Reston, VA

Ken Plum is not used to being challenged.

It has been more than two decades since the long-time delegate for Virginia’s 36th House District last faced a primary opponent, but Plum seems to welcome the challenge presented by Mary Barthelson, who declared her candidacy on March 17.

“I could say it’s inconvenient for me, but it’s a good thing for democracy to have other people get in the ring,” Plum told Reston Now.

Early voting is currently underway in Fairfax County for the June 8 Democratic primary, where Plum and Barthelson are vying for the chance to face Republican Matt Lang in November’s general election.

As the race stands now, Plum has established a comfortable advantage, at least when it comes to finances.

The latest campaign filings indicate that Plum has about $45,500 in funds, including about $19,000 that has been raised since the beginning of 2021. His largest recent individual contribution came from Newport News Shipbuilding, a builder of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines that gave $1,000.

The longest-serving member of the Virginia House of Delegates, the 79-year-old legislator believes he has managed to stay in office since 1982 because of the close alignment of his politics and those of the 36th District, which encompasses Leesburg Pike in Great Falls to Flint Hill Road in Vienna.

“It’s a very progressive group of people,” Plum says of his constituents. “We believe in fairness and equality for all people.”

By contrast, Barthelson is a 27-year-old first-time candidate for public office and has raised about $5,700, a majority of which are from contributions of under $100.

She has yet to garner any major endorsements and paused her campaign in April for a brief time due to “personal reasons,” she told Reston Now.

Nonetheless, Barthelson says she still intends to follow through on the primary challenge, telling Reston Now that she got interested in running for public office after seeing disinformation flourish online during the 2016 presidential race.

She says she’s concerned that state laws have failed to keep up with technology’s influence on society.

“I think a lot of our laws are very behind,” Barthelson said. “Some important bills are getting pushed because legislators don’t understand them and the public is getting confused. Some are important for green technology, some for criminal justice reform and policing. Technology is just becoming more and more integrated with everything that we’re doing.”

Technology has long been a key focus for Barthelson, who attended a STEM-focused high school in Haymarket and obtained a master’s degree in systems engineering from George Mason University. She worked as a data analyst before becoming a security engineer.

She says that, if elected, she would take a different approach in governing than many other legislators.

“I would definitely be a data-driven legislator,” she said. “I’m very good with numbers…I’d speak to all the stakeholders to get a high-level view of everything and communicate what policy I think is best based on data.”

In recent Northern Virginia election cycles, a slew of younger, progressive-minded candidates have challenged incumbents. Some have won, while others are working to be a formidable challenger.

Plum says his progressive bonafides speak for themselves. He cites his work to pass a law that requires universal background checks on all gun purchases in Virginia as well as efforts to expand voting rights and abolish the death penalty.

An advocate for repealing the death penalty for years, Plum stood behind Governor Northam when he signed the law last month.

“If you ask people who followed the General Assembly over the last four decades who are the most progressive leaders in Virginia, they would list me among the top couple of delegates,” Plum said. “That’s who I am. That’s where I come from.”

Barthelson says she’s “probably as blue as the incumbent” but believes she has a clearer understanding of the challenges facing her generation.

Both Plum and Barthelson cite education and the environment as the top two issues raised by voters.

They also both value the welcoming nature of the 36th District.

“This is probably the friendliest place I’ve lived in Northern Virginia,” Barthelson said. “People definitely look out for each other and are very supportive of one another. I think that’s part of Reston culture.”

Plum agrees, saying that history of openness and a belief in fairness is what he loves most about the 36th District.

“Reston was founded as an open community, open to people of all races,” he said. “I am truly honored to represent the district, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Photo courtesy Mary Barthelson, file photo

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Andria McClellan, a Democratic candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor, released a plan on Thursday (April 29) outlining her policy platform to support small businesses coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In conjunction with the plan’s launch, McClellan visited the Town of Herndon to talk to Mayor Sheila Olem and community members about the state of local small businesses. The Herndon visit was a part of an ongoing tour of Northern Virginia and the state as early voting in the Democratic primary gets underway.

While visiting various town businesses, including Green Lizard Cycling and Great Harvest Bread Co., McClellan acknowledged the challenges many small businesses have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, while praising the sense of community fostered by both town officials and residents.

“It’s great to see a community like Herndon where the community members came together and supported the local businesses and did the GoFundMe pages and things like that,” McClellan said. “Hearing from Mayor Olem about how their economic department was helped by folks from parks and rec calling all the small businesses and doing that reach out, it just makes me feel really good about the community.”

Currently a member of the Norfolk City Council, McClellan says her small business plan was shaped by her 30-plus years of experience volunteering, fundraising, and pursuing various business endeavors, including work with nonprofits and public sector work as well as two start-up ventures.

“What happens with small businesses that are independently owned, when they make money, they put it right back into the community where they’re working and where their people are working,” McClellan said. “So, supporting those businesses and those jobs also supports the greater community.”

Her plan focuses on reducing red tape to clarify and simplify certification processes while providing government support to communities requiring the help. She also wants to foster “local and regional small business ecosystems” by connecting small business owners to one another and resources.

McClellan’s plan also calls for more opportunities for new businesses that work with renewable energy sources and water quality and more state funding to expand access to capital for small businesses through microloans, mid-range capital, and seed funding.

She believes the state’s economy and tax revenues are in better shape than anticipated given the impact of the pandemic, but she emphasized that she remains concerned about what will happen to people “who have suffered greatly” when the federal eviction moratorium comes to a close.

“It’s great to see this thriving community here, but I think underlying in all of our communities, there are a lot of people who are still hurting,” McClellan said. “We’re going to see that in much greater detail the second half of this year and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”

McClellan faces Del. Hala Ayala, Del. Mark Levine, Sean Perryman, Del. Sam Rasoul, and Xavier Warren for the Democratic nomination to replace Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is running for governor. Voting for the Democratic primary concludes June 8.

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When early voting began at the North County Government Center in Reston on Saturday (April 24), the crowd of electioneers assembled outside the building dwarfed the number of people casting their ballots inside the building.

The absence of lines contrasted sharply with the 2020 general election, when Fairfax County sometimes saw hour-long waits at early voting sites. This time, the biggest hold-up was the few extra seconds election volunteers needed to sort through 16 different ballots and match them with the right voters.

While not surprised by the relatively muted turnout for the first days of early voting for the June 8 Democratic primary, which started on April 23 at the Fairfax County Government Center before expanding to two satellite locations a day later, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says it’s too soon to make any confident projections about what early voting will look like in the future.

“Going through a couple of election cycles, I think we need to do that before we can come to any long-term conclusions about how early voting is best done, how to staff it, what resources are necessary,” he said.

Even with a crowded gubernatorial contest on the ballot, the 2021 election cycle likely won’t match the high turnout for last year’s general election, which was buoyed by an especially heated presidential race, but there is already evidence that the Virginia’s new laws permanently expanding the accessibility of absentee voting are paying off.

According to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, 63,508 voters have requested mail ballots, and 709 people have voted in person, as of April 24. In comparison, there were just 35,390 early voters in the 2017 primaries, the last time that Virginia had a governor’s race, and that includes 8,815 people who requested mail ballots but never returned them.

Fairfax County has gotten 11,222 mail ballot requests and 68 in-person voters. In 2017, 3,109 people voted early in person, and 1,919 people voted by mail.

Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy attributes this uptick to recent legislative changes made by the Virginia General Assembly, particularly the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting that took effect last year.

“Since the last gubernatorial election, voting by mail has become easier in Virginia,” Worthy said. “Not only can any registered voter do so without needing a reason as was required in the past, but also the law now makes it easy to vote by mail permanently. As a result, the Office of Elections expects to see an increase in voting by mail over time as has happened in other states that have implemented similar laws.”

Legislators took further action to make early voting more accessible during a special session in March, including requiring localities to offer ballot drop-off boxes, permitting absentee voting on Sundays, and suspending witness signature requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, though those laws don’t take effect until July 1.

Early voting is also “way up” in Falls Church City compared to the last gubernatorial primary, according to Director of Elections and General Registrar David Bjerke.

Bjerke told Reston Now on Friday (April 23) that the city had sent out 315 ballots so far, including 176 mail ballots and 139 email ballots to overseas voters, and three people showed up to vote in person that day. The 2017 primary saw just 240 early voters total, even though the Democratic and Republican parties both held elections that summer.

“It’s a huge increase,” Bjerke said. Read More

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Later this week, Fairfax County will kick off voting for its second pandemic primary, and the county officials running the election are applying a few lessons from the last year of early and mail-in voting.

Early voting for the Democratic primary is scheduled to start this Friday (April 23) and will be open to all voters registered in the county.

Voters in last year’s election faced long lines as they waited to turn in their ballots early, but Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Gary Scott, who is retiring from the position this year, said that scenario is unlikely in this year’s elections.

“What we’re doing is trying to incorporate some of the things we did observe,” Scott said. “There are lessons learned from the general election that don’t necessarily translate well to a primary election. We’re looking at a different electorate and a different level of turnout. But we’re opening more than one location early.”

Scott says that, in addition to the Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway), the county will open the North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Drive) and the Mount Vernon Government Center (2511 Parkers Lane) for early voting on Saturday, April 24.

For the last week of the primary, the county will open an additional 13 early voting sites starting on May 29. Sites in the Reston/Herndon area include the Great Falls and Herndon Fortnightly libraries.

“For the last week, we will have a total of 16 locations where people will vote,” Scott said. “And we’ve extended hours from 4:30 p.m. to, now, 7 p.m. We wanted to extend further after working hours.”

Scott says it can be difficult to estimate how many voters there will be.

The last gubernatorial primary in 2017 had a 13% turnout, but that year had both a Republican and Democrat primary. This year, it’s Democrat-only, but Scott says his office is still preparing for a 40% turnout, even if that is viewed as extremely unlikely.

“Ordering paper ballots is relatively cheap after a certain point, and I’d rather have 10,000 ballots too many than 10,000 ballots too few,” he said.

Those voting in person should not submit an application to receive a ballot by mail, though anyone who requests a mail ballot can still surrender it when they check in if they decide to vote in-person instead.

“If you submit an application, you’re going to be sent a ballot by mail, and you’d have to return that ballot to back it out in order to vote in person,” Scott explained.

There will be drop boxes around the county after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law on March 31 making permanent a measure that was adopted temporarily last year. Drop boxes will be available at all early voting sites and polling places for those who want to drop off their ballot, according to Scott.

The deadline to register to vote in Fairfax County is May 19 — 22 days prior to the election. The Democratic primary is scheduled for June 8. Virginia is an open-primary state, so the primary is open to all voters.

“There are no Republican races in Fairfax County, so if you’re showing up to vote for republican candidates…there aren’t any,” Scott said. “For top of ticket, they chose convention, and some House of Delegates races had only one qualified candidate for primary.”

In addition to the statewide governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general races, voters in six districts have House of Delegates races on the primary ballot:

“We would encourage people, before they go out to vote, to review sample ballots we will have posted on our website,” Scott said. “So, if they go to vote, they’re prepared, because not everyone in the county is going to see the same ballot.”

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Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) has endorsed Irene Shin to represent the 86th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates, Shin’s campaign announced yesterday (Monday).

Executive director of the nonprofit Virginia Civic Engagement Table, Shin announced on Feb. 9 that she would campaign for the 86th District seat currently occupied by Del. Ibraheem Samirah, who is seeking his first full term after winning a special election in February 2019.

The 86th District include the Town of Herndon as well as portions of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

“When I look for leadership in elected office, I look for approachable, community-focused leaders who listen to people first and work to deliver solutions in state government,” Howell said in a statement. “Irene Shin is the epitome of this kind of leadership. Irene will bring effective, pragmatic leadership back to the 86th District, and will represent the Democratic values that we all support.”

According to her campaign website, Shin is the daughter of Korean immigrants and a resident of downtown Herndon. Her political experience primarily comes from work as a community organizer for campaigns, nonprofits, and startups.

In addition to working for VCET, which supports and trains progressive nonprofits and activists, Shin currently serves on the board of the Competitive Commonwealth Fund, which helps recruit and raise funds for Democratic candidates in Virginia.

When she announced her candidacy in February, Shin said that she was inspired to run for office after watching Vice President Kamala Harris get sworn in on Jan. 20 as the first female vice president in U.S. history. According to her LinkedIn profile, she worked on Harris’s Senate campaign in 2015 as a finance director.

“My top priorities as a candidate for the House of Delegates are ending the pandemic and rebuilding Virginia back to be a better, fairer society, finally bringing access to Universal Pre-K for all families, and refocusing the office of delegate on community-based collaborative leadership,” Shin said in a statement to Reston Now.

Shin says she is proud to get Howell’s support, along with endorsements from current Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem and former mayors Lisa Merkel and Mike O’Reilly.

Samirah’s endorsements so far include Herndon Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila and Councilmembers Naila Alam, Pradip Dhakal, and Jasbinder Singh. He is also backed by Hunter Mill District School Board Representative Melanie Meren.

On his campaign website, Samirah says that he sees “improving public health as the central issue that touches all others,” but he also highlights housing affordability, gun safety, and criminal justice, among other topics.

Shin and Samirah will face off in the Democratic primary on June 8. The ballot will also feature a battle for the 36th House District between incumbent Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) and challenger Mary Barthelson, along with statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

Early voting for the primary will begin on April 23 at the Fairfax County Government Center. The first mail ballots will also be sent out that day.

Fairfax County will not have a Republican primary this June. The state party opted instead to select its nominees through a convention with remote voting.

Photo courtesy Irene Shin

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For the first time in over two decades, Del. Ken Plum, the state delegate for district 36, has a primary challenger.

Mary Barthelson, 27, is set to challenge incumbent Plum, 79, in the Democratic primary election. Plum, who has been in this office since 1982 and also held the seat from 1978-80, has run unopposed for the seat since 2011 when he faced Republican Hugh Cannon in the general election. The primary winner of the Barthelson-Plum race will face Republican Matthew Lang in the general election.

Barthelson officially announced her candidacy today.

Previously a data analyst, the Northern Virginia native currently works as a security engineer. Barthelson aims to use her engineering background to meet “a growing challenge” that is being presented by emerging technologies.

She grew up in Fairfax before attending Battlefield High School in Prince William County. She also earned a master’s degree from George Mason University in systems engineering.

“I think that my background makes me uniquely qualified to address the challenges that we’re currently facing, many of which are time sensitive both in technology and also with poverty that has risen as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

Technology and addressing poverty are her two primary focuses as she runs for office. She will also focus on green energy standards, creating green energy jobs and focusing on ending the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

She believes that having an engineer’s eye will help to navigate challenges such as electric car standards and communicating them to legislators and the public to avoid similar issues.

“I think it lends itself to a new perspective in problem solving because people can get very fixated on the first solution that is proposed or the one that’s been proposed by someone they like instead of looking at all the information available from a wide range of sources to really come up with creative ideas to solve problems,” Barthelson said.

“That’s exactly what my background is in. Systems engineering is really the engineering of problem solving.”

Her agenda also includes reviewing and working on challenges presented with intellectual freedoms, doxxing, cyber flashing and data concerns.

Barthelson also vows to focus on removing barriers of entry into the workforce to help people from low-income backgrounds get jobs.

“I think technology is going to be a big challenge because a lot of these conversations are newer and we’re still navigating them and figuring out the best way to resolve problems and address them,” Barthelson said.

“Some of them are very complicated, so obviously it can take time to really work through that and figure out the best policies to solve the problem.”

Another technology aspect she wants to implement is making sure disinformation curriculum is provided to schools “so that the next generation has the tools it needs to engage in appropriate social media behaviors and use critical thinking when assessing information that they consume online.”

Barthelson said she decided to run because of the “time sensitive” issues she sees in poverty and challenges technology is now bringing. Among those issues is communicating with and ensuring money is properly distributed to small businesses that have closed as a result of the pandemic.

As the owner of PPE 4 NOVA, which she established to help Virginians access masks during the pandemic, she said many people with small businesses she spoke to were unaware of where to access resources available to them.

“I think we really need new ideas and we need the next generation to start getting civically engaged as well,” Barthelson said. “And with the pandemic and all the challenges that we’re facing right now, it’s really a time sensitive issue. So it’s something that we need to address now and not later.”

Photo courtesy Mary Barthelson

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Katherine Hanley/File photoFairfax County election officials are concerned that fights and other chaos may ensue when state officials demand Republicans pledge their support in Virginia’s March 1 primaries.

Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Katherine K. Hanley, a Reston resident and the former county supervisor chair (1995-2003), asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to ask the Fairfax County Public School board to close schools on primary day.

“That’s about as contentious as anything we can possibly be doing in a polling place on Election Day,” she told the supervisors. She said she is concerned about backlash from Donald Trump supporters — and opponents — that could occur at polling places. Read More

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