By Erich Wagner and Susan Hale Thomas (File photo)
Despite a short 10-day window before the filing deadline, five candidates have thrown their hat into the ring in the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-45).
Krupicka’s abrupt announcement last month that he would not seek reelection shocked many residents and elected officials alike. The rumor mill immediately went into high gear, as several local leaders cited the difficulty of decamping to Richmond every year and the tight deadline to make a decision and build campaign infrastructure as reasons to stay out of the race.
But by the deadline last week, five candidates had gotten their paperwork filed in time, all Alexandria residents. Among the contenders are local business man Larry Altenburg, city spokesman Craig Fifer, leadership consultant Julie Jakopic, liberal radio host Mark Levine and Alexandria Democratic Committee Chairman Clarence Tong.
Krupicka was renowned for his passionate support of early childhood education issues, and most candidates agreed education would be a top priority of theirs if they were chosen to go to Richmond. Other common refrains included economic development and diversification and mental health advocacy.
The founder and CEO of iLead Strategies, an Alexandria-based organizational and leadership development group, Jakopic said she felt the state level is where she can have the most impact on the issues she cares about: childhood education, health care, mental health and families.
“People want to be able to live their lives and for everyone to reach their highest potential and succeed,” Jakopic said. “[I] think education is a big issue in the district. … I want to ensure quality child care for the young, to make sure youth have the opportunity to go to college. I would like to make reforms to mental health in a way that actually works.”
She emphasized her desire to create a system that better serves people who need help. She said she’d like to expand Medicaid and to be rid of predatory lending and make reasonable loans available to lower-income brackets.
Jakopic, whom Krupicka endorsed in a statement Monday, earned a master’s in sociology and an undergraduate degree in communication from the University of Maryland.
Fifer pointed to his two decades as a government employee and local advocate both in Roanoke and Alexandria as a “proven track record” of public service. Fifer said he would advocate for more robust early childhood education programs and focus on a diversified economy for Northern Virginia, as well as focus on various issues related to mental health.
“Statewide, we have a lot of progress still to make in the area of mental health,” he said. “It’s not just a public safety issue. It’s become trendy after a tragedy for some politician to say, ‘We have to do more about mental health,’ but it’s not just about public safety, because very few people with mental health needs are violent.
“It’s a stigma that isn’t borne out by the data. We need to be treating people who need services with the dignity to help them live a more productive and fulfilling life. If someone is unable to go to work and unable to participate in the community, but isn’t violent, that’s still not a success story; we need to treat them for their own sake, not just society’s sake.”
And Fifer said his work as the president of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and helping to update the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act prove that he can cross party lines to find pragmatic solutions to problems.
“You can’t just make fiery speeches and expect to get anything done as a minority in the legislature,” he said. “[I] am familiar with the political process. I’m not just jumping straight from a civil service job into the fire of the General Assembly — I’ve been there before.
“I understand how politics works and I also understand how government works. It’s very important for a delegate not just to be a champion on progressive issues but also to be somebody who can get things done.”
Altenburg calls himself a family man and said there are two reasons he’s running for delegate — his children, aged 6 and 9. As a parent, Altenburg said he wants to ensure all children have the best opportunity to be successful through solid access to education.
He’s also keen on economic development and creating good job opportunities.
“The region needs to diversify and not just rely on the government and military for jobs in the area,” Altenburg said.
And he wants to improve transportation options for residents in Alexandria and Northern Virginia as a whole.
“The transportation infrastructure we have built in the area is antiquated,” he said. “To get to our jobs we go around and around the city. We spend more time in our cars and less time at our jobs.”
Tong said he wants to leverage his expertise and passion for energy issues to help diversify Virginia’s economy. In addition to serving as chairman of the local Democratic Party, he works at the Environmental Defense Fund, following a stint at the U.S. Department of Energy.
“I believe we need sustainable energy development that is good for the environment and good for the economy, and I would like to bring these new renewable and alternative energy companies to Virginia,” Tong said. “It’s unfortunate: the City of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County were all detrimentally impacted by the federal budget and sequestration.
“But with the tech sector here, people have the skills to create new companies that can bring jobs here, and I think that’s starting.”
Tong said he hopes to be able to use his own pragmatism to help finally bring Medicaid expansion to Virginia.
“This has been a priority [for Democrats] for the past several years, and last year there was a budget impasse over it,” he said. “But more and more Republican governors are starting to have it, and it’s important to stress that people are not getting the health care that they need.”
Levine, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the open 8th congressional district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, said he, too, wants to focus on education issues in Richmond. Specifically, he wants to change the way Virginia evaluates schools in the annual Standards of Learning tests in a way that he said would remove the advantages that schools with higher income students have.
“The idea is dynamic scoring: you look at how students have achieved from year to year rather than at a static level of where they are [compared to a state benchmark],” Levine said. “I think it’s a fairer way to grade; I don’t think it costs anything, and it’s not really a liberal vs. conservative issue.”
Levine said he also hopes to be able to expedite the construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station. He said last year’s campaign was a learning experience that he hopes will serve him well in the run-up to the June 9 primary.
“I wouldn’t say I learned anything in terms of policy or my positions on things, and I love talking to people and talking to voters,” he said. “But there’s a lot of behind the scenes things like getting out mail pieces, hiring competent staff, raising money — the technical stuff that’s not fun.
“Just the rules of campaign finance and that you have to get the bank account before you can set up a website; these are little things, but I had no idea last year, and that can affect how you run a campaign efficiently and productively.”
Geoff Skelley, a veteran analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said with five relative political newcomers in the race, it is hard to predict much of anything about the race, except that whoever wins likely will have a comfortable road to a November victory, given the district’s heavily Democratic population.
“With five in the race, with low name recognition for some of them, if not all of them, I think it’s dangerous to make firm predictions about who is going to win such a contest,” he said. “There’s no obvious Don Beyer this year.”
Skelley said each candidate likely has their own advantages and disadvantages, but its hard even to say whether Krupicka’s endorsement of Jakopic will give her too much of a bump.
“At first glance, that might be an advantage, but I don’t know how much help it will be with four other people running,” Skelley said. “But I will say this: It’s tough to find little edges, but you can find certain ones for each person to some degree.”