Sunday, November 29, 2009

Virginia Delegate David Marsden thinks he can win the state Senate seat that will be vacated by Attorney General-elect Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II in Fairfax County.

Mr. Marsden, a Democrat, already represents about 28 percent of the district in the House of Delegates. But there’s a catch - his home isn’t in Mr. Cuccinelli’s 37th Senate district. Of the 14 precincts Mr. Marsden represents, four are outside Mr. Cuccinelli’s district and the delegate lives in one of them.

So Mr. Marsden, who represents the 41st District in the state House, found a solution. He moved out of his house and into a room he’s renting, where he says he sleeps every night.

His new digs are already shaping up to be an issue in the race.

At least two of the three Republican candidates for the seat have seized on Mr. Marsden’s actions. Republicans will choose their nominee at a so-called “firehouse primary” Dec. 1. A firehouse primary is an electoral nominating process similar to a caucus, held in lieu of a primary election.

Marianne Horinko, 48, who served as acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, said the area has been her “lifeblood” and she doesn’t think anyone can move into the area and fully understand the complexities of local issues.

“It perplexes me,” said Mrs. Horinko, who is a lawyer. “I just wonder how someone can come in from outside and faithfully represent my community.”

Steve Hunt, 51, a former at-large Fairfax School Board member and retired naval officer who currently works as an analyst for SAIC on a Department of Defense contract, said it displays a lack of respect for the electoral process.

“Absolutely, it is going to be an issue. It has to do with the credibility of who you are and what you stand for. There are rules. This is obviously just a massive abuse of the whole electoral process as far as where you live with respect to the district,” he said.

Mr. Marsden dismisses the criticism.

“When that is your only message,” Mr. Marsden said, his opponents aren’t addressing the priorities that are important to voters.

“That somebody with my history of service to this county, the commonwealth and this district over the years is [less] important than where I sleep at night, then the other people in this race have the wrong priorities,” he said.

Mr. Marsden, 61, said his experience of serving the county sets him apart from his Republican opponents. Over the years, he has served in various capacities dealing with juvenile detention. He currently is director of a consulting company that helps states and localities work with gangs and juvenile offenders.

He said he’s the only candidate who has run a state agency during tough economic times. Mr. Marsden said he had to make strategic cuts to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice when he ran it under Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican. He stayed with the agency after Democrat Mark Warner was elected governor in 2001.

Mr. Marsden said criticism over his residence is a distraction from the issues that are more important to Fairfax County voters: the economy, necessary job growth and restoring home values. He said his focus is on the middle-class families in the county who are suffering.

“I knocked on 7,800 doors during the delegates race and ran into families who are worried,” he said. “They are concerned that their son or daughter return home [after] getting a great college education and can’t find a great job. They have younger children in the house, who they might not be able to send to college. They’re having to postpone retirement. There is no equity in home to finance a college education.”

Republicans are demanding that Mr. Marsden step down from his House of Delegates seat even though the General Assembly isn’t in session, and the race for the seat will be decided the day before the next session convenes in January.

Mr. Marsden scoffed at the calls for his resignation, noting that Mr. Cuccinelli and Delegate Stephen C. Shannon, a Democrat who ran against Mr. Cuccinelli in the attorney general’s race, didn’t step down from their respective legislative seats during the campaign.

As to why he hasn’t already sold his house and moved to the new district, Mr. Marsden pointed to a lack of time and the state of the economy. However, he noted that if he does win, he’ll purchase a home in the Senate district.

“I am serious about the fact that I am the best person to represent that Senate district in Richmond [and] to move the economic priorities of the commonwealth forward,” he said.

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