Candidates for Marian Van Landingham's seat in the 45th District will have to contend with more than just each other for the coveted seat in Richmond. The newly redrawn district is more diverse than ever, with voters in a broad range of social and economic demographics. Combined with what some expect to be a low turnout at the polls, the district's new make up means it could be anyone's race.
"Within the city of Alexandria there's going to be a major split," Van Landingham said Thursday at her Cameron Street home after returning from a stay in the hospital brought on by symptoms related to her ongoing battle with cancer. "I think a lot of people still see the district as a strictly Alexandria one, but it isn't like that anymore."
An artist and outspoken community activist, Van Landingham has held the 45th District seat since 1981, but her health led her to announce in December of 2004 that she will not seek another term. Leaving some very big shoes for her successor to fill, Van Landingham said the new boundaries of the district — now with 13 precincts in Alexandria, six in Fairfax County and three in Arlington — will play a key role in deciding who takes the seat. Chances are high for Arlington School Board Chairwoman Libby Garvey. Although Garvey is a relative newcomer to Alexandria politics, Van Landingham said, she has gained key endorsements from Democratic leaders in Mt. Vernon and is already well known in the Arlington precincts. With 40 percent of the district now outside Alexandria, Van Landingham said Garvey could take the race by leveraging that support. Van Landingham stressed that she will not endorse or condemn any candidate. Van Landingham said former delegate Dick Hobson could also fare well, but she has seen little indication of his popularity compared to the other five Democrats in the race.
"Certainly, he has a good chance," she said. "He's been elected before and he's an awfully nice guy."
Van Landingham is a big believer in the idea a candidate needs to develop a track record in the local community before running for office. For that reason, she questioned whether the timing is right for candidates David Englin and Laura Mandala.
"David is a very nice young man but he hasn't been around very long," she said, pointing out that he only became active in local politics during the November 2004 elections. "It's unusual to have someone who hasn't paid their community dues to turn around and run for office."
Van Landingham — who worked with Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) both during his tenure as mayor of Alexandria and in the U.S. House — also questioned Englin's role in Andy Rosenberg's 2004 Democratic campaign for Congress. A significant segment of his support, she said, comes from Democrats dissatisfied with Moran's leadership.
As for Mandala, Van Landingham credited her role on Alexandria's Women's Commission but noted that she moved into the district to run for the 45th seat. Mandala's campaign financing, she said, is also telling. According to state finance records, the bulk of Mandala's campaign money, $57,000, comes from her longtime friend Edward Spoden.
"That's really strange," Van Landingham said. "It doesn't show that she has community support."
Candidate and prosecutor Jim Lay, she said, is also a new face. Although Lay has involved himself in community work related to affordable housing, Van Landingham said he's a former Republican.
"And sometimes he sounds more like he's running for prosecutor than for delegate," she said.
Van Landingham declined to say much about candidate and aide to Del. Brain Moran Elsie Mosqueda because it was Van Landingham's aide who schooled Mosqueda in the early stages of her political career.
But voter turnout, Van Landingham said, is the real challenge in the coming election. For the district, she said, 35 to 40 percent turnout is high, and this election could only see about 20 or 30 percent.
"It's really going to come down to the precinct workers and how many supporters each candidate can get to the polls," Van Landingham said. "Voter turnout is the great imponderable in all this."
She added that, although many of the candidates are running mail campaigns, there is question as to whether those leaflets will do much to sway any new voters into action.
A look at the 2000 census shows broad diversity in the district's voting population. In the new Arlington precincts and those in Fairfax County, Latinos account for nearly a quarter of the voting populace. Upper middle-class voters make up the majority, with the median household income ranging from about $52,000 to $58,000. The median age spans between 33 and 36, with a higher percentage of older voters in the Alexandria contingent. Most voters in the 45th are also college-educated, accounting for one-third to one-half of the total in each region.
If election records are any indication, the district also has some significant political divisions. The last time Van Landingham was on the ballot, the November 2003 election when she faced off against Rob Jay Test, she won by a very wide but not overwhelming majority. In Fairfax County, Test took 1,170 votes to Van Landingham's 2,052. In Arlington, she took 1,279 votes to Test's 611. And in Alexandria, Test won 2,938 votes to her 4,960. Van Landingham said that because of the current gubernatorial race, she believes Republicans chose not to field a candidate because of the higher percentage of Democrats expected at the polls.
When it comes to the race for her seat, she said, it is anyone's game.
"It's a variety of people with many different skills and many different ideas," she said.