Biden Announces Presidential Bid in Video that Focuses on Events in Charlottesville
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - After months of speculation, former Vice President Joe Biden officially announced he is running for president.
Biden released a video announcing he will seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination early Thursday, April 25. That video contains references and images related to the controversial and violent events Charlottesville experienced in the summer of 2017.
“Charlottesville is also home to a defining moment for this nation in the last few years,” Biden said in the video. “We can't forget what happened in Charlottesville. Even more important, we have to remember who we are. This is America."
Biden specifically references the torch-lit rally at the University of Virginia and events connected to the Unite the Right rally in downtown Charlottesville. The candidate criticizes President Donald Trump's response to these white nationalist events: Following the deadly events of August 12, 2017, Trump said, "some very fine people on both sides."
Biden paints himself as the Democratic Party's best hope for unseating Trump, and calls the violence seen that summer a "threat to our nation."
Biden's announcement is creating conflicting views, especially in Charlottesville. Market Street Park - then-named Emancipation Park - became a flashpoint between supporters and members of white nationalist groups and those who side with anti-fascists. Later that Saturday, James Alex Fields Junior intentionally drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally. Fields' attack murdered Heather Heyer and injured dozens.
While some believe Biden is drawing attention to an important issue, others say he's using the attack as a political prop.
Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, said she had no idea the events of August 2017 would be at the forefront of Biden's campaign video.
“Had Joe Biden's people reached out, I probably would have said that could backfire by using that imagery. But they didn't ask me, nor was I consulted, nor did I expect to be," Bro said. "I'm not upset one way or the other.”
In the video, Biden doesn't mention Heyer by name, but does say, "a brave, young woman lost her life." Bro says she's OK with Heather's name not being used, and that the events of that summer in Charlottesville are widely known.
Bro adds the Heather Heyer Foundation, a nonprofit established after her daughter’s murder, does not endorse any political candidate.
“We do strongly advise that people pay attention to what candidates say, and what they do, and make an informed decision. Don't just vote by party lines. Don't vote just by name,” she advised.
"We have got to do a better job of getting that real story out, and if that means politicians want to come here and help us with that so that it's beneficial to the city as opposed to themselves. I think that the majority of people would be in favor of that,” said community activist Don Gathers. “But, don't use us as a launching pad to further yourself and your career."
Gathers added that he thought Biden’s video itself was hurtful, traumatizing, and inappropriate.
"We're still very much a divided community. We're a blip on the racist history of this country," Gathers said.
"I think the right message to put out there is that we haven't done much at all. Like, we haven't really healed," said community leader Tanesha Hudson.
Rather than talk about the events and changes that need to be made, some activists want to see action from their politicians.
"So now that you've mentioned us, put your money where your mouth is and we want you to come here,” Hudson said. “We're holding you to it.”
“I think our community is weary of the national spotlight, but we're also focused,” said UVA Professor Sally Hudson in a statement to NBC29. “We know that the real work of confronting racism is expanding affordable housing here in Charlottesville. It's closing the persistent achievement gaps in our schools and fighting voter suppression. We're focused on that work, and we'll keep at it as this latest media moment passes, too.”
Hudson is hoping to win 57th District Del. David Toscano’s seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Toscano is not seeking re-election. The other candidate seeking the Democratic Party's nomination, Kathy Galvin, did not respond to request for comment.
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine called Biden a "great American" after watching the video Thursday morning. Kaine offered his comment following a workforce development event in Fishersville.
“I expected him [Biden] to be in the race, and welcome him to the race,” said the senator. “I thought the video that was sort of his kickoff, I thought that was strong.”
"I thought it was very powerful," Charlottesville City Councilor Mike Signer said about the announcement video.
Signer, who was serving as mayor back in 2017, thinks Biden's video condemning white supremacy is what we need.
"I am very glad to be having a spotlight on those issues that affect the country and the world," said the councilor.
Current councilor and former-Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy tweeted in part, "I much rather it be discussed and national figures like the president talk about how they're going to deal with it."
“My focus is on the future for our community and working in partnership with my Council colleagues, city staff, and citizens to address its needs as we strive for a community where everyone has an opportunity to thrive,” Vice Mayor Heather Hill said in a statement to NBC29. “There is much work to be done, but I am so energized by the opportunities ahead of us as we continue this work together.”
NBC29 reached out to city councilors both past and present for comment on the Biden video. Several did not respond or gave “no comment.”
University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato says, unlike other candidates in the field, Biden directly took on President Trump.
Sabato says a majority of Democrats only care about a candidate who can beat the Republican president in 2020.
“I think it made sense for Joe Biden to do this,” Sabato said about the announcement video. “He needed to change the subject from the one he had been focused on for weeks and months: Was he going to run? And if so, how will he answer for all the controversial votes and speeches he made over a 50-year political career?”
Sabato says this issue is what the Biden campaign started with, but other pieces of the campaign will be realized next week with the official launch.
The former vice president is expected to officially kick off his campaign at a national event in Philadelphia on May 18. There were previous reports that Biden was going to announce his campaign in Charlottesville earlier this week.
Biden is competing against at least 20 other Democrats seeking the nomination. He currently leads most early Democratic primary polls. Sabato believes Biden's biggest appeal is with blue-collar voters, and could win back states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.