- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

It took three ballots and a lot of horse-trading but Northern Virginia Republicans yesterday heeded the call of the largest-ever Hispanic population in the redrawn 49th District and selected a Hispanic real estate agent as the party's nominee for the House seat.
If nominee Edgar L. Gonzalez of Arlington wins in November, he will be the first Hispanic to serve in Virginia's House of Delegates.
His supporters are probably hoping the general election in November will be easier to win than the nomination a process that got spirited at times yesterday in the three-candidate nomination fight that ended in the casting of three ballots at the party's mass meeting at Wakefield High School in Arlington.
The third ballot saved Republicans from having to invoke a little known and rarely used by-law, which amounts to nomination by luck.
No blood was drawn on the first ballot, which required 21 votes out of 40, or a simple majority, to win. Mr. Gonzalez received 16 votes, William H. Garcia of Alexandria got 17 and John M. Nande, also of Alexandria, received 7.
Mr. Nande dropped out after the first vote and threw his support to Mr. Gonzalez. Four of Mr. Nande's supporters followed his advice, but three did not, causing a 20-to-20 deadlock on the second ballot.
On the third and final ballot, Mr. Gonzalez, a Salvadoran-American, squeezed out a 21 to 19 victory over Mr. Garcia, an Ecuadorian-American. If Mr. Gonzalez hadn't received the majority of the votes on the third ballot, party officials, by law, would have had to select the nominee by pulling a name out of a hat.
"This is the first time in Arlington that [going to a third ballot] has ever happened," said Michael Lane, chairman of the Arlington County Republican Party who oversaw yesterday's voting.
Mr. Gonzalez told all 40 voters he was prepared to work hard for the next three months to reach out to all district residents.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done. This race will be decided on legwork. I will be knocking on doors and having residents put issues on the table so we can all decide how we can make our district a better place to live," Mr. Gonzalez said.
Mr. Gonzalez will face Democratic incumbent L. Karen Darner, of Arlington, who has represented the former 49th District for the past 10 years. But that district is not the same anymore.
The state's top Republicans last spring carved out a new 49th District based on the 2000 census numbers. States are required to redraw their legislative districts every 10 years to reflect population changes.
The 49th district now includes three of the most ethnically diverse communities in Northern Virginia Del Ray in Alexandria, Arlandria in Arlington County and Culmore in Fairfax County. The redrawn district's population is 42 percent Hispanic, 27 percent white, 20 percent black and 11 percent Asian.
The district is the only one of the state's 100 House districts that does not have a white or black majority. It also is the first to have a Hispanic plurality.
Republicans currently have 52 House seats to the Democrats' 47. There is one independent delegate. All 100 seats are up for election in November.
Intent on keeping control of the House, Republicans last month recruited Mr. Gonzalez, Mr. Garcia and Mr. Nande to run for the party's nomination. None of them has ever run for public office.
"It's reflective of the Republican Party's overall outreach to minorities in this new millennium," Mr. Lane said. "President Bush has shown us the need to aggressively court the new voters, who are important to our party's future. This local race is a microcosm of that overall national effort."
The race also will show if Hispanic leaders can overcome their most difficult hurdle getting the Hispanic community to vote . Many Hispanics in the district are not registered to vote.
"It will be about organizing the vote and reaching out to people," Mr. Gonzalez said. "This district is as new to Karen [Darner] as it is for me."
Miss Darner has faced strong Republican opposition in the old 49th District and won easily.
All three men, who moved to the district just to run for the nomination, offered the same message to voters: End the car tax by next year and bring more tax dollars back to the district.
Mr. Gonzalez, 45, who moved to Arlington from Prince William County, had two advantages over his opponents. He had the support of state House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican. Secondly, most of the region's Hispanics come from his native country, El Salvador.
Mr. Gonzalez said his priorities are education and transportation. He also said he wants to tackle the issue of gang violence, like the slaying in Culmore last year that police linked to a Salvadoran gang. He said he would create programs for children to keep them off the streets after school.

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