Democrats will maintain control of Virginia’s 86th House District for at least the rest of this year after community dentist Dr. Ibraheem Samirah won a special election for the seat on Tuesday.
Unofficial returns from the Virginia Department of Elections showed Samirah receiving 59.5 percent of the 6,283 votes cast on Feb. 19.
The 3,738 ballots cast for Samirah gave him a comfortable lead over Air Force veteran and Republican nominee Gregg Nelson, who got 2,162 ballots, or 34.4 percent of the vote.
Independent candidate Connie Hutchinson, who has served seven terms on the Herndon Town Council over the past 20 years, garnered 370 votes. There were also 13 write-in ballots.
Samirah, who runs the Washington, D.C., area dental practice District Smiles, will fill the seat vacated in January by State Sen. Jennifer Boysko, who was elected senator in a special election after Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) was elected to Congress in November.
“It’s a win for all marginalized people that want to be uplifted, that want to show that they benefit everybody,” Samirah said. “It’s a win for the grassroots, the people that knock doors, the people that make phone calls, the people that depend on person-to-person contact to advance our democracy here in Virginia.”
Boysko took to Twitter at 8:10 p.m. on Tuesday to congratulate Samirah on his “resounding win.”
House District 86 encompasses parts of both Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.
While Samirah won a majority in both counties, most of the action took place in Fairfax County, where 13 precincts cast 5,899 ballots for a 13.7 percent voter turnout, according to unofficial returns from the Fairfax County Office of Elections.
Samirah received 60.3 percent of the votes in Fairfax County compared to 33.4 percent for Nelson.
By contrast, Loudoun County has only three precincts in the district and received 556 ballots total. Samirah edged out Nelson in Loudoun by 32 votes.
Samirah won the special election despite accusations of anti-Semitism directed at him by conservatives, including Nelson’s campaign.
On Feb. 7, the Republican Party of Virginia issued a press release calling for their Democratic counterparts to rescind their support for Samirah based on a series of posts on his personal Facebook page comparing Israel to the Ku Klux Klan and saying that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should “burn a million times for every innocent soul you killed,” among other comments.
The Facebook posts were all dated between January and August 2014, but they were unearthed by the far-right news media site Big League Politics, which was also responsible for drawing attention earlier this month to a photo featuring men in blackface and a KKK outfit on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page and a sexual assault allegation against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
In a statement from his campaign, Nelson called Samirah’s old Facebook comments “simply inexcusable on all levels,” saying that “racism has no place our Commonwealth especially from individuals in office or seeking office.”
Samirah said in a statement released on Feb. 8 that the posts were from his “impassioned college days” but that he now wanted to “sincerely regret and apologize for” them.
A Palestinian American resident of Herndon who grew up in Chicago but moved to Jordan as an adolescent after his father was denied re-entry into the U.S., Samirah says his electoral triumph reflects voters’ rejection of his opponent’s attempts to divide Democrats.
“He was depending on hate, and we depended on hope,” said Samirah, who joins Del. Sam Rasoul (D-11th) as the second Muslim member of the Virginia General Assembly. “We depended on helping everybody across all political divides in their basic life necessities, in their education, transportation, healthcare, and environmental needs.”
Samirah announced on Feb. 19 that he will run for a full term in November, when the entire House of Delegates is up for election.
For the time being, though, he will represent the 86th House District for the remainder of the state legislature’s 2019 session, which is scheduled to conclude on Feb. 23.
“We’re going to Richmond tonight to be sworn in tomorrow morning,” Samirah said Tuesday. “We’ll get right to work representing the people of the 86th District.”