigieg is set to headline the Virginia Democrats' annual fundraising dinner on Saturday night. The state party also called on Northam to resign after the racist picture on his yearbook page surfaced.