Sheila Johnson backs McAuliffe in Va. governor’s race

Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of the Black Entertainment Television network who shook up the 2009 Virginia governor’s race when she endorsed Republican Robert F. McDonnell, will vote for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in this year’s race.

The prominent Democratic donor said in an interview that she has known McAuliffe for 30 years and believes his entrepreneurial spirit will be good for the state.

Now the chief executive of Salamander Hospitality, which owns resorts and golf courses, Johnson had similarly endorsed McDonnell four years ago as better for business.

“I think he would make a great governor because I think he’s willing to work both sides of the aisle,” Johnson said of McAuliffe.

She said she doesn’t know much about the Republican nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II.

Her nod in 2009 drew particular attention because she was former Democratic governor Timothy M. Kaine’s second-largest individual donor when he ran in 2005.

It became symbolic of Democratic nominee Sen. Creigh Deeds’ failure to attract support both among the Virginia business community and among the state’s black voters.

Unlike in 2009, when Johnson gave McDonnell $50,000, appeared in a TV ad and traveled on his behalf, she said her support this year will be limited to her own vote.

“I am not setting foot on the pavement to support any candidate,” she said, noting she had faced harsh criticism in 2009 for crossing party lines and opposing Deeds. “I’m still suffering post traumatic stress from the last campaign. That taught me a very ugly side of politics.”

As for campaign contributions, she said, “I’m not giving nobody another dime. I’ve spent way too much money on politicians . . . It’s like throwing money down a toilet.”

“He’ll get my vote,” she said of McAuliffe. “He doesn’t need my money.”

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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