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Democrats Gather for Final Debate

Candidates for 45th delegate race spar one last time.

All six candidates for the Democratic primary race to succeed retiring Del. Marian Van Landingham appeared in the last debate of the campaign season Sunday. The retiring delegate was elected to her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1981, and the announcement of her retirement brought forth an unusually large number of candidates.

At Sunday's forum, candidates agreed on most issues — disagreeing with each other on tactics and style. About 100 people attended the event, which was hosted by Firehouse Precinct 109 of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. So far, no Republican has announced a candidacy for the race, and the party missed the deadline for filing applicants for a primary. The GOP could still choose a candidate to face the winner of the June 14 primary.

"Hopefully, this will be a seat that's continued to be held by a Democrat," said Mayor Bill Euille, who delivered the greeting. "That's what's important."

Lavern Chatman, CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League, acted as the moderator. She began the event by speaking about how the House of Delegates works.

"What is a delegate?" she asked. "What do they do?"

Chatman explained that the House has 100 delegates, each of whom represent about 71,000 citizens. They serve two-year terms with a salary of $17,640 a year.

After the introductions, the candidates gave opening statements — and then the questioning began. Candidates tried to sell themselves to Democratic voters who sacrificed a Sunday afternoon to listen to political speeches at the Charles Houston Recreation Center.

DAVID ENGLIN is a retired Air Force officer who moved to Del Ray after leaving the military. In 2003, he was appointed by the City Council to Alexandria's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, and he is a member of the Del Ray Citizens Association. At the forum, Englin quoted George Washington, who wrote in a 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., that good government "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

"I will fight without fear for gay rights and immigrants rights," said Englin, noting that the issue of affordable housing is another fight he is eager to wage. "In Alexandria, we have rental units that are being turned into condominiums. There's absolutely no protection for these people."

Englin is a relative newcomer to Alexandria, involving himself with local politics shortly after moving here after a roving military life in the Air Force. He has worked to build a grassroots-style campaign, knocking on doors and making calls to a wide range of potential voters. His support for Andy Rosenberg, who challenged U.S. Rep. Jim Moran in the 2004 Democratic primary, has increased his popularity with those who are disaffected with the longtime congressman and brought scorn from Moran's supporters. At Sunday's forum, as he has on many others, Englin advocated getting Virginia out of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

"We need to pull out of No Child Left Behind," he said. "It's an unfunded mandate, and it leads to increased property taxes."

LIBBY GARVEY has been a member of the Arlington County School Board since 1996. Because the primary votes in Alexandria will be split six ways, a strong showing for Garvey in Arlington may be a decisive force in determining a winner. When fundraising totals were released, Garvey had the highest number of individual contributors.

"We need to improve funding for the Virginia Department of Education to a level that's comparable to what other departments in this area of the country contribute," said Garvey, noting that funding for the department has decreased in recent years. "We need to restructure our tax system to make it more progressive so that we can tap the resources of those who are able to contribute more."

Garvey's campaign has attempted to consolidate her power base in Arlington while gaining support in Mount Vernon — essentially working the outer edges of the district. Del. Van Landingham recently said that Garvey's campaign has been wise to secure key endorsements from Democratic leaders in Mount Vernon and Arlington because about 40 percent of the district is outside of Alexandria. At Sunday's forum, Garvey criticized the new electronic voting machines that are now in use in this part of Virginia.

"Nobody could get money from a bank without getting a receipt. Why can't we have the same technology for voting?" she asked. "The ways things are now, there's no way to prove a vote count was accurate."

RICHARD HOBSON represented Alexandria in the House of Delegates from 1976 to 1980. He has remained active in the Democratic Party since retiring from public service, and the program for the event listed him as the Democratic Committee's precinct captain for the MacArthur School voting district.

"I will have four years of legislative seniority over every other freshman in the House," said Hobson. "We are going to have to compromise, and I know how to work with Republicans to get things done. I've done it before, and I'll do it again."

Hobson's campaign has focused on his previous experience in the House of Delegates, a theme that is encapsulated in his slogan: "proven leadership." He raised the least amount of money in the race, but his longtime involvement in the Alexandria Democratic Committee brings with it a power base. At Sunday's forum, Hobson advocated Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine's proposal for a homestead exemption.

"The City Council does not have the authority to do much about rising property taxes," he said. "I support an amendment to the Virginia constitution to create a homestead exemption that would help taxpayers in Alexandria."

JIM LAY is a former assistant commonwealth's attorney for the city of Alexandria. While working as a prosecutor, he prosecuted a felony docket of white-collar, narcotics and firearms offenses. He represented the commonwealth's attorney on the Alexandria Economic Opportunities Commission, which advocates on behalf of economically disadvantaged citizens in the city.

"We ought to leave our state to the children in better condition than we received it. And as far as No Child Left Behind — it's crystal clear. We need to get out," said Lay. "I believe that there are very few problems that we cannot solve with public education."

Lay's campaign has emphasized his law-and-order credentials, and about 30 of his supporters stood outside the building before the event waving signs and greeting people. He has approached the race as a prosecutor might face a jury, passionately advocating for his case to be sent to Richmond. Like many of the candidates, Lay mocked the recently concluded session of the General Assembly for trying to restrict youth fashion and gay rights.

"What legitimate right does the government have in regulating romance?" he asked. "It doesn't."

LAURA MANDALA is the managing director of Mandala Research, which conducts research studies for Fortune 500 companies. She worked on the Senate campaign for Carol Moseley Braun, writing position papers on reproductive choice, fetal tissue research, domestic violence and childcare. Currently, she serves as chairwoman of the Alexandria Commission for Women.

"We're going to have to compromise to get things done, and I've demonstrated an ability to do this," said Mandala. "We have a lot more in common than we disagree on, so we need to work together with the Republicans instead of focusing on polarizing issues."

Mandala has raised more money than any other candidate in the race. Fundraising reports show that she received $57,000 from Edward Spoden, an independent contractor who has dated the candidate for the past six years. Her campaign has sought to leverage her fund-raising ability with her connections from the Alexandria Commission for Women. At Sunday's forum, she disagreed with Englin's proposition that Virginia should pull out of No Child Left Behind.

"No Child Left Behind has set some standards, and I think standards are good," she said. "The problem is with its implementation, and I don't think its good for our students that it's an unfunded mandate."

ELSIE MOSQUEDA was aide to Del. Brian Moran from 1996 to 2005. She came to the Washington area 25 years ago to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, and has been active in the nonprofit community since that time. She invoked her Hispanic heritage as a way for voters to support diversity.

"Now you have a chance to send a Hispanic to the House of Delegates," said Mosqueda. "I've been to Richmond. I know the people, and I know the process."

Because of Mosqueda's involvement with Del. Moran, she has the support of many of the party faithful in Alexandria. Her Web site lists several officeholders as members of TeamElsie, including City Councilman Paul Smedberg, School Board member Gwendolyn Lewis, Del. Kristen Amundson, Del. Viola Baskerville, Del. Karen Darner, Del. Jim Shuler and Del. Mark Sickles.

"None of us really disagree on the issues," she said of the other candidates. "So voters need to select a candidate that knows how Richmond works, and I know how to get things accomplished in the House of Delegates."