2024-07-19 10:56 AM

Salim’s Surprise Senate Sweep!

In a major upset, Fairfax Young Democrats leader Saddam Azlan Salim won Tuesday’s Democratic primary election over J.C. “Chap” Petersen, in the 37th State Senate District that includes the City of Falls Church. 

The outcome was such a surprise that the official press release from the Fairfax County Democratic Committee got it wrong, erroneously reporting early Wednesday morning that Petersen had won the race for the 37th District seat. Called out by the News-Press immediately, the organization’s executive director Dominic Thompson, under whose name the press release went out, swiftly made the correction, reposting the revised press release and calling the News-Press to make sure it was seen, all before 10:00 a.m. yesterday.

Surprise, indeed. Long shot underfunded first-time candidate Salim pulled the biggest upset of this Democratic primary season by upending well-heeled veteran lawmaker Petersen, and by a considerable margin, 10,049 to 8,616 with all precincts reporting in the newly configured 37th Senate District.

Saddam Salim, a first-time candidate, scored a major upset victory in Tuesday’s State Senate race for the 37th District that includes the City of Falls Church, He is shown here addressing supporters after the polls closed Tuesday night at Clare and Don’s restaurant in F.C. (Photo: Brian Reach)

Petersen  has been an elected member of the  Virginia General Assembly for over 20 years and has usually run unopposed. But this year was the first time his district was reconfigured by last year’s redistricting and moved eastward to include Falls Church and its immediate environs in Fairfax County.   

Still, few saw what was coming, notwithstanding the firm endorsement of his opponent, Salim, by the Falls Church News-Press in three editorials in the recent period.

Petersen, endorsed by The Washington Post, is identified as one of the most conservative Democrats in the state legislature, and was called out for failing to report his conservative stand on LGBTQ+ issues on his website, for his ongoing membership in the arch-conservative Truro Church in his hometown Fairfax City, a church aligned with the defectors who were eventually forced to give up their illegal occupation of the historic Falls Church Episcopal Church, and his full-throated endorsement of Virginia’s antiquated anti-labor “right to work” laws. He also voted against an assault weapons ban. 

Petersen also ruffled local feathers when he failed to show at the F.C. Democratic Committee’s major event of the spring in the Community Center.

Saddam Azlan Salim, on the other hand, is a first-generation immigrant born in Bangladesh. Growing up, he and his family experienced severe drought followed by the flood of 1998.

Coming to the U.S. in 2000, they were taken in by a family friend, and they lived in basements in Falls Church for two years until they were eligible for Fairfax County’s low-income affordable housing program.

Both his parents worked minimum wage jobs and relied on public transportation to get to work. Salim’s father worked his way up from a dishwasher to the chef for more than 20 years at the popular restaurant Haandi Indian Cuisine on West Broad Street.  

​Salim attended Falls Church High School where he was a track and field athlete and president of his graduating class. 

​He attended Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, where he graduated with a B.S. in 2012 and subsequently achieved a Masters Degree in Public Administration.

He has served as Co-Chair to the Providence District, and Finance Vice Chair, for Fairfax County Democratic Committee. He was the founding member of both the FCDC AAPI and Black Caucuses. He currently serves as second Vice Chair of the 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee, Vice President of Fairfax Young Democrats, Co-State Director for South Asians for America, and as a Board Member for DemBiz Council.       

Salim held his post-election event Tuesday night at Clare and Don’s in Falls Church  which stayed open an extra hour to accommodate the event. Salim thanked his supporters at 10:00 p.m. before sending them home while his victory remained unsure.

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Petersen issued a statement of congratulations to Salim.

The margin of victory for Salim was considerably greater in Falls Church than elsewhere in the 37th District. With a 22 percent voter turnout in Falls Church, standard for a primary in the Little City, but double what it was elsewhere in the 37th District, Salim gathered 1,486 votes to 790 for Petersen, carrying all three City precincts, and the early vote by 797 to 408. 

Petersen also lost in the Fairfax County precincts by 7,158 to 6,159 and barely carried in his home of Fairfax City by 1,667 to 1,405.

He appeared not to benefit from a late alliance forged with Commonwealth Attorney challenger Ed Nuttall and incumbent Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kinkaid, as Nuttall lost to incumbent Steve Descano by a wide margin (though Kinkaid won).

This was despite Petersen also carrying the endorsements of a preponderance of regional Democratic elected officials, including Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and The Washington Post. It was also despite a major difference in campaign fundraising. In 2023, Petersen raised $1,057,619 (or $122.75 per vote), and Salim raised $188,652 (or $18.77 per vote). 

But in its editorial last week, the News-Press noted that while Petersen “seems locked into the state’s unhappy Jim Crow past…we would welcome the fresh approach that his opponent, Saddam Salim, son of long-time employees at a valued City of Falls Church business, promises to bring.”

In other area races of note, Jeff McKay was re-elected chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Jimmy Bierman was elected the Democratic nominee in the Dranesville district of Fairfax County to fill the seat being vacated by John Foust, and Andres Jimenez edged out a dense field to win the Democratic nomination to replace Penny Gross in the county’s Mason District. F.C.’s State Delegate Marcus Simon was unopposed.





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