Metro Weekly

Good news for LGBT supporters in Virginia primary results

Democrat Mark Levine likely to become third openly gay member of General Assembly

Mark Levine, Democratic nominee for the 45th House District. Photo courtesy of Mark for Delegate.
Levine – Photo courtesy of Mark for Delegate

Supporters of LGBT rights have a lot to celebrate after Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia resulted in the defeat of the last remaining anti-LGBT Democrat in the General Assembly in the Hampton Roads area and the nomination of an openly gay man for another House seat in the D.C. suburbs. Several other LGBT allies or friendly legislators also survived primary season unharmed. 

The biggest upset of the night occurred in the 79th District, where longtime Del. Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth, Norfolk) fell to former Portsmouth City Councilman Steve Heretick. Because Joannou was an incumbent, the Democratic Party of Virginia remained officially neutral in the contest. But an alliance of progressive groups, including New Virginia Majority, Equality Virginia, the Sierra Club and several unions all ran a grassroots door-knocking and voter outreach campaign to oust Joannou, who broke with his party on several core issues, including LGBT nondiscrimination, gun rights, abortion rights, environmental protections and the expansion of Medicaid to low-income Virginians under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The 79th House District primary was the only one in which Equality Virginia’s political action committee, EVPAC, endorsed a candidate.

“We’re pleased to see the person representing the 79th District will represent the interest of the people, as well as the interests of progressives and LGBT people,” said James Parrish, the executive director of EVPAC.

“A few years ago, on Equality Virginia Advocates’ score card, Johnny Joannou had the same score as Bob Marshall,” Parrish continued, referring to the Northern Virginia Republican legislator known best for his sponsorship of anti-gay legislation, including the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that bears his name. “For us, it was a very easy decision.”

Several other pro-LGBT legislators survived primary challenges, including Sen. Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg, Hopewell, Richmond City), a pro-LGBT ally who has been particularly outspoken in her support for members of the transgender community, who dispatched a challenge from Del. Joe Preston by a nearly 2-1 margin. LGBT ally Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond City, Chesterfield) survived her primary with more than 80 percent of the vote. 

In good news for pro-LGBT Republicans, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Upperville, Winchester, Aldie, Jeffersonton) and Delegates Peter Farrell (R-Henrico, Louisa, Livingston), Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach, Chesapeake) and Joseph Yost (R-Blacksburg, Pearisburg, Radford) all avoided primary challenges, while some of their more socially conservative brethren found themselves deemed “insufficiently conservative” and eventually lost their primaries.

Meanwhile, in a district in the shadow of Washington, Democrat Mark Levine emerged from a five-way primary to earn his party’s nomination for the 45th District House seat being vacated by Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria, Arlington, Belle Haven). While Levine raised the most money of the candidates, two of his competitors, Julie Jakopic and Craig Fifer, had earned several notable endorsements in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary. 

“I’m just glad that retail politics still works,” Levine told Metro Weekly in an interview Wednesday morning, noting his lack of endorsements from the establishment political class. “I think people care about the candidate more than the endorsements they receive. It’s the person-to-person contact, and the detailed conversations about policy, that make the impact. I must have talked to over a thousand people, some for almost 45 minutes, before moving on. I know everybody says you’re not supposed to do that, but I did.”

Levine, who had previously run for the 8th Congressional District last year, said that the size and compactness of the 45th District also aided him in his quest to seek out voters, as did visiting almost every major community social event and campaigning at every Metro stop in the district. 

“I want to thank the LGBT community who came out in force to support me,” Levine said, noting that he had not received support from either the Human Rights Campaign or the Victory Fund, whose mission is to elect out LGBT leaders to public office. But he also noted that it was more likely that people supported him on other issues, such as his embrace of paid family medical leave.

“I didn’t run as a gay candidate, I ran as a candidate who’s gay,” he said. “I’m gay, I’m Jewish, I’m Southern. It’s just part of who I am.”

Because no Republican or independent candidate has filed in the 45th, Levine’s victory means he will become the third openly gay member of the General Assembly, after Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria, Arlington, Belle Haven) and Del. Mark Sickles (D-Franconia, Rose Hill, Lorton).

“We are pleased to see another openly LGBT person will be on the ballot,” EVPAC’s Parrish said of Levine’s victory. “We would encourage others to run in other districts in the future, because there should be more than three in the General Assembly.” 

Asked whether he was ready to go toe-to-toe when it comes to debating issues like nondiscrimination with anti-gay Republican legislators like Marshall, who are great in number in the House of Delegates, Levine said, “I am ready for the fight. I was born ready.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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