District of the Year 2023

Franconia candidates, volunteers celebrate new coordinated campaign office

By Janelle Hartman

As local Democratic candidates presided over the lively opening of the coordinated campaign office in Springfield on July 15, their solidarity drove home their message: From the school board to county government to the balance of power in Richmond, the stakes this November couldn’t be higher.

Del. Kathy Tran, now running in the 18th district on the redrawn political map, stressed that the radical agenda wreaking havoc in the nation’s red states will come for Virginians’ freedoms without Democratic majorities in both chambers. “This is an absolutely critical year,” Tran said. “We have seen fundamental rights being threatened and in some cases taken away — the right to bodily autonomy, the right to love who you love and be who you are authentically, the right to read books and learn your history and the right to live in a world that is clean and safe and ready for the next generation.”

The Commerce Street office will be a hub for all area Democratic candidates and volunteers over the next several months. Keep your eyes out for alerts about canvassing, phone banking and other election activities.

Tran was joined by Del. Mark Sickles, now running in the 17th district; Fairfax County School Board candidates Marcia St. John-Cunning, Ilryong Moon and Kyle McDaniel; and Chris Falcon, running to be the county’s clerk of the circuit court, a job with myriad responsibilities related to court operations and records.

“Knocking doors for clerk of court is fun,” Falcon said, with a big smile for the audience of activists. “Because what happens is that you get someone at the door who knows nothing about it and you get to tell them that ‘Actually you’re voting for something this year that has a big impact on your justice system.’”

Tran and Sickles welcomed a special guest, their friend and state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi of Richmond, who held up her 2019 victory as proof of Virginia’s evolution. “I am a first-generation immigrant, a Muslim, and a woman and the fact that a woman like me could win in the heart of the confederacy in Richmond tells you how much Virginia has changed,” Hashmi said.

Looking around the room, she said, “This is so heartening to see such enthusiasm, to hear from such wonderful candidates and to know that we are passionate about continuing to bring the change that really is moving Virginia forward.”

She talked about a recent conference of Southern-state legislators in Charleston. “Virginia was the blue dot in a red sea,” she said. “We were hearing from people who were proud of the fact that they were defunding public education. People who were proud that they are restricting abortion access. People who are proud that they are making it harder for hard-working Americans to actually earn a living wage.

Staffers putting up Marsden posters.“None of those issues are issues to be proud about. We looked at each other, the Virginia delegation, and we said, ‘We don’t belong with this group anymore.’”

The GOP is raring to undo that progress. And one of their highest priorities is destroying public schools. All too aware of the threat, Democrat-endorsed school board candidates are responding with unshakeable unity. All 12 seats on the officially nonpartisan board are up for grabs, and four will be on Franconia District ballots: St. John-Cunning, running for the Franconia seat, and at-large candidates Moon, McDaniel and Ryan McElveen.

“We cannot give up one seat on this school board,” McDaniel said, explaining why even an 11-1 majority isn’t enough. “One person on that school board can throw a wrench and burn down our public schools and that’s what they’re going to do. That’s what they want to do.”

Hashmi, chair of the Senate subcommittee on public education, underscored the peril to Virginia’s schools and students.

“We saw at least six bills being proposed (in the 2023 session) to pull public ed dollars away from our schools and into the hands of charter and private schools, including private religious institutions,” she said. “And we saw so many bills attacking our most vulnerable children, our LGBTQ and trans children, vilifying these children in such dramatic and traumatizing ways.”

To combat that, the school board candidates’ platform draws a direct line between public schools and an informed citizenry.

“The cornerstone of any democracy is a knowledgeable, educated population, and that starts at the schools,” said St. John-Cunning, who has worked with parents and children in the Fairfax County school system for 24 years and spoke with great empathy about the district’s many vulnerable students.

“We have to defend our schools,” she said. “Let’s keep this school board a strong Democratic school board so we can protect our kids so that we have a strong, educated student population (and) a strong educated electorate.”

Moon, who previously spent 20 years on the school board, spoke about children’s hopes for their future and how members’ work on their behalf can have a lifelong impact.

“I think I am living the American Dream because I was able to serve — even as an immigrant with a heavy accent,” he said. “Every one of our students has their own dream, and [we] can make sure they have the opportunity to achieve them. So help us keep all 12 seats in Democratic hands.”

Locally and statewide, legislative Dems are also powerfully unified.

After two years of a hugely productive blue trifecta in Richmond, Democrats lost control of the House of Delegates and the governor’s office in 2021. Since then, only a slender Senate majority has blocked the hard-right goals of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his lockstep Republican caucus.

Voters will decide whether that changes for better or worse, with all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 in the Senate on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Sickles said even incumbents in seats considered relatively safe, like the one he’s held for 20 years, are taking nothing for granted.

“Two of those 20 years we were in the majority. I was thinking about that and I decided those were the best years of my life,” he said, drawing laughter. “I’m going to campaign in my district, but I’m also going to go out and help in districts near to us, and maybe some that are far from us.”

The spirit of the local Democratic ticket as a whole was perhaps best captured by McDaniel, as he considered how the makeup of the school board will affect the district as it fully emerges from the COVID crisis.

“Is it through this lens of fear and anger and cynicism or is it through a lens of courage and hope and optimism?” he asked. “I can tell you all 12 of the Democrats running for school ground are firmly in that camp of hope and courage and optimism because we fundamentally believe in public education [and] we believe that government can be a force for good.”

Aloha, Franconia! 

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Franconia Dems 2022 Luau! Despite sweltering heat, everyone stayed cool with plenty of cold drinks, delicious food and great conversation. Please enjoy these photos by Elza Daniel and Janelle Hartman.

Franconia Dems has the best volunteers, and we can prove it!

Our Franconia Dems Power Couple were honored at FCDC’s Blue Fairfax Dinner on July 17: Liz Murphy as our member of the year and Mark Heinitz as volunteer of the year. To top off the evening’s accolades, Mark was named FCDC volunteer of the year, beating out contenders from the eight other magisterial districts. 

Among many other roles, Liz and Mark hosted GOTV canvasses every weekend for two months during the 2021 cycle, welcoming canvassers and organizers, providing snacks and drinks and a spot in the shade. They haven’t stopped for a moment in 2022, either, hosting Opening Day in April, volunteering at Springfield Day, and providing major support for the Luau. Thank you, Mark and Liz!

Opening Day cookout 2022

April 30 was the perfect day for Lee Dems Opening Day cookout, a celebration of our progressive values among friends old and new. (Photos by Janelle Hartman and Elza Daniel)