On an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon last weekend, all six candidates running for the open seat for the 45th district of the Virginia House of Delegates met at the Durant Center on Cameron Street to discuss issues, debate tactics and meet supporters. When retiring Del. Marion Van Landingham was introduced, she received a prolonged standing ovation.
The forum was also attended by the mayor, two City Council members and Commonwealth Attorney Randolph Sengel, who reminded the audience that he's also up for re-election. No opponent has opposed Sengel, who ran unopposed in his previous election.
After a few opening remarks, candidates answered questions and commented on other candidate's answers. The event lasted for more than two hours, and most candidates agreed on matters of substance, disputing each other about only tactics. Several of the candidates took time to thank their spouses for supporting them during a time-consuming campaign that has a lot of ground to cover. The gerrymandered district stretches from Arlington to Mount Vernon, and as Van Landingham reminded voters, "No candidate say 'Vote for me; I'm an Alexandrian.'" The June 13 primary is only 14 weeks away, and no Republican has yet announced opposition to the six Democrats.
About 70,000 voters live in the 45th district, but the June primary usually brings small numbers of voters to the polls. About 200 people attended the forum, most of them had already decided to support a specific candidate.
"It's been a pleasure to serve you for 23 years," said Van Landingham. "I assure you that all of the candidates before you are very progressive." The six candidates who are running to replace Del. Van Landingham are: David Englin, Libby Garvey, Richard Hobson, James Lay, Laura Mandala and Elsie Mosqueda.
* David Englin, a former Air Force officer, recently moved to Alexandria after retiring from military life. His support for Howard Dean during last year's presidential primary season gives him a base of support outside of the Democratic establishment. He often invoked his military life to explain his governing style.
"Where we agreed, we worked to get things done," said Englin, noting that being a liberal officer in George W. Bush's Pentagon was not easy. "That's called leadership."
In response to a question about how to help first-responders in an emergency situation, Englin advocated taking a "holistic approach" to security, "weaving public safety throughout many issues" such as decent roads, Metro service and a communication infrastructure.
* Libby Garvey is chair of the Arlington County School Board. She explained how working in the world of Arlington politics has prepared her to work in Richmond.
"I am used to working with difficult people on difficult issues," she said. "I want to be the go-to person for K-12 issues."
Garvey often spoke of the need to fund a radio tower that will create a security network covering Northern Virginia and institute better emergency management systems. She responded to one question about working with intransigent conservatives in Richmond by announcing that she would have lunch with them to build bridges.
* Richard Hobson represented Alexandria in the House of Delegates during the late 1970s. He has remained active in the Democratic Party since then, and wants to use his experience in Richmond because he is "troubled and disturbed by what the Republicans in the House of Delegates are doing."
"I've done this job before," he told the crowd. "I'll have four years of seniority over any freshman."
When a question about the Dillon Rule was asked, Hobson chastised other candidates for thinking they would enter the House with an agenda to undo such a fundamental structure of the commonwealth's government. He told the crowd that the Dillon Rule, which limits options for municipalities, will require a constitutional amendment to undo.
* James Lay, a former prosecutor with the commonwealth attorney's office, made several gestures toward Sengel, his former boss who was sitting at the timekeeper's table. He invoked a jury trial that he lost as emblematic of a fighting spirit that perseveres through adversity and loss.
"We need more people in the sensible center," he said. "As this party grows and moves forward, we must promote justice."
Lay emphasized the role his job as a prosecutor had on his leadership style. He told the audience conservatives who represent rural areas of Virginia don't understand their more urban neighbors to the north and blamed this misconception for slowing Virginia's economic growth.
* Laura Mandala is the chair of the Alexandria Commission on Women, and she wants to use her experience as an advocate and a business owner to advocate for Alexandria's issues in Richmond.
"We are facing the fight of our lives, and we'd better make sure the person we send to Richmond is up to the task," she said, noting a critical need for information about emergency preparedness. "As an educated person, I'm not sure where to go in the event of an emergency."
Mandala advocated legislation that gives employees the option to work from home, the need for red-light cameras and applying business models of efficiency to government. She frequently invoked her work designing and managing studies for large corporate clients as evidence of her ability to work in various environments.
* Elsie Mosqueda recently left Del. Brian Moran's office to run for the open seat in the 45th District. Her experience as a volunteer and a legislative aide gives her many critical contacts in the Democratic Party and in Alexandria.
"Here in Alexandria, we have a tradition of good government," she told the crowd. "I want to continue to build on Marian Van Landingham's legacy."
Answering a question about issues that will help the Democratic Party in Virginia, Mosqueda relied on her Hispanic heritage to advocate for greater outreach to the Hispanic community in the 45th district. She said she has the support of many members of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, who have known her during her years in Moran's office.