Race and responsibility were the focuses of discussion Thursday night during one of the final candidate forums ahead of Tuesday’s Election Day.
Candidates for the U.S. Senate, 10thDistrict seat in the House of Rpresentatives and the Leesburg mayoral races participated in the virtual Faith Has a Voice candidate forum, organized by the Loudoun NAACP and Holy & Whole Life-Changing Ministries International of Lansdowne.
Daniel Gade, Republican challenger for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat; 10th District Congressional incumbent Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton; and Leesburg Town Councilman and mayoral candidate Ron Campbell all participated in the forum. County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At-Large) spoke on behalf of Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner. Loudoun Times-Mirror reporter Nathaniel Cline and Rizwan Jaka of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society were the moderators for the forum.
During the live Zoom meeting, each candidate was posed questions on a range of subjects, from whether the Supreme Court selection process should be changed, or the high court expanded; to their views on criminal justice review boards and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Racial disparities were also highlighted during the forum, including a question on COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on the African American community and minority groups.
Gade said the disproportionate impact of COVID and other diseases on minority groups has a root in economic instability.
“A lot of these diseases are not strictly race-based, but at the intersection of race and economic disability,” he said.
He said, to address these disproportionate health impacts, legislators should focus on economic fixes, such as ensuring there is equity in access to quality public education, and changes in employment policy and criminal justice reform.
Gade was also asked his feelings on the BLM movement, and said Republicans should “absolutely embrace” BLM as a concept.
“Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement need to be very careful that the movement … is not co-opted by people who are anarchists or desiring to destroy things or the government. There is a danger that any movement can get co-opted by its most radical fringe. I’m absolutely in support of free speech, freedom of assembly, but I’m absolutely not in favor of anything where people are getting hurt or businesses are getting burned,” he said.
Gade also said he watched, like many throughout the nation and the world, the entire video of George Floyd’s death.
“When people are abused under the color of law especially that is something that should concern all of us. We need to move in the direction where we’re embracing every single person for who they are,” he said.
Randall pointed to Warner’s record as both Virginia governor and senator, and said his past actions showed that he is “anti-racist.”
“It’s not enough to just say someone is not racist, you have to be anti-racist. [Sen. Warner] believes in voting and that everyone has the right to vote. All the things that have negatively impacted African Americans, be it healthcare, education, policing … Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean African Americans want anything else or anything extra. It means we want the same access as everyone else. Sen. Warner in his actions and legislation as governor and now as senator has put legislation forward that supported equality across the board, and that’s what Black Lives Matter means for him,” she said.
While drawing on Warner’s anti-racist record, and commending Gade for his warm personality and well-spoken responses to questions, she questioned how Warner’s challenger could support President Donald J. Trump.
“[Gade] is supporting a president who is probably the most racist president in the history of our country. The Central Park Five was real, the birther movement was real. You can’t support Donald Trump and then say you’re an anti-racist person. It is flatly impossible. You may not be racist, but you’re comfortable with a racist being in office,” Randall said.
Wexton called next week’s election “the most consequential of our lifetimes.” She expressed her frustration at delays in bringing forward the Justice in Policing Act, because of opposition from Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She also expressed her support for the No Hate Act and her concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act, given the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority.
In response to a question, she also fought back against claims made in mailers put out by her opponent, Republican Alisicia Andrews, that questioned her record as a former prosecutor.
“My opponent is doing the same old tired [attack] about my record, that I’m not tough on crime. I’m the only one in this race who’s been a prosecutor, who’s worked with abused and neglected kids. This is just the attack ads that are typical for people who don’t have their own record,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’m here to take care of everybody.”
Campbell was asked about his accomplishments since taking his council seat in January 2017. He said he was most proud of his fiduciary work; help in bringing the Leesburg Town Council to the table to be a partner in a Memorandum of Agreement with the Leesburg Police Department and NAACP; and also work on an agreement with Loudoun County over how the Health Department provides services to town residents.
He said it was important for the Town Council to work with “all members of the community,” and in particular referenced the need for the council to improve its relationship with the NAACP.
“If I get elected, I believe my pattern has been to meet with community groups and organizations to fully participate in our community. That’s why I’m a member of so many groups,” he said. “There’s some bridge-building that needs to be done.”
If elected as Leesburg’s next mayor, Campbell said he would schedule a strategic planning retreat for all council members; talk about partnerships the council wants to participate in; and stop the divisiveness that’s become commonplace on the council dais.
“That’s really what this election is all about for me,” he said, “It’s a choice to really change the way we move forward.”
In closing, Pastor Michelle C. Thomas, president of the NAACP and pastor at Holy & Whole Life-Changing Ministries International, encouraged all who tuned into the forum to vote and make their voices heard. She also said to take a hard look at whom you select on the ballot.
“If they won’t meet with us, they won’t work for us,” she said. “Make sure you check the ballot [of a candidate] that will or has met with you. If your elected officials won’t meet with you before they get elected, they won’t meet with you after. I guarantee you that.”
Andrews and incumbent Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk did not participate in the forum. Burk posted a lengthy statement on her Kelly Burk, Leesburg Facebook page days ahead of the forum explaining her views and past actions on the subject of race and responsibility.