The heated debate between former colleagues both running for commonwealth’s attorney sharpened after last month’s release of first-quarter fundraising by incumbent Parisa Deghani-Tafti and challenger Josh Katcher.
Katcher raised the most this year, $102,675, with $84,268 cash on hand, according to his campaign and March 31 reports summarized by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. Those funds came from individuals, including some relatives plus former School board member Abby Raphael, who gave $5,000.
Dehghani-Tafti during the quarter raised $66,613, and has $52,909 on hand for the June 20 Democratic primary. Her top donors were organizations and political action committees; The Justice and Safety PAC ($8,000); the Demand Justice PAC ($5,000); and Justice for All ($5,000), plus donations above $1,000 by Carol Fontein, Herschel Kantor and Joshua Mailman, and Rep. Don Beyer. She drew 115 contributions of $100 or less this quarter (a thousand more since 2019), compared with Katcher’s 363 since he entered the race last November.
“We outraised our opponent, we have more individual donors, we have more small donors, and all of our contributions came from individuals,” said Katcher, who spent 11 years as a prosecutor in her office before resigning in disillusionment last August.
But Dehghani-Tafti told the News-Press “It is very concerning that over a third of my opponent’s identifiable funding comes from Republican donors, including those with contributions to Donald Trump, Glenn Youngkin, Jason Miyares, Amanda Chase, Josh Hawley, and the Republican National Committee. A candidate funded by the supporters of extremist Republicans cannot honestly call himself a `progressive,’ she said. Anyone drawing support from those Republicans “is clearly not interested in criminal justice reform, and my opponent’s decision to accept that money is an indication that he is not the reformer he claims to be.”
Criticisms of Dehghani-Tafti’s acceptance of national money are familiar to her. “I have received money from progressive PACs that are working to make our legal system more fair and just,” she said. “Those PACs are funded in part by George Soros, who has dedicated his life and his fortune to progressive causes and expanding democracy. I’m proud to have their support.”
Katcher told the News-Press, “I have said that this will be a people-powered campaign. When I am out meeting people in the community, I want to engage in conversations about this race. I did not — nor do I — look up Arlingtonians’ political registration before having those conversations. I also did not — nor do I — look up donor history when Arlingtonians are graciously offering to host events or if they make contributions.”
Door-knocking in Falls Church, Katcher has repeated arguments that Dehghani-Tafti “is increasingly desperate to avoid talking about her office in free fall, her personal treatment of victims, and her inability to raise money from individuals in Arlington and Falls Church City. We’ve recently highlighted her transparency issues and her inclination to hide damaging data.”
The campaign for Commonwealth’s Attorney has raised questions of who votes in the June 20 Democratic primary—the first that will allow ranked voting for several candidates. Though Democratic organizations “remain neutral,” as party chairman Steve Baker confirmed to the News-Press, Virginia’s voter registrations are nonpartisan, and a primary is technically open to all.
Copies of flyers inviting voters to events supporting Katcher by regular Republican donors in Arlington and Falls Church were collected by former county board candidate Adam Theo. He backs Dehghani-Tafti but says he is not cooperating with her campaign. “I want Arlington to continue its work on criminal justice reform and police oversight,” he told the News-Press, and that, he says, is not Katcher’s agenda.
Arlington Republican party chairman Matthew Hurtt said, “Under no circumstances” is his party “advising Republican voters to cast ballots in the Democratic primary, as it is in clear violation of the Plan of the Republican Party of Virginia governing Republican Party and member activity.” But he added that, “Crime has gone up under Dehghani-Tafti’s tenure, and our community is less safe because of her reckless disregard for the rule of law.”
Asked about crossover voting, Kevin Appel, a longtime Arlington Democratic officer, said, “Voting in a Democratic nomination caucus requires the participant to `sign the pledge’ certifying that they consider themselves to be a Democrat before they can vote. I’ve been involved with many caucuses over the years where people showed up and refused to sign, but the Democratic Party of Virginia requires it, so they went away very angrily,” Appel said. “I’ve also seen known Republicans show up at the Democratic caucus, sign the pledge, and vote.”
Katcher’s campaign benefited from an attack on his opponent by Rose Kehoe, the mother of Washington-Liberty High School basketball player Braylon Meade, who was killed in a car wreck in Arlington last November by a speeding driver with a history of alcohol and THC abuse.
In a scathing April 11 letter to state Sen. Barbara Favola, who, along with Falls Church Del. Marcus Simon, has endorsed Dehghani-Tafti, the mother who faults the Commonwealth’s Attorney for not charging the 17-year-old as an adult, which requires special circumstances. “We have no doubt that Ms. Dehghani-Tafti’s political rigidity on the issue of refusing to charge juveniles as adults is what governed this case,” Kehoe wrote, as reported by ARLnow.com. “This was a campaign slogan that worked to drive voters to the polls in 2019, but when applied in the real world of running her office, it stripped our voice away from us and denied a meaningful discussion on how to seek justice for Braylon.”
Though Dehghani-Tafti had sought three years of detention, the driver, two months shy of 18, was given one year of detention and two years probation last month by Judge Michael Chick. Deghani-Tafti said in a statement to ARLnow, “As a mother, I know the death of a child is life-shattering. Braylon’s death is a devastating loss for his family and friends, and I am heartbroken over it. I understand why Ms. Kehoe feels the way she does. And I don’t want to say anything that adds to their pain. There is simply no good outcome because the only good outcome would be for Braylon to be home.”