Chase demands apology from NoVa Chamber
GOP gubernatorial candidate says chamber made defamatory statements about her
Updated Friday, July 24
State Sen. Amanda Chase, the only announced 2021 GOP gubernatorial candidate, said Thursday that she didn’t know why the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce disinvited her from speaking to the group July 8 until two weeks later, when the chamber’s new chairman released a public statement categorizing some of the candidate’s statements as “attempts to divide us, playing on people’s fears and appealing to bigotry and hate.”
In a public statement released Wednesday and posted on the chamber’s website, newly installed board chairman Kathryn Falk referred to Chase’s “recent actions and statements related to the removal of Confederate monuments, ‘white history,’ statements about State Senator Jennifer McClellan, and Senator Chase’s actions to aggressively spread a hoax that rioters were crossing the James River to attack the white citizens of Chesterfield County.” Falk said that former chairs of the chamber had asked the chamber to “publicly repudiate” these statements by the state senator who represents Amelia County, Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County.
Chase, however, says she the chamber never told her why her speech was canceled and only mentioned wanting to reschedule. In a statement texted to Virginia Business on Thursday, Chase said, “Apparently the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce would rather play politics than hear from all candidates, including the only GOP candidate for governor. How ironic that they profess to be inclusive yet they themselves are not.
“I’m proud of my 100% rating with the National Federation of [Independent] Business, indicating 100% of my votes in the Senate have helped small businesses here in Virginia. Not only has my family owned various businesses for over two decades but I also graduated from Virginia Tech with a business degree, double majoring in both finance and business. I have also served as the vice chair of the Commission on Economic Opportunity for Virginians in Aspiring and Diverse Communities. Maybe the NOVA Chamber should do their homework before making defamatory statements. I fully expect an apology and an opportunity to speak to the chamber.”
Chase added that she helped with the campaign for the first African American member elected to the Chesterfield County School Board, Omarh Rajah, who served from 2008 to 2012.
In response, the chamber issued the following statement: “We’ve made it clear to any candidate seeking office in Virginia, including Senator Chase, that we will not tolerate, either overtly or subtly, any statements or actions that are inconsistent with the chamber’s core values, our commitment to racial justice and our efforts to stamp out racism, discrimination and prejudice. The chamber will consider Senator Chase’s request once she apologizes for her racist, bigoted and insensitive comments.”
A chamber spokesperson also disputes Chase’s claim that she didn’t know why the chamber disinvited her, saying that the chamber “confirms Senator Chase was notified last Monday of the why when this statement was shared with members and publicly,” referring to a July 13 statement by chamber President and CEO Julie Coons, five days after the live webinar was set to take place. Linking to a national NBC News story about Chase, the statement says, in part, “Recent statements Senator Chase made run contrary to our values and our invitation has been rescinded.”
However, Chase and her assistant, Debbie Gwynn, said they did not receive any communication from the chamber with that statement. “That is not standard protocol,” Chase wrote in a text. “I was never [contacted] by the chamber.”
On Friday, Chase sent Virginia Business a text message, expanding on her view of the chamber’s response to her allegations: “I finally found out what specifically they were upset about in your final article. Why couldn’t they have been upfront in the beginning what they were upset about so that I knew exactly which comments they were referencing? I stand by everything I’ve said and have not said anything bigoted.” She went on to add that she views the decision as a “political play by those in the pay-to-play system in NoVa” and that the chamber is “nothing more than a surrogate for the Democratic Party of Virginia and we are not surprised by their actions or subsequent response.”
Chase also said the chamber didn’t notify her or Gwynn, who had negotiated the time and date of her chamber speech, that her live July 8 webinar had been canceled, until she was waiting to start the Zoom call. Gwynn called her contact with the chamber, who said another chamber staff member had reached out directly to the candidate a week earlier to tell her it was canceled.
Gwynn sent Virginia Business an email exchange from April through June between herself and Clayton Medford, the chamber’s vice president for government relations, discussing a time, date and format for Chase to speak to the chamber, which typically invites gubernatorial candidates to address the organization.
Gwynn also sent, by email, her recollection of a phone call with Medford on July 8: “To the best of my recollection, my last conversation with Clayton Medford was on the day of the scheduled Zoom Call on 7/8/2020. [Sen. Chase] couldn’t get into the call, then alerted me. I reached Clayton by phone to find out what had happened. He advised me that the call had been rescheduled the prior week. Someone from his office had reached out to [Sen. Chase] directly but no one ever contacted me and Clayton said he was on vacation during that time. Also said when he returned from vacation he meant to reach out to me but forgot to do so. He also advised they would let us know the new date for the call, yet we never received any further email.”
None of the emails provided by Gwynn discuss the public statements released in July from Falk and Coons, although on June 18, Medford sent an email to Gwynn that included Coons’ June 17 statement on racial equality. The statement says that the chamber’s executive committee “agreed the Northern Virginia Chamber must use our voice to support Black Americans and our community by advocating for policies that create an equitable future for our region, condemning all forms of systemic racism and prejudice, and continuing our mission to attract, engage and retain a diverse and influential membership that reflects the broader business community with intentionality.”
Medford wrote above the forwarded statement: “I also wanted to be sure Sen. Chase saw our CEO’s statement on race released yesterday. Sen. Chase has been quoted on the topic recently and I thought providing the Chamber’s position would be appropriate.”