Rep. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat recently elected to a fourth term in Congress, died Monday after nearly a decade with cancer. He was 61.
McEachin was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2013, his chief of staff, Tara Rountree, said in a statement Monday.
“We are all devastated at the passing of our boss and friend, Congressman Donald McEachin,” Rountree said. “Valiantly, for years now, we have watched him fight and triumph over the secondary effects of his colorectal cancer from 2013. Tonight, he lost that battle, and the people of Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District lost a hero who always, always fought for them and put them first.”
The White House said Tuesday that it would lower its flags to half-staff in his memory.
McEachin’s death comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are expected to rely on securing every vote possible in the next Congress, when Republicans will control the House by a slim margin.
At the time of his death, McEachin was a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the Natural Resources Committee.
He represented a district that included Richmond, Chesapeake and Hampton Roads. Before he was elected to Congress in 2016, he worked as a lawyer and a state lawmaker.
Re-elected earlier this month
McEachin’s death comes 20 days after he defeated Republican Leon Benjamin in a rematch of the 2020 election. Benjamin, closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, never ceded the election to McEachin, repeating an unfounded Trump theme of rigged votes to favor Democrats.
Because of that, McEachin refused to debate Benjamin in the runup to this year’s election. In an interview with The Progress-Index days before the Nov. 8 election, McEachin explained why he would not face off with him.
“My opponent is an election denier,” McEachin said in that interview. “He makes facts up to engage his narrative.”
Just as he did in 2020, McEachin defeated Benjamin with 61% of the vote Nov. 8 across the 4th District, which stretches from Richmond south to the state line.
McEachin went to Washington from years at the state Capitol in Richmond, where he served in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. He was first elected to Congress in 2016 and subsequently re-elected in 2018 and 2020.
In Washington, McEachin was regarded as a loyal supporter of Capitol Hill Democrats who often lent his name to legislation involving environmental issues. But he also fought for federal funding for projects within the 4th District, and earlier this year, he was successful in getting $3.3 million in Community Project Funding for two projects in Petersburg — $2.4 million for improvements to the Poor Creek wastewater station in south Petersburg; and $900,000 to replace diesel buses with electric ones in the Petersburg public school system.
This year, all 10 of the CPF requests on his wish list for the 4th District were included.
In one of the last statements issued by his office, on Nov. 17, McEachin praised outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, for her time at the podium. McEachin said he was “grateful” to Pelosi for helping him transition from Richmond to Washington.
“I thank Speaker Pelosi for her vision, fortitude, and commitment to the American people,” the statement read. “It has been an honor to serve under her leadership and to help advance major legislative policies to improve the lives of Americans and strengthen our nation.”
Pelosi ordered flags at the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half staff in honor of McEachin, her office said Tuesday.
Early life and politics
Born into a military family in Germany in 1961, Aston Donald McEachin attended St. Christopher’s School in Richmond. In 1982, he graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in political history. He got his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1986, and 12 years later, he earned a master’s in divinity from Virginia Union University.
He co-founded the McEachin & Gee law firm in Richmond.
In 1995, McEachin won his first election to the House of Delegates from Richmond. While a delegate, McEachin was chosen as the Democratic candidate for attorney general in 2001 alongside Warner as governor and Kaine as lieutenant governor. He lost the November election to Republican Jerry Kilgore.
In 2007, McEachin eyed a move to the state Senate. In the Democratic primary that year, he defeated longtime incumbent Sen. Bennie Lambert, who drew criticism for supporting then-Sen. George Allen, a Republican, in his losing re-election bid to Democrat Jim Webb. He went on to win the state Senate seat with 81% of the vote — the same seat once held by Douglas Wilder who went on to become the first Black governor in Virginia and the first governor of color in the nation at the time.
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