- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

A diverse group of candidates in Northern Virginia — including two Hispanics and two homosexual men — are vying for the chance to replace a retiring delegate.

“I believe there is a sense of pride among the voters, because they know there are certain choices, certain firsts, we can make,” said Teresa Martinez, a Hispanic and the only woman in the five-person race to succeed Delegate L. Karen Darner, Arlington Democrat.

Mrs. Martinez, a lawyer and lobbyist, will face Adam Ebbin, Michael Graham, Nathan Monell and Andres Tobar in the June 10 Democratic Party primary.

The race in District 49, which includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties and sections of the city of Alexandria, is overwhelmingly Democratic.

About two dozen people arrived at the Drew Model School in Arlington last night to listen to speeches by the candidates. The event was sponsored by the Nauck Civic Association.

District 49 was drawn at the urging of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a majority-minority district. Republicans have not fielded a candidate, so the primary winner could be the next delegate from the area.

The candidates are campaigning as progressive Democrats who will bring a different perspective to the overwhelmingly Republican legislature. However, they have varying perspectives about their own minority status.

“I would hope that I would be known as an effective lawmaker and legislator,” said Mr. Ebbin, 39. “It would be historic and groundbreaking, but I am not running as a gay candidate. I would be an elected official who happens to be gay.”

Mrs. Martinez is a first-generation American and thinks that voters in the district, which is about 40 percent Hispanic, would benefit from electing her.

“Over the years, I have gone to testify in Richmond on behalf of many bills that have a great impact on the immigrant community,” said Mrs. Martinez, 40, who also has served as the legislative chairman for the Hispanic Bar Association of Virginia.

Mrs. Martinez told voters at the forum that she also would work to restore legal rights to those who qualify.

“Everyone who is accused of a crime is entitled to an attorney, but in Virginia, we rank 51st, below the territories, in giving legal protection to the poor,” she said. “This needs to change.”

Differentiating himself from the other candidates has not been hard for Mr. Graham, who is white, but a minority in his Columbia Heights West neighborhood. Mr. Graham said he understands the needs and interests of diverse communities.

“Having worked with the civic associations in Columbia Heights West and South Arlington, I know I can work with people of all various creeds and colors,” said Mr. Graham, 40, an investment executive with Securities America. “We are all unique in our talents and experiences, but we are all equal in our importance to the community.”

Mr. Monell, 46, said the issue of his homosexuality has not surfaced because voters are looking for substance.

“Surprisingly, it has not come up,” Mr. Monell said. “We have not made an issue of it, and neither have any of the voters, because I don’t see any of us as being just one-dimensional candidates.”

Mr. Tobar, the son of Mexican immigrants, said his priority would be education with a goal of reducing dropout rates.

Mr. Tobar is an automotive-magazine publisher and a retired U.S. Department of Education administrator. During the recent legislative session in Richmond, he was active in lobbying lawmakers about the benefits of allowing illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in the state.

Miss Darner was an advocate for allowing illegal immigrants to receive the benefit. Her legislation calling for a study of the economic effect of allowing illegal aliens to pay the in-state rate was defeated. She has endorsed Mr. Tobar in the race, but all the candidates said they would continue with her efforts.

“I think if the legislature bans illegal immigrants this benefit, it would remove every incentive for these children to continue their education,” said Mr. Monell, who serves as executive director of the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry. “This would create a subclass of individuals and would be an economic disaster.”

Mr. Ebbin, who resigned as chief deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to run in the primary, said the right approach to extending the benefit, which was defeated despite backing from Gov. Mark Warner, would be to work as a bridge between lawmakers opposed and advocacy groups who want more from Richmond.

“When most people talk about education, they focus on [kindergarten through 12th grade],” Mr. Ebbin said at the forum. “We cannot forget about the pre-k students who are on Head Start waiting lists or those hoping to get a college education.” He also said education would be a priority.

All of the candidates are pro-choice and support tax reform. Their approaches, however, differ. Some support an increase in the cigarette tax, while others say the tax on food needs to go.

“This is an incredibly regressive tax, overall 4 percent tax on groceries,” Mr. Graham said. “In terms of overall income, those who don’t have much are hurt by this.”

Mrs. Martinez said a credit should be considered, instead of eliminating the tax.


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