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GOP candidate clarifying remarks criticizing desegregation

After making comments that seemed to blame desegregation for the downfall of the education system, a Virginia GOP candidate is in "clarification" mode.
White pupils from outlying areas of Norfolk arrive by bus on Sept. 4, 1970 at inner-city Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, VA.
White pupils from outlying areas of Norfolk arrive by bus on Sept. 4, 1970 at inner-city Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, VA.

A Virginia Republican candidate for a state senate seat finds himself in "clarification mode" this week after critical comments he made about busing and desegregation of schools in his hometown of Norfolk, Va.  

Businessman-turned-GOP-hopeful lawmaker Wayne Coleman joined the The John Fredericks Morning Show Monday to discuss his candidacy to replace Democrat Ralph Northram, who vacated his state senate seat after defeating Republican E.W. Jackson in the race for Virginia lieutenant governor. The audio was republished by the Virginian-Pilot.

Asked to address how he might try to help fix underperforming schools in the area, Coleman responded, "I'm old enough to have lived during the desegregation of the schools here locally. And busing children, in my opinion, around the different districts, getting them out of their local neighborhoods, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts."

By Wednesday Coleman released a statement clarifying his comments, saying his lack of specificity had created "an opportunity to misconstrue and mischaracterize their meaning."

"My point was--and remains--that schools that are closest to the families they serve are schools that have the greatest level of accountability," he said in a statement released by his campaign and published by the Virginian-Pilot

"As a public school graduate, I know our schools are extremely important to guaranteeing all of our children the opportunity to reach their full potential," the statement continued. "Instead of looking backwards to why some schools are not fully satisfying that responsibility today, I am looking forward to the positive changes that can be made to ensure our schools are accountable to parents and provide opportunities for all of our children."

The Virginia district in which Coleman is running is one of only a handful where state senate races are often close. Northram won the seat by 13-point margin in 2011, but more than half of the senate candidates running that year ran uncontested. A significant part of the district includes Norfolk City, which has roughly equal proportions of black and white citizens. 

Coleman's Democratic opponent in the special election, Delegate Lynwood Lewis, told the Virginian-Pilot  the "comments are unfortunate and they speak for themselves." 

The paper also spoke to Rodney Jordan, a Norfolk School Board member with family connections to the civil rights battles over desegregation in the area. He said Coleman's comments appeared to "romanticize" a period in Norfolk history known for "discrimination and hatred."

"It's not a comforting thing to hear from someone who is looking to represent the commonwealth and a district that is so diverse," he said. "Embracing diversity is good for children, for schools, and for the economy."

Coleman will face Lewis in special election on Jan. 7.