A 32-year-old Leesburg resident has his eyes set on the 10th District House of Delegates seat on the ballot in the November 2021 elections.
Nick Clemente has announced he will run as a Republican, challenging two-term incumbent Democrat Wendy Gooditis. The 10th district covers portions of Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties.
While it will be Clemente’s first time on a ballot, it will not be his first time running for elected office. Clemente was one of 18 Leesburg residents who expressed interest in a vacant Town Council seat last summer. And it was Clemente who was the only candidate to receive the support of all five participating council members in polling leading up to the meeting where the selection was to be made. However, during that meeting, three of those council members who initially selected him as a top five finalist —Mayor Kelly Burk, Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Neil Steinberg—voted against his appointment. Clemente said that the snub, which he attributed to the influence of pro-union special interests, lit a fire under him. Professionally, Clemente serves as the membership director of the Virginia chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
“I was never one to pick a fight, but I was also never one to back down from one,” he said.
After speaking before the Town Council expressing his disappointment about the apparent backpedaling, Clemente said he was contacted by the local Republican Party to gauge his interest in being a candidate next November. Running for public office had always been a dream of his, Clemente said, and, after taking some time to consider the opportunity, he realized the timing was right.
He harkens back to his childhood and young adult life, when he struggled with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, and said he hopes his campaign serves as an inspiration to those with similar struggles.
“My whole life growing up with dyslexia and ADD, I always had to work 10 times as hard as my peers, and still I was just the average B student. In grad school I became a B+ student and it was by working even harder,” he said. “I want to run a campaign based on positivity. I think it’s what the voters of the 10th District deserve.”
“One of my biggest issues is a lot of politicians in America are kind of like robots,” Clemente said. “I want to be a human. I want to inspire folks to overcome and be an example that regardless of your hurdle if you really believe in yourself you can really achieve anything. I hope my message of inspiration and believing in what you can achieve will resonate with voters. I believe in positivity and if you have a positive outlook and you’re willing to work hard, anything’s possible.”
Clemente said he believes Gooditis is beholden to special interests and party-line voting, and he thinks the district deserves a representative who will listen to the people.
“A lot of her donors are billionaires, the [liberal activist and philanthropist] Tom Steyers of the world. I struggle with that because we have a lot of people struggling and she’s taking money from trade unions and billionaires who are out of state,” he said. “She’s kowtowing, in my opinion, to special interests and what we really need is someone who knows and understands us and wants to be a part of us.”
Gooditis, like many politicians, he said, has become a “transactional politician.”
“It’s an issue with politics in general in America, it requires money. You have to go do transactions, so you’re beholden by your donor base, or party. I really think if you make an effort with donors or other colleagues to build relationships, if something comes up that’s not good for your district you can say to your colleagues ‘look I have to vote this way because this is what the people want’,” he said.
Clemente also criticizes Gooditis of voting along party lines “99% of the time” and not making herself available to constituents.
He said the top issue facing the 10th district now is how to get kids back into schools in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Young children not being able to attend school in person can have a negative impact on parents’ jobs, he said.
“We need to have solutions and opportunities for kids to be in school but we also have to be respectful of the teachers. The longer kids aren’t in school, the longer it’s going to be a drag on our economy,” he said.
Another top issue for Clemente is the General Assembly’s challenge to Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state.
“I don’t have an issue with people joining unions, but I don’t think someone’s employment should be based on whether or not they are a part of a union. The biggest misconception is people think [being a right-to-work state] is anti-union. It’s just a way to give somebody their individual liberty to decide whether or not to join a union,” he said.
Clemente also said project labor agreements, which are when a government awards a construction contract exclusively to unionized firms, can be a burden on taxpayers.
A Leesburg resident for the past three years, Clemente has lived in the 10th district for much of his life. Prior to his work with ABC-VA, he also did legislative outreach on Capitol Hill. He has served on the Leesburg Planning Commission, and on a working group studying changes to the town’s former H-2 Overlay District.
He hopes that he will have the opportunity to reach as many constituents as possible during his campaign, whether in person or virtually. Clemente is also hopeful that those same constituents will feel comfortable reaching back out to him.
“I don’t want anyone to think that just because on the campaign trail I may be campaigning on an issue they don’t believe in that I won’t want to hear from them. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum there might be one or two things I have in common with you. I think we need to find a way to find common ground. At the end of the day it all gets back to the children.
As adults we have to set good examples and be polite even if we agree or agree to disagree in a respectable fashion. I want to run a positive campaign, not be dragged down in the mud. I want to set a good example for the next generation of Americans,” he said.
More information on Clemente and his campaign can be found at nickclemente.com.