By Danielle Nadler & Kara Rodriguez
Ron Campbell, Leesburg Town Council member and candidate for mayor, is calling on the Loudoun County Democratic Committee to no longer require members to pledge their support for only Democratic candidates.
Campbell created an online petition that calls LCDC’s pledge in his membership application a form of suppressing an individual’s right to vote.
“This clause is in violation of two core principles of the democratic party; which is to support the inclusion of many voices and the right to vote without any ill-conceived means to suppress your vote,” he wrote on the petition.
He said he decided to create the petition only after attempts to speak with LCDC leadership and members about his decision to run for mayor as an independent were rebuffed.
“I started communicating with the local committee chair in December 2017 and was denied the opportunity to speak to the membership where I wanted to share my reasons for not wanting to rejoin LCDC in January 2018,” he said. “I made repeated attempts in January, February and March to meet with new LCDC leadership and the Democratic Committee of the 10th Congressional District with the only response being an email that indicated my written complaints about voting rights and the ill-conceived membership loyalty oath had no basis for a complaint on the state or local level.”
Campbell sought and won the endorsement of the LCDC in his 2016 race for council. He is running for the town’s mayoral seat as an independent against incumbent Kelly Burk, who has been endorsed by the LCDC.
He said he sparred with LCDC leadership and two other candidates endorsed by the Democrats in the 2016 council race—Burk and Evan Macbeth—throughout the campaign over the partisan nature of the race.
“Even though I won my race I have been told by party officials and other elected Democrats that I ran a non-traditional race and it was not well received by the party,” he said. “I have determined that running in a local race unendorsed by any party allows me the freedom to serve in the best interests of the people and not the party. My political affiliation is not tied to this local committee and over the course of my life, my values and integrity have been mine to choose.”
As of Thursday morning, 21 people had signed the petition. Among the signers is Gwen Pangle, who ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Town Council in a February special election. Joshua Thiel, who was supported by the Loudoun County Republican Committee, won that election, besting both Pangle and the LCDC-endorsed candidate, Neil Steinberg.
Campbell has said he wants to take politics out of local elections. The Town Council and mayoral seat are non-partisan. Still, most candidates seek the endorsement of one of the local parties, and candidates running independently have not been as successful.
LCDC Chairman Al Nevarez said Campbell didn’t have any concern about the committee’s bylaws when he sought the party’s endorsement two years ago. He has also invited him to seek its endorsement in his mayoral run.
“He has a campaign strategy and a big part of his strategy is to act as though the Democratic party didn’t give him a fair shake. I’ve told him if he wants to seek our endorsement he can. He’s chosen not to,” he said.
Nevarez noted that the core mission of the LCDC is to elect Democrats to accomplish larger goals such as equal access to quality education, defending immigrant rights and protecting natural resources. “So outlining rules for members to support the Democrats on a ballot I don’t think is unrealistic or unreasonable,” he said.
The Loudoun County Republican Committee asks members to take a similar pledge to support Republicans.
Regardless of whether either local political committee changes its requirements, Campbell hopes the petition raises recognition of the issue at its heart, to make local races truly non-partisan.