The day before the Democratic Party of Virginia's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Feb. 5, Jennifer McClellan, 32, was busy instant-messaging a friend about campaign slogans, trying to get the themes of her platform down to five or so incisive words. What's at stake: better schools, safer neighborhoods, and greater incentives for small business. It's why McClellan, a corporate attorney with Verizon, has decided to run for the office of Virginia House of Delegates representative for the 71st District.
Soon after the General Assembly's session ends Feb. 26, Delegate Viola O. Baskerville — who currently holds the seat — says she'll announce that she won't seek re-election in order to pursue a bid for lieutenant governor.
A longtime student and participant in politics, McClellan says the vacancy's an opportunity too good to pass up. "I've always been interested in public service," she says, "and the government is one of the best ways to accomplish this."
McClellan grew up in Chesterfield County's Matoaca District, graduating from its high school. As a student at the University of Richmond, she was drawn to politics, serving for three years as president of the university's Young Democrats. As it happened, when the university served as host to one of the 1992 presidential debates, Hillary Clinton asked to have a student seated beside her. It was McClellan. "It was so exciting working with the Clinton advance team," McClellan recalls of the occasion.
After graduating in 1997 from the University of Virginia School of Law, McClellan took a job as a telecommunications attorney with the law firm Hunton & Williams. She joined Verizon in the fall of 2002.
Throughout her professional life, she's remained committed to her Democratic roots, serving as president of the Virginia Young Democrats. But what inspires her most, she says, are her civic and cultural ties, particularly to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, the Flagler Home at St. Joseph's Villa, the Black History Museum, and a law camp she directs for area minority youth interested in law and criminal justice.
"It's exciting she's coming forward," Baskerville says of McClellan. "We need more progressive young Democrats. She reflects the corporate and the community worlds well and is a representative of both a gender and race that says if you want it, you can have it — there's a place for you here."
McClellan will likely have some seasoned contenders. Two familiar names are surfacing as possible Democratic candidates to challenge her: 2nd District Councilman William J. "Bill" Pantele and Richmond Crusade for Voters president Melvin D. Law.
"I'm thinking about it," Pantele says. "I've had a fair amount of people ask me to, so I'm looking at who else is in the race. I know it's an important decision." Pantele won re-election to his second term on Richmond City Council in November.
As for Law, "I'm giving it serious consideration," he says. "I'm flattered by the number of people who've asked me to. At this point I'm assessing how deep and broad the support is." Law is a former chairman of the Richmond School Board and co-chair of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's transition committee. — Brandon Walters