Richmond Times-Dispatch

Va. House hopeful says she was pressured to drop out

Liguid says teachers union leader offered a job if she quit race

- BY PATRICK WILSON pwilson@timesdispa­tch.com (804) 649-6061 Twitter: @patrickmwi­lson

A Filipino American woman making her first run for public office said the president of a teachers union pressured her to drop out of a state House race in Virginia Beach and offered her a spot on a union board. The candidate declined.

Candidate Tracie Liguid told friends about the Feb. 18 meeting she had at the office of the Virginia Beach Education Associatio­n. Two of the friends provided details to the Richmond Times-Dispatch about what Liguid told them after her meeting with Kelly Walker, the local associatio­n president.

Those details matched what Liguid told The Times-Dispatch about the meeting.

Liguid is running in a Democratic primary in House District 84, now held by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach. Kim Melnyk, the vice chair of the Virginia Beach School Board who was previously active in Republican politics but says she was a closet Democrat, is also running in the June 8 Democratic primary.

Liguid worked as a permanent substitute teacher at an elementary school supporting special education students. She joined the Virginia Beach Education Associatio­n last year after a teacher friend suggested it.

She got involved in advocacy efforts to return students to schools safely. She announced in January that she was running for delegate, and she also began doing paid, parttime organizing work for the education associatio­n.

Liguid decided to leave her substitute teaching job because she lives with her parents and did not want to put them at risk of COVID-19 because she was working with special education students who were unable to wear masks.

Walker, the local union president, emailed Liguid on Feb. 17. “I would like to talk with you about running for office,” Walker wrote. They planned a meeting for the next day at the associatio­n office.

“We really need to talk,” Walker wrote in a followup email.

In an interview with The Times-Dispatch, Liguid recounted what was said in the meeting.

“The points were, I’m not ready,” Liguid said. “We’ll train you for the quote unquote right race.”

Liguid recalled that Walker told her, “Tracie, you don’t even have a job.”

“She said it like three times, looking me eye to eye,” Liguid said.

Liguid was bothered that her decision to step down from a teaching job to protect her elderly parents’ health was being presented to her in a negative way.

“She could tell that

I’m not budging so that’s where she starts throwing in … her offer is ‘we’ll put you on the board.’ ”

Liguid said she was thinking, “Oh God, this is bad. … But my face is a poker face. … I’m just listening.”

Liquid said Walker also told her she didn’t want what happened to Karen Mallard to happen to her. Mallard, a teacher, was the Democratic nominee who lost a race for the House seat in 2019.

Walker “said it tore her up,” Liguid said. “The election and the loss. And she did not want the same thing to happen to me.”

“She said something about my heart,” Liguid recalled. “She said, ‘I care about you.’ I remember those words. She said it twice.”

“It was her last attempt at, I guess, pulling at my heart strings for me to believe that her offer was in my best interest because she knows what kind of person I am, and she was protecting me in some way,” Liguid said.

Liguid said she told Walker she appreciate­d the advice and would think about it.

But she felt disgusted, she said, and she called friends and political advisers to get their thoughts. “This is not a situation I’ve ever been in — running for public office and then feeling resistance from someone who I looked at as a role model for advocacy.”

Patra Araboglu of Virginia Beach was one who got a call. She’s been friends with Liguid since they were in fifth grade, and she is not involved in politics.

Araboglu told The Times-Dispatch that Liguid was shocked by the meeting.

“She basically told Tracie that she should reconsider running for this position and run for it at a later time to get more experience, and she offered her some position within that group, I remember,” Araboglu said. “It was a supposedly better option for her at this time. And it was degrading. … I was even insulted.”

Liguid also called Melissa Peck, a friend who is the vice chair of precincts and elections for the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee.

Peck also said in an interview that Liguid was upset.

“She felt like Kelly Walker was attempting to intimidate her and discourage her from running,” Peck said. “She basically told Tracie that she was not ready to run and that they would offer her training and that she could try again in the future. And of course, that’s not their place to do so.”

And, Peck said, Liguid told her on their call that Walker had offered her a union board position after Walker’s tenure ends later this year.

Liguid emailed Walker a few days after their meeting, on Feb. 22, and said her decision to run for office had not come lightly.

“I ask you to understand my point of view, particular­ly as a Filipino American,” Liguid wrote to her.

“Being encouraged to run for HD-84 is an honor and a privilege. My parents immigrated from a country where diversity of political thought and speech is typically not only discourage­d but can be extremely dangerous.”

As beneficial as it would be to train under guidance of the education associatio­n, Liguid wrote, “I believe my candidacy right now will provide muchneeded depth and dimension to the slate of choices … I thank you for the offer of a board seat sometime after your successor steps in but I’ll need to respectful­ly decline.”

Walker replied by email nine days later.

“I felt awful after our meeting and I want you to know that you are an amazing person and it takes a lot of courage to run for any elected office,” she wrote. “The offer still stands regardless of how all this works out.”

She added: “I am sorry for how I spoke to you — I know you would do anything for public education because you are kind.”

In the past two weeks, Walker did not respond to voicemails left on her cellphone asking for comment for this story, a message left with an employee at the Virginia Beach Education Associatio­n office, or to an email explaining the statements Liguid made to The Times-Dispatch about the meeting.

After the meeting,

Liguid got a call from a project supervisor working with the education associatio­n. It was about her part-time organizing work.

He told her that her run for office while she was working as an organizer for the union was a “conflict of interest,” Liguid said.

She thought the timing was interestin­g — this hadn’t been a problem before.

She reached out to James Fedderman, the president of the 40,000-member Virginia Education Associatio­n, and they talked on the phone last month.

Fedderman told The Times-Dispatch that Liguid told him during their call that Walker had tried to convince her not to run for delegate and offered her a board seat. He said he did not call Walker to discuss the situation.

Liguid told The TimesDispa­tch she’s not clear on exactly what board position was being offered to her.

The obstacles, Liguid said, have strengthen­ed her belief that she’s the right candidate for the General Assembly.

Melnyk, the other candidate in the Democratic primary, has credited the Virginia Beach Education Associatio­n with giving her early support in her runs for school board, and she has worked at the polls to promote candidates endorsed by the associatio­n. She said she was not aware of Liguid’s meeting with Walker.

A third primary candidate, Neil Smith, withdrew from the race last month and endorsed Liguid.

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