The primary race for Virginia’s 37th Senate District pits an “old-fashioned” incumbent against a “progressive” who’s relatively new in Virginia politics.
Facing off for the Democratic nomination are longtime state Sen. Chap Petersen and Fairfax Young Democrats vice president Saddam Azlan Salim. Last week, a second challenger, Erika Yalowitz, dropped out to support Salim.
On the surface, the race is a classic match-up between a veteran lawmaker and a fresh face, but the candidates also have considerable political and policy differences, as evidenced in a recent debate that touched on Virginia as a “right to work” state, healthcare access and reproductive rights for women, and gun laws.
In an interview with FFXnow, Salim said he decided to run because he feels Petersen no longer reflects the political and population demographics in the 37th District, which includes Vienna, Tysons, Merrifield, and the cities of Falls Church and Fairfax.
“When I started talking to community leaders…about what they were looking for in a future senator, they wanted somebody who’s progressive,” Salim told FFXnow, “…when it comes to affordable housing, when it comes to the environment, when it comes to reproductive rights…and they’re not getting that from their current senator.”
Petersen told FFXnow he doesn’t “get caught up in ideology” and instead focuses on improving people’s lives in the community, calling himself “old-fashioned.”
He acknowledges the demographics in the district he currently represents and the new one created by redistricting have changed, becoming more diverse and “more oriented toward an immigrant population.” However, he says residents have the same basic concerns.
“A lot of the sort of older population that had worked at the Department of Defense, worked at the Pentagon has retired or moved. So, that core Republican constituency is diminished,” Petersen said. “I don’t think that necessarily changes the issues, per se. When I go door to door, people talk about property taxes. People talk about frustrations with the school system. [It] doesn’t change the state and local issues.”
One of those issues regionally is affordable housing, both candidates agreed. Salim said an insufficient supply has prevented essential county workers from living in the place they serve.
“Teachers can’t afford to live in this area. Richmond has the ability to work together with localities, to find workforce housing that works for workers that are in the county,” Salim said, charging Petersen with not being vocal enough about the need “to ensure that teachers stay in the area.”
Building new developments and housing around public transportation would help teachers and other workers more easily get where they need to go without relying on a car, Salim noted.
Petersen agrees about the need for more dense and vertical housing around public transportation hubs, but cautions that there isn’t “one great solution.” Read More
Community organizer Erika Yalowitz has suspended her campaign for the Virginia State Senate’s 37th District.
One of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, Yalowitz announced today (Thursday) that she is withdrawing from the race and will instead endorse her opponent, Saddam Azlan Salim, a financial consultant and vice president of the Fairfax Young Democrats.
After launching her campaign in February, Yalowitz says she has decided to work with Salim in a bid to defeat incumbent Chap Petersen, who has represented voters in the now-defunct 34th District since 2008.
“If we want to make progress on the issues we care about, such as gun safety, reproductive justice or housing affordability, we need to elect a different senator,” Yalowitz said in a statement. “That is why I am making the decision to suspend my campaign and endorse Saddam Salim in this race. Saddam is a good candidate that I know supports a lot of the same issues that I do.”
Yalowitz’s campaign has stopped accepting donations and will use its remaining funds to cover remaining expenses, such as staff compensation, she said in a message to supporters. She plans to give any funds leftover after that to Salim’s campaign.
Created by Virginia’s redistricting process in 2021, the new 37th Senate District incorporates Tysons, Merrifield and Falls Church City into the former 34th District’s boundaries, which included Vienna and Fairfax City.
An Arlington Circuit Court officer, Yalowitz lives in Tysons and has held leadership roles in several community organizations, including the Providence District Council, Tysons Community Alliance, and the Fairfax Federation. She also advocated for preserving Oakton’s Blake Lane Park when it was being eyed as a potential school site.
She previously ran for the Providence District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2019.
Both Yalowitz and Salim have criticized Petersen for breaking with Democrats on issues like an assault weapons ban and marijuana legalization.
In a statement released by his campaign, Salim thanked his former opponent for her support:
I want to thank Erika Yalowitz for bringing a progressive voice into this campaign and advocating for important issues like reproductive rights, the fentanyl crisis, gun violence prevention and public education. I also want to thank her for her endorsement – I appreciate it deeply and I look forward to working with her on the campaign trail to give the people of the 37th District a new choice for the first time in sixteen years. Erika will have a great future in the Democratic Party and I look forward to supporting her wholeheartedly in her next endeavors.
Petersen said that he spoke Yalowitz earlier today and wishes her well, but her decision won’t affect his campaign for reelection.
“We’ll continue forward with a positive message focused on our constituents,” he told FFXnow.
Petersen has raised the most money of the 37th District candidates so far, as of Monday (April 17), when the campaign finance reports for the first three months of the year were due.
The Democratic primary will be held on June 20, with this year’s general election coming on Nov. 7. The lone Republican candidate is Ken Reid, a former Loudoun County supervisor.
A new candidate has entered the race for the State Senate seat in the 37th District.
Organizer Erika Yalowitz announced today that she’s challenging to be the Democratic nominee in the newly-redrawn district, which includes Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
She will face off against fellow challenger Saddam Azlan Salim and incumbent Chap Petersen in the June 20 primary.
“Our new Senate District deserves a voice that is aligned with our community’s priorities, and our party’s values.” Yalowitz said in a press release. “I understand those values, because I’ve been living them for the 12+ years that I’ve called Tysons home. That means supporting working families, prioritizing pedestrian safety, protecting our community from gun violence, and committing to science based solutions for protecting our neighbors from future public health crises.”
As a community organizer, she successfully advocated for Blake Lane Park to be transferred to the Fairfax County Park Authority instead of being replaced by a new school. She also noted that she’s a union member, a mom, a Latina, a “non-profit leader,” and a court officer for Arlington Circuit Court.
Yalowitz previously ran to represent Providence District on the Board of Supervisors in 2019. She finished in third place in the Democratic primary, with about 14% of the vote. She did capture the majority of the votes in several precincts, though.
In a follow-up email with FFXnow, Yalowitz said Petersen has a “history of representing center-right positions,” and she’s a “progressive” who better represents the “demographics and values of the district.”
Petersen is running for his fifth term, having served in the senate since 2008. With redistricting, only about 44% of his former constituents will move with him to the 37th District.
Because of that, Yalowitz told FFXnow that it’s an open seat and Petersen is not a “full incumbent.”
Currently, no Republican has announced their candidacy for the senate seat. The general election is set for Nov. 7, 2023.
Elsewhere, redistricting has added significant intrigue to a number of 2023 state senate races. Several incumbents were paired in the same district, including in District 35 and District 38, which could lead to primary battles.
(Updated at 11:30 p.m.) Redistricting is going to make a number of state senate races in Fairfax County very interesting this year.
Just like the House of Delegates, every Virginia State Senate seat is up for election in 2023, and like in the Virginia General Assembly’s other chamber, several primaries may be extremely competitive after the 2021 redistricting process shook up electoral boundaries.
Incumbents that could face off
In the newly-drawn District 35, which covers Annandale, Springfield, and George Mason University, two longtime incumbents could be facing off.
Sen. Dave Marsden had been the senator in District 37 since 2010, but redistricting pushed him and about 31% of his constituents into the new district. He announced his bid for reelection a year ago and has been campaigning ever since, a campaign spokesperson told FFXnow.
“He’s knocked doors in more than half of the precincts of the new SD35, and looks forward to continuing to serve the residents of Fairfax,” the spokesperson said.
Marsden’s potential primary opponent, Sen. Dick Saslaw, has been in the senate since 1980, making him its longest-serving current member. He’s also been the Senate majority leader since the Democrats took control in 2020. While redistricting kept Saslaw in the 35th District, only about one-third of his former constituents remain with him.
There have been persistent rumors that the 82-year-old might retire, but no announcement has been made yet. FFXnow reached out to Saslaw about his 2023 intentions but hasn’t heard back as of publication.
Marsden and Saslaw, if he seeks reelection, would also face newcomer and entrepreneur Heidi Drauschak, who declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month.
The newly-drawn District 38, which includes Herndon, Reston, and McLean, could also pair two Democratic incumbents, including one that also has been rumored to retire.
Sen. Jennifer Boysko first became a senator in 2019 after previously serving in the House of Delegates for two terms. She hasn’t officially announced anything about 2023 and didn’t respond to FFXnow’s request for comment, but said last year that she intends to run again.
However, she may have to run against Sen. Janet Howell in the Democratic primary.
Howell has served in the senate for more than two decades, representing District 32. Her former constituents make up nearly half of the new District 38, but there are also similar rumors about her retiring.
Howell didn’t respond to inquiries from FFXnow.
Boysko told FFXnow when the redistricting maps were announced last January that she holds an enormous amount of respect for Howell, calling her “the dean of the Senate” and a “true pioneer for women in government.”
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have to face Republican Matt Lang in the Nov. 7 general election. Lang challenged Del. Ken Plum in 2021 but lost rather handily.
He told FFXnow that he’s running to break the “blue wall” in the senate, focusing on education policy, public safety, transportation issues and financial mismanagement.
Other potential primary battles
Other primaries that are shaping up to be potentially competitive include District 36, which covers Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, and Fair Oaks.
Stella Pekarsky, who represents the Sully District on Fairfax County’s school board, announced last week that she will challenge for the seat to “stand up” to Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The incumbent is four-term George Barker, though redistricting kept only about 6% of his former constituents in District 36. As a member of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, he came under some fire in 2021 for drawing himself back into a district that, at the time, had no other challengers. Read More
A slew of new laws are taking effect in Virginia tomorrow (July 1), including a ban on police ticket quotas, a requirement for licenses to deliver alcohol, and a new allowance for hunting on Sundays.
The 2022 General Assembly session finally wrapped this month with the approval of a new budget. All in all, about 800 laws were passed by the legislative body and signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin this year, including some from local lawmakers.
A number of those new laws are going into effect tomorrow, July 1.
Here are eight that could impact county residents:
License to deliver alcoholic beverages
The identical bills HB 426 and SB 254 both create a new license for deliveries of alcoholic beverages purchased by consumers. The new law extends the pandemic-era “cocktail to-go” policy while addressing several safety issues.
Businesses will now have to obtain a third-party license, costing between $2,500 and $7,500 depending on company size. The license requires delivery employees to take an online course on age verification, food requirements and responsible drinking.
HB 426 was sponsored by Del. David Bulova (D-37), who represents Fairfax City and parts of Fairfax County.
School principals must report misdemeanors
HB 4 and SB 36 require school principals to report most misdemeanors to law enforcement, including certain kinds of assault, battery, threats made to school officials, stalking, and alcohol and drug use. Before, principals only had to report acts that constitute a felony offense.
Both bills were introduced by Republicans and were a legislative priority of Youngkin, but did have some bipartisan support, including Del. Ken Plum (D-36), Del Mark Sickles (D-43), Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33), and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30).
No more police arrest or ticket quotas
HB 750 bans police departments and sheriff’s offices from imposing formal or informal arrest or ticket quotas. This particularly affects the issuing of traffic violations, which have long been unpopular with both police and drivers. In some jurisdictions, quotas have been used as a barometer for job performance.
The bill received unanimous support in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Read More
Victim of Bailey’s Crossroads Crash Identified — Gladis Suyapa Deras, 54, of Falls Church died in a two-vehicle crash outside Skyline Plaza on Tuesday (May 24), police confirmed. Investigators say the occupants of the other vehicle initially ran from the scene, and one of them was arrested for allegedly being drunk in public. [FCPD]
Herndon Man Arrested for Sexual Battery of Minor — “Town of Herndon Police arrested a 53-year-old Herndon man in connection with the aggravated sexual battery of a juvenile victim who was known to him, according to the weekly crime report. Police arrested Jenaro Alberto Hernandez Jovel on May 6 for an incident that occurred in the 500 block of Florida Avenue, according to police.” [Patch]
FCPS Releases Data on New TJ Class — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s Class of 2026 will have 550 students as the second accepted under the revised admissions process. Asian students ticked up to 60%, as did low-income students (33%), while Hispanic students dropped slightly (8%) and white and Black students stayed level (21% and 6%). [The Washington Post]
Fairfax Senator Drops Support for Football Stadium — State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) doesn’t intend to vote for a $1 billion plan that he supported in January to bring a new Washington Commanders stadium to Virginia. He says he no longer believes the NFL team “will be good for business,” citing sexual harassment and financial misconduct allegations as well as its name change. [WUSA9]
Kingstowne Chick-fil-A Opens — “The Chick-fil-A in Kingstowne will be opening Thursday morning, the restaurant has announced…The restaurant is near the intersection of South Van Dorn and Kingstowne Boulevard, at 5808 Kingstowne Center. Hours will be 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.” [Alexandria Living]
Firefighters Meet People Helped in Route 7 Crash — “On April 2, a serious two-car crash occurred on Leesburg Pike. 2 adults and a child were trapped in back of one car w/serious injuries. Recently, units who responded to the incident had the pleasure of hosting them. #FCFRD are happy they are doing well & were grateful for visit.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
Park Authority Summer Hiring Underway — The Fairfax County Park Authority will offer a few new benefits this year to summer employees, including $100 sign-up and retention bonuses and free access to all rec centers for the season. Hiring events are scheduled at The Water Mine in Reston and the Providence Rec Center in West Falls Church. [FCPA]
Dinosaur Encounter Opens in Centreville — “Dinosaurs are returning from extinction with The Jurassic Encounter in Northern Virginia. The outdoor walk-through dinosaur exhibit is the first of its kind at the Bull Run Events Center, home of the Annual Bull Run Festival of Lights, now through May 30 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.” [WTOP]
It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 70 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]
Updated at 2:20 p.m. — Senate Bill 739 passed 21-17, with Fairfax County Sens. Janet Howell, Dick Saslaw, and Scott Surovell joining the opponents after supporting the amendment to allow parents to opt out of school mask requirements yesterday.
Earlier: Fairfax County Public Schools’ universal masking policy has encountered pushback from an unexpected source: its own state legislators.
Led by Sen. Chap Petersen (34th District), multiple Democratic senators representing Fairfax County joined Republicans (yesterday) to pass a bill amendment that would let parents opt their children out of school mask requirements, undercutting the still-undecided lawsuit filed by FCPS and six other local school boards.
The amendment is part of Senate Bill 739, which requires schools to provide in-person instruction. Petersen and chief sponsor Republican Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico County) got a similar bill adopted last year, but this version contains no mention of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
The full bill is being debated by the Senate this afternoon (Wednesday).
“Childhood is a moment. You turn around and it’s gone. A child grows up, and when a child loses two years to this, not based on science…but on somebody’s construction of science, that’s a tragedy,” Petersen said after calling mask requirements “a violation of the First Amendment” for “forcing [families] to adopt a statement that they or their family don’t believe in.”
If approved by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, the measure would turn Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s much-debated executive order into law. As written, it wouldn’t take effect until July 1, but the governor could potentially add an emergency clause to get it implemented by the end of February, according to The Washington Post.
FCPS reiterated its belief that universal masking remains necessary in a statement to FFXnow, noting that Fairfax County is still seeing a high level of Covid transmission in the community, even after a significant decline in cases over the past month.
“We recognize we are all tired of COVID-related health measures, but choosing a random date to stop that is not supported by science is not the way to keep our students and staff safe, nor our schools open for in-person learning,” FCPS said. “A roll back of any of our layered prevention measures needs to be in line with community transmission data and in line with health and scientific recommendations.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends universal masking, a stance shared by local health officials, according to FCPS.
Petersen told FFXnow that he has been talking to FCPS for the past year but expressed frustration that the school system hasn’t set a deadline for lifting its mask requirement or “shown scientific proof” that it has made a difference in limiting Covid’s spread.
County health officials explained at a virtual town hall last month that, while there are variables based on the kind of mask and how well it fits, the vast majority of evidence indicates that masks work and are most effective when worn by everyone.
“We are working with health experts to determine a safe and effective plan to scale back when it is appropriate to do so,” FCPS said. “FCPS will continue, as it has since this pandemic began, to prioritize the health and safety of all students and staff above politics and political expediency.”
Petersen says he agrees with Youngkin that face masks should be optional in schools, but he believes the decision should be made by the legislature, not the governor.
“People that want to move on [from Covid restrictions] and let kids live normal lives support it,” he told FFXnow, declining to comment on the split within Fairfax County’s Senate delegation.
Petersen’s amendment was approved 29-9, with Sens. Janet Howell, Dick Saslaw, and Scott Surovell among the supporters. George Barker, Jennifer Boysko, Barbara Favola, and Dave Marsden voted against the measure.
Howell’s office told FFXnow that she was unavailable to comment on the vote, while Saslaw did not return a request for comment by publication time.
Surovell told The Washington Post that he supported the amendment in part on the assumption that it would not take effect until July.
In an email sent to FFXnow at 10:10 p.m. yesterday, Boysko said she had been “on the phone all night with constituents and school board members who are upset about the amendment.”
“They want to be able to follow scientific data to make decisions that will protect students, school staff members and all of their families,” she wrote. “This should not be a political issue but one based in CDC guidance and would allow school boards the autonomy to look holistically to make decisions that would best suit their communities.”
Photo via Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash