Criminal justice reformers unseated the chief prosecutors of Arlington and Fairfax counties Tuesday night in very low turnout elections, while voters renominated Democratic incumbents for General Assembly seats in the region. Jeff McKay won the primary to chair a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors which will include four new district members.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti defeated incumbent Theophani “Theo” Stamos for the position of Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church with 52% to 48% of the vote. In Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax, Steve Descano beat incumbent Raymond Morrogh, 51%-49%.
Both Dehghani-Tafti and Descano ran on platforms aligned with national criminal justice reform efforts, including ending cash bail, making prosecutors’ offices more transparent, and targeting enforcement resources in a way that reduces racial disparities. GGWash endorsed Dehghani-Tafti; our Elections Committee didn’t cover the Fairfax prosecutorial race.
A map by Matthew Isbell shows a clear geographical divide among Arlington voters in this race. Fairfax’s has some clear zones of support for each candidate but was less stark.
Arlington/Falls Church Prosecutor Theo Stamos lost re-nomination in the Democratic primary to more reform-minded Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. Major focuses of Tafti have been reducing incarceration, not seeking the death penalty, and not prosecuting minor pot crimes #VaPrimary2019 pic.twitter.com/dqG0NVLmcR— Matthew Isbell (@mcimaps) June 12, 2019
General Assembly: Lopez, Favola, and Saslaw (barely) hold on
In Democratic safe seats for state legislature in the region, on the other hand, voters stuck with the incumbents against challengers. Alfonso Lopez, whom we endorsed, handily survived a challenge by Julius “JD” Spain in the 49th House district along Columbia Pike, garnering 77% of the vote. In the 31st Senate district along the Potomac, Barbara Favola kept her seat with 58% of the vote against challenger Nicole Merlene. GGWash supported Merlene.
The closest race was in the 35th, in eastern Fairfax County with some of Alexandria and Falls Church. The incumbent, Senate Democratic leader Richard “Dick” Saslaw, sqeaked past challenger Yasmine Taeb with 48.8% of the vote to Taeb’s 45.5%. A third candidate, Karen Torrent, got 5.7% of the vote, or more than the margin between Saslaw and Taeb (though it’s not known whether her voters preferred Saslaw or Taeb for a second choice.)
Taeb did not return the Greater Greater Washington questionnaire despite multiple extensions and didn’t talk about housing and transportation on her website, so we were unable to determine her views on the issues we focus most on. The Elections Committee did not endorse in this race.
Fairfax Supervisors: McKay, Lusk, Walkinshaw, Alcorn, Palchik
Lee District supervisor Jeff McKay was considered the early favorite to succeed Sharon Bulova as chairman of the region’s and state’s largest jurisdiction, Fairfax County. But the campaign turned out to be more lively than expected, with an ethics complaint levied by Tim Chapman, one of McKay’s opponents; then further allegations against Chapman; and apparent dirty tricks in the form of text messages to voters about the McKay allegation.
But McKay prevailed, pulling in 43% of the vote in a four-way race. GGWash endorsed McKay. Georgetown Law professor Alicia Plerhoples mounted a strong challenge, getting 31%, and we hope we’ll see more of her; she had excellent answers to our questions and the Elections Committee was very impressed. Ryan McElveen took 16% of the vote and Chapman 10%.
McKay will lead a Board of Supervisors with four other new members stepping into open seats this year. In McKay’s old district south of Alexandria, GGWash endorsee and county employee Rodney Lusk came out on top with 46% of the vote in a four-person field. James Walkinshaw, chief of staff to Rep. Gerry Connolly, out-walked newcomer Irma Corado, 67%-33% in the central/southern Braddock District. We had supported Walkinshaw.
The Hunter Mill District, including Reston and Vienna, saw a number of candidates running with an explicitly anti-new housing platform, but Walter Alcorn, the more moderate former planning commissioner and our pick, won with 47% of the vote among 5 candidates.
Meanwhile, the Providence District, which includes Tysons and Merrifield, chose Dalia Palchik as the next supervisor (or the Democratic nominee, at least, who is virtually assured of winning). Palchik took 40% of the vote. Second place with 23% of the vote went to Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, whose anti-density mailer we criticized. The rest of the field was Erika Yalowitz with 14%, Edythe Kelleher (GGWash’s pick) with 13%, and Linh Hoang at 10%. This district had many excellent candidates and we liked much of what Palchik had to say about making an inclusive and equitable Providence District.
Some of the Fairfax candidates will face Republican or independent competitors in November, though to varying degrees all Democrats are favored to win in the increasingly blue county.
Are voters satisfied? Or apathetic?
Overall, voters mostly chose candidates with experience and establishment support. This could show that Democratic voters (and other voters who could cross over to vote in the Democratic primary) were mostly happy with the existing direction of Fairfax leaders or General Assembly Democrats, but also align with a large and growing Democratic party consensus of wanting to see criminal justice practices change.
Or, perhaps, it doesn’t tell us much about voters because very few people voted. The Fairfax County official elections Twitter account said that as of 3:43 pm, voter turnout was just over 5% of the electorate. By comparison, in the midterm of November 2018, by 4 pm turnout had passed 53%. Arlington County had 17% turnout this year; last November, about 70%.
On the GOP side and looking to November
The only Republican primary race we followed was in the 13th Senate district of Loudoun and Prince William being vacated by Republican Senator Dick Black. Loudoun County supervisor Geary Higgins, who did not fill out our questionnaire, cruised to victory with 65% of the vote over Ron Meyer.
Higgins, who had Black’s support, ran as more conservative than Meyer, including praising Donald Trump’s immigration policy and claiming Meyer supports “late term abortions and gun control.” (Meyer disputed that, but said, “My focus will be on transportation and fighting tolls, not being a social warrior.”) We supported Meyer, even though we don’t agree with him on tolls or new highways.
Attention will now turn to the November general, where Democrats are two seats short of a majority in both the state House and Senate. Higgins will face Democrat John Bell in November. Bell, currently a delegate, had no challenger who successfully made the ballot.
Another heavily contested race will be the 40th House district in Fairfax and Prince William, where Dan Helmer (D) is challenging 16-year incumbent and GOP caucus chairman Tim Hugo. Helmer had run in the Democratic primary for the 10th Congressional District in 2018, but lost to then-state senator Jennifer Wexton who went on to unseat Rep. Barbara Comstock (R). Democrats are hoping for victories by Bell and Helmer in Northern Virginia as part of their strategy to capture majorities in the state legislature, while Republicans will be looking to protect these seats.
The GGWash Elections Committee will determine whether to make general election endorsements over the coming months.