Several candidates running for local and state offices shared their views in Sterling during a well-attended candidates’ forum before the June 11 primaries.
All seats for the Board of Supervisors, School Board and representatives to the General Assembly will be up for a vote in November.
The event was sponsored by the Loudoun County NAACP, Loudoun Freedom Center, All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries International and Loudoun Clergy Group.
Voters and supporters fired off questions during the May 30 forum about law enforcement, constitutional rights, transportation, the environment and education. Each candidate was given four minutes to speak and two minutes to address questions from voters.
State Senate — Districts 13, 31, 33
Voters in Loudoun will cast ballots for three Senate races on primary day.
The 13th Senate District seat is being vacated by Republican Sen. Dick Black. Broad Run Supervisor Ron Meyer (R) said if elected to represent the district, which covers Ashburn, western Loudoun and parts of Prince William County, he will continue fighting for lower tolls on the Dulles Greenway and for fair and transparent processes in the General Assembly.
“We’ve had a lot of talk about issues that are sort of outside of our parameters tonight. We’ve heard about national issues or School Board issues, we need to make sure that we are talking about local issues and how we can directly impact them. Everything we are running on is talking about what we can on the state senate level and impact people’s day to day lives. I can’t get to all 15 or 20 questions, but we’ve had 45 town halls as the Broad Run supervisor in my district, and I will continue to listen,” Meyer said.
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), who is contesting Meyer for the Republican nomination, said he also supports transparency in Richmond, as well as finding renewable energy sources.
“The answer is policies and programs that encourage renewables,” Higgins said. “I happen to work for people that do that kind of work and in the end, right now, what’s going to make renewables viable is battery technology. When the battery technology is right renewables will rule the energy field. So put your weight behind those people who are supporting incentives for renewables and in particular incentives for battery [technology] studies.”
Nicole Merlene, the third Senate candidate present at the Sterling forum, is running against incumbent Democrat Barbara Favola in the 31st District primary. A policy director for a D.C.-based trade association, Merlene said she is in favor of legislation for data and environmental protection.
“We need to expand our public park system that we all know and love, [and] we need to make sure we have energy efficient compliance that is the same as D.C. and Maryland,” Merlene said. "We have the infrastructure, we have the technology ready and available—Virginia just needs to take that step.”
State Sens. Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd), Favola (D-31st) and 33rd Senate District candidate M. Sharafat Hussain (D) sent representatives to the forum in their absences.
House of Delegates — District 87
In the 87th District race for the House of Delegates, voters will have four candidates to choose from in the primary to replace Del. John Bell (D), who is the Democrats' nominee for the 13th Senate District seat.
Human rights lawyer Johanna Gusman (D), who was the first candidate to address questions, said reducing the use of fossil fuels starts with keeping the trade associations out of the same room with policymakers.
“We are not going to be able to solve the problem when you allow people who are causing it and profiting from it in the room also ... the same thing goes for the General Assembly,” Gusman said. “We need to be serious about the climate emergency that is coming up here. Absolutely we need to be serious about making sure that all of those interests are not there, and as I’ve already said, ‘Virginia is for lovers, not for pipelines.’”
One of the younger candidates, Akshay Bhamidipati (D), a recent Johns Hopkins graduate, said he would support legislation making politicians a full-time job and donation caps.
He also responded to a question about what he would do if elected. Bhamidipati said, “Well, people have told me as a 22 year old that, ‘You have to wait your turn,’ ‘You can’t split the votes for my favorite candidate,’ ‘You’re going up against the establishment.' Yet I’m here right now shouting in front of all you people, and I’m going to do that in the halls of Richmond as loud as I can and as long as I have the voice.”
Attorney Suhas Subramanyam, a Democrat, said flipping the House and the Senate is something voters should do to address hate crimes. Subramanyam said he supports the efforts made by Zero Carbon Virginia to pursue a zero carbon energy economy.
He also commented that the Loudoun County School Board's decision to extend its agreement with Fairfax County Public Schools to send students to Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology was important despite the price tag associated with sending students out of the county.
“Why are we even having the conversation about whether or not we should have TJ? We should be overfunding schools, and we should be paying our teachers their worth,” Subramanyam said.
Fellow attorney and Democrat Hassan Ahmad said a way to deal with voters’ major issues is by leading with compassion.
"I have a lot of respect for all my opponents in the House 87th race,” Ahmad said. “I know that they are not the type to cherry pick and misrepresent, and I think we have a unique opportunity in this situation to show that we can and will run issue-based campaigns, clean campaigns and that we will always put the service of the public as our first mile marker."
Loudoun County Sheriff
Veteran law enforcement officer Chris Harmison (D) and Army intel officer Justin Hannah (D) are hoping to unseat incumbent Sheriff Mike Chapman (R), who is seeking a third term as Loudoun's chief law enforcement officer.
Harmison, who worked with Chapman, said one of his concerns is a breakdown of the justice system, specifically with transparency and accountability.
“I believe in forming a citizens advisory council,” Harmison said. "It’s to tell us day to day what we’re doing right, and more importantly what we are doing wrong and to solve your problems not make the sheriff, the incumbent, look politically perfect.”
Hannah said a change is needed at the sheriff position, criticizing the incumbent on what he called outdated drug programs.
“Being a military veteran, I have been sought to fix organizations and I’ve done that. I’ve built teams on three different continents and got accolades for it,” Hannah said “I’m going to do the same thing here. I’m going to bring the same tenacity that I brought to the United States military and I’m going to bring it to our sheriff’s office.”
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors — Sterling District
Incumbent Koran Saines (D), who is the only county board member facing a primary challenge, is seeking his second term as the Sterling District supervisor. Saines noted his efforts on the board to secure investments for the district’s communities, schools and in transportation, highlighted by securing $7.8 million for the W&OD trail bridge in the County Capital Improvement Program and recently exploring the creation of sanitary districts in Loudoun.
He said he hopes voters will elect him for another four years.
“These are some of the things we’ve been able to do in the last four years, and now I’m running to make sure we continue on these initiatives, get these projects built on time, bring lots of great initiatives for the Sterling and Loudoun County area," Saines said.
Ibrahim Moiz (D), a corporate attorney challenging Saines, said some of his major focuses are on land use, transportation and education. Moiz originally planned to run for School Board, but he changed his decision shortly before the filing deadline hoping to do more for the district.
“I believe a supervisor needs to be a visionary, needs to be goal-orientated, and needs to be held accountable," Moiz said. “Looking around the county and in Sterling, I want to make sure we are planning and focused on what our needs are and those that are most vulnerable—the youth, the elderly, our minorities, and what I believe are stewards of is our environment.”
Polls in Loudoun County will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 11. The last day to vote absentee in person is June 8. Absentee voting is taking place at the Loudoun County Office of Elections and Voter Registration. Additional information is online at Loudoun.gov/JunePrimary.
Candidates up for nominations on June 11
House of Delegates — District 87
-Hassan M. Ahmad (D) – Hassan4va.com
-Akshay Bhamidipati (D) – VoteForAkshay.com
-Johanna Gusman (D) – JohannaGusman.com
-Suhas Subramanyam (D) – Suhasforvirginia.com
Senate — District 13
-Geary Higgins (R) Gearyhiggins.com
-Ron Meyer (R) – Ronmeyer.com
Senate — District 31
-Barbara Favola (D) – Barbarafavola.org
-Nicole Merlene (D) Nicolemerlene.com
Senate — District 33
-Jennifer B. Boysko (D) Jenniferboysko.com
-Sharafat Hussain (D) Sharafathussainva.com
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors — Sterling District
-Ibrahim Moiz (D) – MoizForLoudoun.com
-Koran Saines (D) – Koransaines.com
Loudoun County — Sheriff
-Justin Hannah (D) JustinHannah.com
-Chris Harmison (D) HarmisonForSheriff.com