RICHMOND — Guess who’s not coming to dinner?
Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, two Democratic icons who’ve lost some luster in some modern eyes because they owned slaves, are no longer welcome at the party’s annual gala in Virginia.
The annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the party’s biggest fundraiser, has been renamed the Blue Commonwealth Gala.
“The future of our Commonwealth will be painted in broad blue strokes,” Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said as she announced the change over the weekend. “The Blue Commonwealth Gala will be a celebration of our party’s dedication to expanding opportunity for all Virginians.”
Virginia Democrats are following the lead of party chapters in several other states, who started abandoning the name in recent years amid a new reckoning over Confederate symbols. What remained of Jackson’s reputation probably went down the tubes with Democratic activists when President Trump declared himself an admirer by hanging his portrait in the Oval Office.
But throwing shade on Jefferson is not without peril in Virginia, where the native son and University of Virginia founder remains widely admired. A statue of him went up just a few years ago in the state Capitol, which he designed and where people refer to him reverentially as “Mr. Jefferson.”
“Good thing Jefferson doesn’t have anything to do with higher education in Virginia,” said Garren Shipley, the Republican National Committee’s Virginia spokesman. “Can you imagine if there was actually a statue of this guy in the Capitol? Unreal. Let alone some quotes literally carved in stone? Oh, wait.”
The renaming comes as Virginia and other Southern states have wrestled with whether to remove Confederate monuments from prominent public spaces. Plans to pull a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown Charlottesville park were the focus of a white supremacist rally last summer that led to a counterprotester’s death.
Swecker described the renaming as a way to build on victories in November, when an anti-Trump wave helped Democrats sweep statewide offices for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, and pick up 15 seats in the House of Delegates.
“We are excited to rename our signature event as we work to make Virginia a stronger, fairer, and more prosperous Commonwealth,” she said in a written statement.