The Washington Post

Di­verse can­di­dates show a chang­ing North­ern Va.

- BY AN­TO­NIO OLIVO U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Virginia · Washington Dulles International Airport · Republican Party (United States) · Richmond · Delaware · Lebanon · Roanoke · Fairfax · Donald Trump · University of Mary Washington · University of Mary · Washington · Fredericksburg · Democratic Party (United States) · Prince William of Wales · Elizabeth · Loudoun County · United States of America · Census Bureau · Prince William County · Pakistan · Johns Hopkins University · India · Barack Obama · White House · Virginia Beach · Dulles, Virginia · Congressional Black Caucus · Sam Rasoul · Kathy Tran · Justin Fairfax

Since 1990, the North­ern Vir­ginia com­mu­nity that wraps around Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port has trans­formed from largely white and un­de­vel­oped to a bustling hub of tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and shop­ping plazas, with a large pop­u­la­tion of Latino and South Asian res­i­dents.

A four-way Demo­cratic pri­mary elec­tion Tuesday for the House of Del­e­gates seat rep­re­sent­ing the area re­flects that di­ver­sity at a time when can­di­dates of color are fueling a Demo­cratic push to over­come ra­zor-thin Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties in Rich­mond.

Three South Asian men and a wo­man of Fil­ipino de­scent are vy­ing to re­place out­go­ing Del. John J. Bell (D-Loudoun) — the first time a pri­mary elec­tion in the in­creas­ingly left-lean­ing 87th District does not in­clude a white can­di­date. Repub­li­can David Ra­madan, who was born in Le­banon, rep­re­sented the area for four years be­fore de­cid­ing against seek­ing re­elec­tion in 2015.

Bell, who suc­ceeded him, is run­ning for the seat be­ing left open by re­tir­ing con­ser­va­tive Sen. Richard H. Black (R).

In a district that hasn’t fa­vored a Repub­li­can since Ra­madan nar­rowly won in 2013, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee — ei­ther Has­san Ah­mad, Ak­shay Bhamidi­pati, Jo­hanna Gus­man or Suhas Subramanya­m — is likely to pre­vail in Novem­ber over Repub­li­can Bill Dren­nan, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say.

That would add more di­ver­sity to a Gen­eral Assem­bly that is slowly be­gin­ning to mir­ror the de­mo­graphic changes sweep­ing through por­tions of the state. There are cur­rently seven state law­mak­ers of Asian or Latino de­scent — com­pared with zero

Lati­nos and two Asians in 2009 — and 21 mem­bers of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus.

Two Mus­lim law­mak­ers of Pales­tinian de­scent — Dels. Sam Ra­soul (D-Roanoke) and Ibra­heem S. Sami­rah (D-Fair­fax) — have also re­cently joined the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

“This is one of the ef­fects of the Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary Wash­ing­ton in Fred­er­icks­burg.

In 2017, when Democrats picked up 14 seats in the Vir­ginia House, can­di­dates of color who won seats in­cluded Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (Prince Wil­liam), Hala S. Ayala (Prince Wil­liam), Eliz­a­beth R. Guz­man (Prince Wil­liam) and Kathy Tran (Fair­fax).

Their suc­cess, Farnsworth said, “has en­cour­aged still more can­di­dates to run in 2019.”

Har­sha Sar­japur, who co­founded an on­line group called the Loudoun County In­dian Com­mu­nity, said more can­di­dates of South Asian de­scent are pre­par­ing to run for the school and county boards and other lo­cal of­fices.

“This is not just peo­ple who mi­grated here a few years ago,” Sar­japur said. “Th­ese are kids who have grown up here, and they want to stand up to com­bat some of the in­equal­ity that is hap­pen­ing.”

The four Democrats vy­ing for Bell’s seat were all born in the United States. The district in­cludes a large swath of Loudoun County, where there are 34,000 res­i­dents of In­dian de­scent, 50,000 Lati­nos and a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of Mus­lims and Kore­ans, U.S. Cen­sus es­ti­mates show. A sliver of Prince Wil­liam County is also part of the district.

Ah­mad, 42, an im­mi­gra­tion lawyer whose par­ents em­i­grated from Pak­istan, said he de­cided to run af­ter try­ing to help peo­ple af­fected by Pres­i­dent Trump’s 2017 travel ban, which sought to bar vis­i­tors from cer­tain pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries. Ah­mad, who is Mus­lim, said he and other lawyers who went to Dulles to of­fer pro-bono le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion to trav­el­ers were not al­lowed to meet with them. “I re­al­ized that this is what hap­pens when we sit back and don’t elect good peo­ple who be­lieve in an in­clu­sive com­mu­nity,” he said.

Bhamidi­pati, a 22-year-old can­cer re­searcher at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity whose par­ents are from In­dia, said he was moved to run by a lack of state and fed­eral fund­ing for men­tal health ser­vices af­ter a close friend died by sui­cide last year. “It’s a re­ally pre­ventable disease, and we need to treat it as such,” he said.

Gus­man, a hu­man rights lawyer with a Fil­ipino fa­ther and a Ger­man Amer­i­can mother, said she was an­gered by the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s fail­ure to rat­ify the Equal Rights Amend­ment this year, and by the sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions against Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax (D).

“That was kind of ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ mo­ment,” Gus­man, 35, said about Fair­fax. “There wasn’t a wo­man run­ning for the open seat, so I de­cided to step up and run.”

Subramanya­m, a former tech­nol­ogy pol­icy ad­viser in the Obama White House and the son of In­dian im­mi­grants, said he is mo­ti­vated by es­ca­lat­ing health­care costs and a de­sire to ad­dress the lack of tougher gun reg­u­la­tions amid re­peated mass shootings, in­clud­ing the one in Vir­ginia Beach last month that left 12 peo­ple dead.

“What­ever is go­ing on with Trump in the White House, you can fight it at the state level,” the 32-year-old said.

All four want to ex­pand ac­cess to af­ford­able health care, al­lo­cate more money to­ward re­duc­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion and per­suade Rich­mond to spend more for af­ford­able hous­ing and schools — mak­ing it a chal­lenge for the can­di­dates to dis­tin­guish them­selves with vot­ers.

Subramanya­m has been en­dorsed by Bell, Loudoun County Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair Phyl­lis J. Ran­dall (D), and sev­eral other lo­cal Democrats, while rais­ing $176,000.

Ah­mad, who has raised $137,000, has en­dorse­ments from Ayala, state Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Fair­fax) and sev­eral la­bor and im­mi­gra­tion groups.

Bhamidi­pati has no en­dorse­ments; he has raised $33,000.

Gus­man raised $24,000 and has been backed by Emily’s List, which sup­ports Demo­cratic fe­male can­di­dates who fa­vor abor­tion rights.

Dren­nan, the Repub­li­can who will face the win­ner in Novem­ber, said the rel­a­tive lack of name recog­ni­tion for all of the Democrats plays in his fa­vor.

“When you’re stuck on Route 50, it doesn’t mat­ter what your pol­i­tics are,” said Dren­nan, 74, a re­tired Air Force colonel.

If elected, he said, he would ad­vo­cate for more state fund­ing for projects such as “smart” traf­fic lights syn­chro­nized to bet­ter han­dle rush-hour con­ges­tion.

“I’m a dark horse, but so are the four Democrats,” he said. “In that re­gard, it’s a level play­ing field.”

 ?? COUR­TESY OF THE CAN­DI­DATES ?? Clock­wise from top left: Suhas Subramanya­m, Has­san Ah­mad, Jo­hanna Gus­man and Ak­shay Bhamidi­pati are vy­ing to re­place out­go­ing Del. John J. Bell (D-Loudoun) in the 87th District.
COUR­TESY OF THE CAN­DI­DATES Clock­wise from top left: Suhas Subramanya­m, Has­san Ah­mad, Jo­hanna Gus­man and Ak­shay Bhamidi­pati are vy­ing to re­place out­go­ing Del. John J. Bell (D-Loudoun) in the 87th District.

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