Virginia Democratic primaries a victory for labor-backed candidates

The June 9 Democratic primary in Virginia ended in a clean sweep for a new labor and community group’s roster of candidates. The five candidates were backed by a coalition that included several SEIU locals, the UFCW Local 400, the immigrant advocacy group CASA in Action, the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Union, the National Korean American Services and Education Consortium in Action Fund, as well as Austin Thompson’s Youth Engagement Fund.

By focusing on outreach to young people and minority groups, the coalition was able to help deliver victories from Arlington, where Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey vied for a place on the ballot for the county’s Board of Supervisors, and Fairfax, where Penelope Gross beat back a challenger who aimed to remove her from the Fairfax Board. In addition to victories in Northern Virginia the coalition aided Rosalyn Dance in her State Senate bid for the 16th district, centered around Petersburg, along with Steve Heretick, who unseated long standing right-wing Democrat Johnny Joannou.

In Arlington, Cristol and Dorsey face four other challengers for the board’s two open seats, with both candidates focusing on Arlington’s housing challenges and with Cristol supporting turning the county’s massive volume of vacant office space into small housing units. Gross is supporting a plan that would fix a bottleneck at the Seven Corners intersection and ease travel in the area.

It was Heretick’s bid, for the 79th House of Delegates seat that perhaps raised the most eyebrows. His opponent, Johnny Joannou, had spent more than thirty years in the General Assembly and was considerably better funded than Heretick. However, by hammering away on Joannou’s reluctance to support Medicaid expansion along with citing his weak opposition to new tolling on the region’s Midtown and Downtown tunnels. Joannou made only a token effort to oppose the tolling imposed on those key transportation links by now disgraced former governor Bob McDonnell.

Perhaps though, it was Joannou’s endorsement by the Portsmouth Tea Party and the National Rifle Association that narrowly tipped the balance in Heretick’s favor. The Tea Party and NRA called on supporters to vote in the Democratic primary as they felt that Joannou would be more favorable to their interests than outspoken progressive Steve Heretick. Heretick seized on these endorsements to show that Joannou was out of touch in a district where Republicans typically do not even field candidates.

These victories show that even in a right-to-work state like Virginia, labor and labor allies still have a path to victory at the polls. Narrow as they were (Heretick, for instance, won by only 190 votes) the primary means that more progressive Democrats are likely headed to Virginia’s Capitol and local elected office.

Photo: Steve  Heretick.  |  Heretick’s Facebook page