The Perils of Eileen

Why did Virginia House Democrats give their leader the heave-ho?

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Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41) speaks in 2017. Photo by Josh Marks

 

When Eileen Filler-Corn was elected speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates two years ago, she received donations from Democrats and Republicans. That is how proud Virginians were of the state’s first female speaker and first Jewish speaker.

She went on to help turn the House blue and adopt a progressive agenda.


Two years later, Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected governor and took his oath of office in January of 2022 as did numerous Republicans. Filler-Corn’s title dropped to minority leader.

Then in April, Democratic caucus members ousted her from her leadership role in a secret ballot. Many wondered how she fell out of favor so quickly.

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Fairfax County Supervisor Jeffrey McKay called her ouster “very unusual,” stating he still wonders how “a real shatterer of glass ceilings in so many ways” was taken down so quickly and quietly. “She literally got more done in Virginia than we were able to accomplish in decades,” he said.

McKay has heard several reasons for her downfall, none of which make sense to him. He scuffs at the charge that Filler-Corn kept hundreds of thousands of dollars she raised, thereby hurting the Democrats chances of winning elections.


“I find it unfounded,” he said, noting that she distributed money as requested by those seeking office, and raised even more for future campaigns.

Another reason he heard was that someone had to take the fall for the Democrats doing so poorly in the most recent election, but making Filler-Corn a scapegoat was a poor choice, McKay said. Youngkin ran a good campaign as opposed to his Democratic challenger, Terry McAuliffe, he stressed. Combine that with that “very predictable” outcome as Virginians tend to support the opposite party of the person in the White House.

“In every single case except one, we’ve lost the governorship,” he said. “People generally support divided government here in Virginia.”

Lastly, and this is the scenario McKay believes most likely, legislators in the caucus not representing Northern Virginia went for a power grab.

Whatever the reason, without an agreed-upon successor to Filler-Corn, the Democrats in Virginia are hurting at a time when she could really help, McKay stressed.

That’s why he and seven other members of the nine-member Fairfax County Board of Supervisors penned a letter April 29 to the delegates representing Fairfax County expressing “our deep concern and disappointment.”

One of those receiving that letter was Del. Vivian Watts (D-District 39), who called Filler-Corn’s removal “most unfortunate.” She placed the blame for the Democrats poor showing in November 2021 clearly in McAuliffe’s lap.

Meanwhile, Filler-Corn was a “prodigious fundraiser” and a very good listener “who enacted a slew of legislation in such areas as the environment, human rights, transportation and criminal justice reform.

Del. Ken Plum (D-District 36) also was upset, taking to Facebook to post “A terrible mistake.”

Filler-Corn chose not to speak on the record, but when she was first deposed, she issued this statement, “I thank the people of Virginia and my colleagues in the House of Delegates for allowing me to serve as the first woman and first person of Jewish faith to serve in the 403-year history of our Commonwealth – truly the honor of my life. I was proud of all that we accomplished after taking the majority in 2019 and was willing to step up as Minority Leader once more to regain the majority. Our caucus is made up of 48 talented and diverse individuals and I look forward to working with them to retake the majority.”

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, has worked with Filler-Corn and calls her an excellent speaker. Impressed with her fundraising abilities, Halber said he is turned off by calls that she didn’t share the money she had raised.

“If anything it shows Speaker Filler-Corn knew the money was needed” for future elections due to redistricting. “It’s upsetting. Any Democrat who called her and asked for assistance got what they needed,” he said.

“Personally I find that a very bogus charge.”

He bristled at the charge for another reason. “Obviously it raises an antenna when I hear some voices saying Eileen held on to the money. I don’t like characterizations of Jews and money, because it is a stereotype,” he said.

Instead, Halber believes some who wanted power but weren’t willing to wait their turn called for the secret ballot.

Now “the party looks silly, and they look disorganized, and their adversaries are laughing,” Halber said.

One such adversary, Virginia Republican Party Chair Rich Anderson, echoed Halber. On a recent radio interview, he declared that the Virginia Democratic Party “is in disarray, it’s in despair, they’re disunited.”

He continued, “The fact that they are in the process of pulling out by the roots seasoned leadership within their party and trying to replace it with newcomers who have little practical experience beyond a couple terms in the House of Delegates is very telling…it’s sad to see a major political party in self-imposed meltdown.”

It’s not only politicians who are upset. “The fact that she was removed has a lot of people in the Jewish community enraged,” Halber said. Caucus members “should be embarrassed. I think it’s shameful. If I were them, I would be begging her to come back. When you are going into battle, you want your best general in charge. Eileen is the best general.”

Cookie Hymer Blitz, a Jewish communal leader, agreed that removing Filler-Corn “was a terrible, foolish mistake. I cannot fathom what they were doing.”

Filler-Corn “has demonstrated outstanding, consistent, level-headed leadership and compassion. She is an outstanding fundraiser. I say that as a donor.”

When asked if she believed that removing Filler-Corn from her leadership position would hurt the Democratic Party in Virginia, she replied, “I can’t even give you enough words. Are you kidding me? I have not encountered anyone who thinks this is not incredibly foolish.”

Hymer Blitz added, “I feel betrayed by the Democratic caucus, many members of the Democratic caucus.” She noted, “I am deeply disturbed and angry about it.”

Hymer Blitz is unsure why it happened, but she is sure it would not happen to a man. “If she was a male, this would not have happened. I think being female absolutely had something to do with it, absolutely.”

Also upset is Ann Bennet, who has worked with Filler-Corn on energy and climate policy. “I was shocked,” she said, adding that having Filler-Corn in a leadership role was so motivating for women.

Now that Roe vs Wade appears about to be overturned, Virginia could go either way in regards to allowing women to have abortions. If the Republicans stay in the majority, women’s rights will be a battlefront issue, she said.

“It would be hard for me to think of a better leader at this time” than Filler-Corn.

 

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