Around F.C., News

F.C. Democrats’ Big Decisions Heading Into June Primary

This Tuesday. April 25, marked the day that President Joe Biden officially kicked off his 2024 re-election campaign focused on advancing the remarkable achievements of his first two years.

While the conversation is ongoing about Biden’s fitness for office as an octogenarian, Democrats nationally were generally of one voice hailing his announcement, with even Bernie Sanders saying at the outset he will not challenge again, but will support the president’s campaign.

Down in the party trenches, however, such unity is not always prevailing, and not so much in the City of Falls Church and environs, either, where two races for the Democratic nomination in the upcoming June 20 primary election have become more intensive.

There is the fight for the Democratic nomination for the 37th Senate District that, with redistricting for the first time this year, is pitting an entrenched incumbent who has never represented Falls Church before now against a challenger.

Then there is the fight for the Commonwealth Attorney position, where a first term incumbent is facing an aggressive challenge.

The 37th State Senate District race finds incumbent State Sen. Chap Petersen running against first-time candidate Sadam Salim, and the money is on a win for Petersen. 

However, a couple complications arose in the last week, led by the fact that another challenger for the post, Erika Yalowitz, a young and energetic campaigner, announced she was officially dropping out of the race. She told supporters that fundraising numbers from the first quarter, reported last Monday, would figure in her decision, and she was outraised not only by Petersen, but also by Salim.

The three-way race turned into a two-way race has made prospects for an upset of Petersen greater by far, yet very still far off.

On the other hand, Petersen did not do himself any favors in the last week as first of all, a debate billed as co-sponsored by the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce at a familiar debate site in the City, the American Legion Hall on N. Oak Street, got moved to Vienna, for a long time in Petersen’s district, ostensibly to accommodate a larger audience.

By virtue of that venue change, while there was a good turnout of voters familiar with Petersen, there was almost no one from his new territory of Falls Church there, only one solitary person the News-Press could identify.

The second case involved Petersen’s failure to appear at the popular annual potluck hosted by the Falls Church Democratic Committee last Sunday night.

That event, considered a “must” for anyone seeking Falls Church votes, enjoyed a large turnout at the F.C. Community Center and highlighted by the region’s top Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., retiring (as of the end of this year) State Sen. Dick Saslaw, completing 48 years in Virginia politics,  and State Del. Marcus Simon, as well as the Mayor of Falls Church David Tarter and Vice Mayor Letty Hardi. The keynote was delivered by up-and-coming party leader Jay Jones.

But Petersen’s no show, with not even a stand-in provided, contributed to the lopsided result of an unofficial straw poll of attendees, where 50 votes went to Salim, his opponent, and Petersen got only 8. 

Incumbent Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Testa, there enjoying the endorsements of Beyer and Simon, prevailed by a wide margin over her challenger Josh Katcher, in the straw poll, 48 to 11.

Welcoming the event attendees at the start of the evening, F.C. Mayor David Tarter noted that Falls Church “has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the Commonwealth,” and while introducing other leaders present, singled out Sen. Saslaw.

He said, “I would like to take a moment to personally thank Senator Saslaw, as he nears retirement, for all he has done for Falls Church.

“Dick is an old school politician in the best sense of the word, someone who doesn’t make a big show of it, but quietly gets things done, often with a phone call or two. He has helped the City obtain numerous grants, for millions of dollars, for everything from stormwater improvements to prevent flooding, to affordable housing in (Falls Church’s) Virginia Village. Whenever Falls Church has called, Dick has answered. For 48 years, he has been here for the residents of Northern Virginia.”

Rep. Beyer in his remarks also hailed Saslaw’s work over 48 years, and said that while he expects Trump to be the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2024, he hailed President Biden’s achievements to date, noting that “no one since LBJ has done so much,” citing the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, among other monumental accomplishments.

Biden will get re-elected, Beyer predicted, and the nation will survive the impending debt ceiling crisis. 

Saslaw, in response to Mayor Tarter’s and Rep. Beyer’s kind words, in like manner, hailed Falls Church, stating adamantly that, in his view, Falls Church is “the top City in America.”

Del. Simon added that “Falls Church always has my back.”

In citing the efforts by Republicans nationally to “take us backward to the 1950s,” keynoter Jones said that “the enemy is at the gates,” and that an extraordinary effort will be required this year and the next to restore the rights of women, to implement sound gun policies, to restore Virginia’s voting right second chances for felons who have served out their terms, and for the advance of public education. 

The Democratic primary is June 20, and early voting begins May 9.