Less than two weeks removed from Election Day, a candidates’ forum in Leesburg gave candidates in the presidential, congressional, and Town Council elections a chance to remark on issues of national and local relevance.
The “Faith Has a Voice” candidates’ forum is in its third year, and is organized by Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries out of Lansdowne. Its annual forum was held Thursday at First Mt. Olive Baptist Church in downtown Leesburg, and included nine of the 10 candidates running for Leesburg mayor or Town Council member. Also participating was Democrat LuAnn Bennett, running for the 10th District’s congressional seat, and Del. Randy Minchew (R-10), representing Bennett’s opponent, incumbent Barbara Comstock (R). Christian Dorsey, a member of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors, participated as a surrogate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Each candidate or surrogate was asked to share their platform, and audience members asked questions on a wide range of topics, from the congressional and presidential candidates take on gun control, to local issues like transportation and economic development. Recent county and town headlines such as the preservation of slave graveyards in Loudoun, to the proposed Dominion compressor station, and the Town of Leesburg’s role in increasing diversity among its town staff, were also addressed.
For the participating candidates it was an important time to share their views with the campaign trail winding down.
Bennett noted that this campaign is her first, following a career in the private sector. She said leveling the economy, fighting for quality education for all children, protecting the environment, and immigration reform “that respects everyone” were top priorities.
Minchew, representing Comstock, said he and the congresswoman share many of the same ideals. The two worked closely together when they both served in the House of Delegates and said both have gotten into trouble with their political party by taking contrary views. He noted Comstock’s recent response to remarks made by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“The same kind of courageous conduct you see [from Comstock] is what helps her to serve the people,” Minchew said.
Dorsey harkened back to Clinton’s early years working in civil remediation during law school and said it was her dogged nature that has guided her activism and leadership. “When we think about this time it’s not just having the right policy or the right resume. It’s having the ethos that no matter what I’m not going to quit,” Dorsey said.
Several of the candidates for Leesburg mayor or Town Council shared some of their early experiences after moving to the town. Mayoral candidate Vice Mayor Kelly Burk told a story of when she first moved to Leesburg and a clerk at the store used a derogatory term for Irish descendants.
“At that point I decided I was going to try and make [Leesburg] the place I wanted it to be,” she said.
Burk said she tries to balance her decisions as a council member with information from the public and “make town business honest, open, ethical, and fair to everyone.”
Town Council candidate Evan Macbeth said he and his wife moved to Leesburg a decade ago to raise a family and noted that the decisions made by the council today will affect today’s children, the adults of tomorrow.
“The work we do today will determine the opportunities they have when they’re older,” he said.
Fellow council candidate Gwen Pangle said her “why” as to why she decided to run for the council is the five children she raised, and the grandchildren who also call the area home.
“Business and a thriving community is very important to me and that’s what I want to see for Leesburg,” she said.
Mayoral candidate Kevin Wright, a former member of the Leesburg Town Council, said as a mayor his focus would be on serving the community and making sure that “all voices are heard and respected.” He stressed the importance of being a “voice and an advocate” for town residents in dealing with issues that require help from the state or county.
Council incumbent Tom Dunn, running for his third council term, said he doesn’t enjoy the politics of being on council, but serving the people is what he loves. He said he is sometimes the lone council member in favor, or opposed, to a particular vote, but said with all his votes were cast “thinking about the people [he] served and had in mind.”
Fellow incumbent Katie Sheldon Hammler, running for her fourth term, listed affordability, transportation success, and quality of life issues, as top priorities. She said local government plays perhaps the greatest role in decisions that can affect the environment, given its voting power in regards to land use decisions.
Mayor David Butler, running for his first elected term as mayor, also pointed to some past successes of the council since he was elected in 2008. He noted that a crosswalk he supported for pedestrians to safely cross Battlefield Parkway was approved, with a recent grant awarded, and it will create a 14.5-mile loop for pedestrians and cyclists around the town.
Council challenger John Hilton said his belief in “goodness” is what fuels him for his council run.
“I believe in good government, building good community, promoting the health and well-being of everyone,” he said.
For Ron Campbell, also running for his first council term, his top priority is process.
“I’m the type of person that looks to the process to get the best possible outcome,” he said. “It matters not that you put into it, it matters what you get out of it.”