It wasn’t quite a Hollywood set, but Market Square was crowded with cameras last week as Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb filmed a television commercial in the shadow of Alexandria’s City Hall. The shoot comes with little more than two months before Election Day in a bitter campaign against incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen — a campaign that brought national attention after Sen. Allen hurled a racial epithet at one of Webb’s aides on Aug. 11.
“The man is an insensitive dolt,” said Susan Kellom, chairwoman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. “And people should think twice before they repeat the word that he used. It’s a nasty word, and endlessly repeating it only serves as a further insult.”
Ingrid Morroy knows the pain the word can bring. She’s now the elected commissioner of revenue in Arlington and Webb’s campaign treasurer. But as a child growing up in Holland, she said she could hear the word being used to describe herself and her family. She is of mixed ancestry, with a blend of ancestors from Indonesia, China, Africa and Europe — a racial standout that made her a target for discriminatory slurs.
“Neighbors would call me ‘makak’ all the time,” Mooroy said. “I call it the ‘M word.’ It’s a toxic to me, like the ‘N word’ in the United States.”
She said Sen. Allen’s use of the word “Macaca” to describe S.R. Sidarth — a native of Fairfax County and 2003 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School — brought back the hurt she felt as a child. And she said that the public discussion has unfairly tarnished voters in southwest Virginia, where Sen. Allen made the remark in an all-white crowd of supporters.
“People in southwest Virginia are not like that,” Mooroy said, adding that she was a fan of the region’s bluegrass music. “So that’s offensive too.”
DURING THE FILMING, Webb refrained from using the word. Instead, he referred obliquely to “the incident in southwest Virginia a few weeks ago.” During a filmed impromptu speech to supporters in Market Square, Webb said that the senator was well aware of the word’s loaded nature.
“George Allen knew what he was saying,” Webb said.
With City Hall as a backdrop, Webb asked Alexandria Democrats for their support. He walked toward the camera on King Street with the sun setting at his back. He posed for pictures with voters in Market Square. When the director said that a battery had died, he did another take. Then he did another, trying to get the right tone.
“I was spending time in southwest Virginia when George Allen was still in California,” Webb told supporters as the cameras rolled. “Everybody needs to understand the difference between a party that constantly seeks to divide people and a party that wants to unite them.”
The cameras filmed him sitting, standing and walking. He appeared alone, in small groups and addressing a group of about 20 supporters. Some of the shots included him speaking. Others were wordless. After the director yelled “cut,” Webb appeared slightly winded as he shook hands with supporters.
“I know the drill,” said Webb, who has experience working in television. “It’s just kind of tedious.”
AS DEMOCRATS MINGLED after the filming, they were upbeat about the possibility of a Webb victory on Nov. 7. They pointed to an Aug. 16 Rasmussen poll that showed Allen with 47 percent and Webb with 42 percent — a spread they say gives them momentum coming out of the July 18 Rasmussen poll that had Allen at 50 percent and Webb at 42 percent. Many were excited to be part of an effort to increase visibility of their candidate.
“He should be as visible as possible,” said Marianne Anderson. “He’s got a strong message, and he needs to get it out.”
Reached by phone, the Allen campaign was dismissive of Webb’s assertion that he was the candidate representing the values of southwest Virginia. Campaign manager Dick Wadhams said that Allen has spent the last 25 years in Virginia politics while Webb has been writing novels and making movies.
“It’s clear that the Hollywood movie producer James H. Webb, Jr. knows very little, if anything, about the state of Virginia,” Wadhams said. “And he’s desperately trying to convince folks that he does.”