Sharon Bulova got her wish.
After announcing in December 2018 that she would retire at the end of 2019, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman quickly threw her support behind Lee District Supervisor Jeffrey McKay as her preferred successor.
The endorsement paid off on Nov. 5 when Fairfax County voters followed suit and elected McKay as the board’s next chairman over his Republican challenger, former U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Joseph Galdo.
According to unofficial returns from the Virginia Department of Elections, McKay received close to two-thirds of the 293,198 votes cast in the race, a clear victory after he beat three other candidates to earn the Democratic nomination on June 11 in Fairfax County’s first primary for Board of Supervisors chair in 40 years.
Democratic primary voters favored McKay over Georgetown University law professor Alicia Plerhoples, Fairfax County School Board at-large representative Ryan McElveen, and developer Tim Chapman, despite allegations that the Lee District supervisor violated conflict-of-interest laws in purchasing a house from a developer that had recently gotten rezoning approval from the board.
McKay’s ascension to chairman reflected broader voter sentiment on a night that saw Fairfax County embrace Democrats in nearly every race on the ballot, with key flips coming in the House of Delegates and on the county school board.
“The mandate today was that we’re in this community together. We’re one community,” McKay said at the Fairfax County Democratic Committee watch party at the Elks Lodge in Fairfax. “We embrace everyone in this community, and we believe everyone can succeed in Fairfax County. That’s what this campaign was about.”
McKay’s victory speech was an explicit nod to the One Fairfax resolution that the Board of Supervisors and school board adopted in 2017, committing county officials to considering social and racial equity issues when making decisions.
The policy became a point of contention throughout the 2019 election season, particularly in the school board races, where conservative incumbents and challengers raised fears that it would be used to justify massive school boundary changes and a return to the busing practices historically implemented to desegregate schools.
School board members denied during a July 22 work session that its review of Fairfax County Public Schools’ existing boundary adjustment policy was a precursor to a full-scale overhaul of the school district’s boundaries, but the board ultimately decided to hire an outside consultant to look at its policies instead of adopting proposed revisions.
The anxieties about potential redistricting stoked by Republican-backed candidates apparently did not resonate with most Fairfax County voters. Their liberal counterparts swept all 12 school board seats, including the two that had been held by conservatives.
While school board candidates run as independents, they can accept endorsements from political parties.
Laura Jane Cohen and Stella Pekarsky respectively ousted Springfield District representative Elizabeth Schultz and Sully District representative Tom Wilson, while the Democratic Party-backed slate of Karen Keys-Gamarra, Abrar Omeish, and Rachna Sizemore Heizer took the board’s three at-large seats.
Keys-Gamarra was the only countywide school board member to seek reelection after Ilryong Moon withdrew his candidacy in August and Ryan McElveen instead made a run for Board of Supervisors chairman.
With her victory, Omeish became the first Muslim woman elected in Virginia and, at 24, the youngest elected official in state history, according to her campaign.
“This campaign represents a local movement to set a new standard of public service – to provide accessible and inclusive leadership that elevates and empowers all people to participate,” Omeish said in a statement. “Education is the starting point for all members of our community to access opportunity to meet their potential, and we must fight to ensure that every child can succeed here.”
The 2020 Fairfax County School Board will be rounded out by returning representatives Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District), Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee), and Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon), along with newcomers Elaine Tholen (Dranvesville), Melanie Meren (Hunter Mill), Ricardy Anderson (Mason), and Karl Frisch (Providence), who will be the board’s first openly gay member.
The next Board of Supervisors will be similarly dominated by Democrats.
In addition to winning chair, Democrats flipped Braddock District with James Walkinshaw, the longtime chief of staff for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), defeating Republican engineer Jason Remer and Independent Greens of Virginia candidate Carey Chet Campbell to succeed John Cook, who announced in November 2018 that he would retire at the end of his current term.
After representing Providence District on the school board since 2015, Dalia Palchik will now serve the same constituents on the Board of Supervisors after beating Republican nominee Eric Anthony Jones to replace retiring Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth.
John Foust (Dranesville), Penny Gross (Mason), and Kathy Smith (Sully) all held off challengers to win reelection, while Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck ran unopposed for reelection.
Former Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn won Hunter Mill District with no opposition during the general election, as did Fairfax County Economic Development Authority national marketing director Rodney Lusk, who will take over McKay’s Lee District seat.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity was reelected by a mere 636 votes over Democratic challenger Linda Sperling. With Cook’s impending departure, he will be Fairfax County’s only Republican supervisor.
In one of the county’s most closely watched races, Democratic nominee Steve Descano prevailed over independent candidate Jonathan Fahey to become the next Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney.
A former federal prosecutor who worked in the U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration, Descano defeated incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh in the June Democratic primary on a progressive platform that advocated for criminal justice reforms like halting marijuana possession prosecutions and eliminating the use of cash-bail.
The race to become Fairfax County’s top prosecutor was contentious, as Descano highlighted Fahey’s work as a general counsel under President Donald Trump’s administration and accused him of seeking an endorsement from the Fairfax County Republican Committee.
Fahey, in turn, painted his opponent as the beneficiary of funding from outside special interest groups and a radical whose policies would endanger public safety.
Descano earned 61.3 percent of the vote on Tuesday compared to Fahey’s 38.4 percent.
“You all understood that we don’t have to choose between safety and justice. We could have both,” Descano told supporters Tuesday night. “We could have a criminal justice system that treated every single person fairly regardless of the color of their skin, how much money they made, where they lived, or who they were…Because of each and every one of you, we have put Fairfax County on the right side of history today.”
On the state level, Fairfax County helped Democrats take majorities in both Virginia General Assembly chambers, giving for the party control over the legislature and governor’s office for the first time since 1993.
In one of the main districts that Democrats had targeted for a flip, U.S. Army veteran Dan Helmer was elected to represent the 40th House District over longtime incumbent Del. Tim Hugo, who had been the district’s delegate since 2002 and, as the House of Delegates majority caucus chairman, ranked third in the Republican Party’s state leadership.
However, the Democratic Party of Virginia sensed Hugo was vulnerable after he won reelection in 2017 by just 106 votes, donating $154,784 to Helmer’s campaign along with $524,538 from the House Democratic Caucus, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The two 40th House District candidates brought in more than $3 million combined, making it the most expensive delegate race in Virginia history, and Helmer will be the first Democrat to serve the district in Richmond in 40 years, according to his campaign.
“The people of the 40th House District sent a message that’s going to echo all the way to the White House,” Helmer said in a statement. “And tomorrow, we’re going to set an example in Virginia for what government can, and should, be…Serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, I served side by side with people who had the courage to stand up and fight for their values. I look forward to going to Richmond to stand up and fight for ours.”
With Hugo’s defeat and other incumbents all winning reelection, Fairfax County is now entirely represented by Democrats in the General Assembly.
The 40th House District was one of six seats that the Democrats gained and Republicans lost on Tuesday in the House of Delegates, and with two seats in the State Senate turned blue, the left-leaning party now has the muscle to take action on priorities ranging from gun violence and healthcare to the Equal Rights Amendment and minimum wage.
The gun violence prevention advocacy organizations Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America invested $2.5 million in Virginia races and celebrated the change in control of the General Assembly as a rebuke to Republicans who ended a special session on the issue that Gov. Ralph Northam convened on July 9 after 90 minutes.
Northam called the special session in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 people on May 31.
The legislative proposals that Northam put forward for the special session were instead sent to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further consideration, and GOP legislators voted to adjourn until November, after the elections. The commission is scheduled to present a report on its review on Nov. 12.
“In the wake of the Virginia Beach shooting, Republicans sided with the gun lobby over gun safety, and it cost them their jobs and the majority,” Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt said. “…This victory will resonate around the country, and should terrify elected officials up and down the ballot who have stood in the way of gun safety.”
In a statement on the 2019 election results, the National Rifle Association pledged to continue its “defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Americans.”
The Democratic Party ran an “unprecedented” 92 candidates this year, according to Virginia House Democratic Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st), who beat independent candidate John Wolfe and Libertarian candidate Rachel Mace to win reelection.
Earlier this year, Filler-Corn became the first woman to lead a caucus in the House of Delegates’ 400-year history, and she is seeking to become the first female House speaker in Virginia history when the new legislature convenes in January.
Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-63rd) and Del. Luke Torian (D-52nd), both members of the Legislative Black Caucus, have announced their intentions to challenge Filler-Corn for the position when House Democrats meet on Saturday to determine a party leader, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“Virginians want a Commonwealth that allows them to live in safe, inclusive, welcoming communities that have access to excellent schools, good wages, and an exceptional quality of life,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “We heard their voices loud and clear, and we will work to make Virginia the envy of every other state in the country.”
In addition to selecting county and state representatives, Fairfax County voters approved a $360 million public school bonds referendum to finance school-related capital improvement projects.
Fairfax County saw a 43.5 percent voter turnout, including both in-person and absentee voters, according to Fairfax County public information officer Brian Worthy.
For comparison, 30.3 percent of voters cast a ballot in the 2015 general election, the most recent year without a statewide office on the ballot.