Andy Parker. Courtesy of Andy Parker.

Democrat Andy Parker on Tuesday defended his comments in an internal email he sent to party officials blaming a staff member and the executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia for his campaign’s collapse after it failed to submit the 1,000 valid signatures required to be on the ballot for the party’s June 21 primary in Virginia’s 5th congressional district. “I stand 100 percent behind that email, everything in that letter is God’s honest truth,” Parker said in a phone interview.

In the email, which leaked shortly after Parker conceded Monday to Josh Throneburg, now the Democratic nominee, Parker said that while he would take responsibility for what he called a “calamitous turn of events,” he added that his campaign’s crumbling was “due solely on the decision to hire Carter Elliott and Andrew Whitley, both of whom came highly recommended.” 

When asked by Cardinal News, both rejected Parker’s characterizations. 

Elliott, a Democratic operative who had previously worked on former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2020 campaign, signed on as a paid full-time staffer of Parker’s campaign in March, after finishing a prior consulting commitment during the legislative session. Whitley, who currently serves as the executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, advised Parker behind the scenes. Parker said that Whitley had committed to joining his team as campaign manager on April 1. 

But the latter never happened. “That day rolled around, and Andrew did not come on board. He was working furiously to re-elect Susan Swecker as party chair. As long as he was monitoring Carter, I didn’t have a problem with it,” Parker wrote in his email.

Whitley, in an interview Tuesday, denied having agreed to manage Parker’s campaign. “Andy and I have known each other since I managed Chris Hurst’s campaign in 2017. For the last five years I’ve considered him a friend,” he said. Ever since he shared his plans to run for Congress with him last winter, Parker occasionally solicited his advice, Whitley said. “He asked me to be his campaign manager, but this was after Terry (McAuliffe) had lost, and I did not know what was going to happen with me. He would call and ask me for my opinions, and I’d give him friendly advice, and that was the extent of it.”

Whitley said he was never paid for his help. “What is frustrating to me is that Andy and I are friends; he called me because we had that relationship,” he said. “I don’t know what happened, but the process worked exactly like it should have. It’s sad, my heart hurts for Andy, I wish it would have gone differently.” 

In his email, Parker alleged that as the April 7 deadline for submitting the signed petitions inched closer, he began to worry about the lack of progress. The Democratic Party of Virginia advises candidates to at least collect 1,500, due to potential irregularities because of redistricting, false names, or address problems on the petitions.

Patricia Harper-Tunley, Democratic Party of Virginia Committee Chair for the 5th congressional district, confirmed last week that Parker’s campaign submitted 1,093 signatures by deadline, of which 937 were certified under the rules set by the Virginia Department of Elections – 63 below the required minimum to qualify for the ballot. 

“Week after week I was told everything was fine with the petitions, even as I expressed dire concerns the week before they were to be submitted. I was assured by both that there was not going to be a problem at all – until it was,” Parker wrote in his email. “Why do Dems lose? Because of sub-par staffers who fail in their duty to our candidates, which contributes to disasters like last November occurring.”

In Tuesday’s phone interview, Parker said that Elliott had been tasked with collecting the petitions. “They claimed they got 1,200, but they didn’t,” Parker said. “Every week in our team meeting we impressed [upon] these guys, and they told me not to worry and that everything was fine.”

Parker added that he had collected 100 signatures himself, but was left mostly in the dark about the efforts by his team. “I don’t know when they started collecting petitions, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was just two weeks before the deadline. I’m really not sure what they were doing,” he said.

When asked why he thought his campaign fell short, Parker said hewasn’t sure. “I would err on the side of being sloppiness, laziness and incompetence,” he said. 

Elliott said in an email Tuesday that when he joined the campaign in full capacity on March 15, Parker had collected 30 signatures for his congressional bid. “In the three weeks I was on staff, I did what I could to help Andy ramp up, including fundraising, scheduling, gathering petition signatures and overseeing other operations,” he said. “I was always honest and forthright with Andy about how many signatures we had. Unfortunately our efforts came up short, and I wish Andy the best on his next endeavor.”

Parker had launched his campaign at the end of January. Since his announcement he raised almost $200,000 and built a large social media presence with more than 60,000 followers on Twitter. 

The father of Alison Parker – a reporter with CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, who was shot to death live on camera along with her photographer Adam Ward in 2015 while conducting an interview – Parker became a nationally known crusader for gun control and, more recently, an outspoken critic of big tech companies who has taken on corporate giants like YouTube, Facebook and Google for continuing to allow footage showing his daughter’s last moments to be published and shared online.

Parker, who resides in Henry County, ruled out a bid as an independent or write-in candidate in this year’s congressional elections. “That would essentially hand Bob Good a win,” he said. “There are just too many obstacles, it would be more trouble than it’s worth. I’ll probably create a PAC and help other candidates, that’s the right path for me.” Good, the Republican incumbent, faces a challenger in a May 21 convention.

In his email, Parker said that he would give donors who gave to his campaign a choice of getting a pro-rated refund or leave their contributions in his PAC. 

The 5th District.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.