Inside Alexandria and Arlington Precincts
Reporter Brigid Schulte visited precincts in Alexandria and Arlington today. Here's what she found:
Mary Sanford, of Alexandria, came out early to vote for Democratic Del. Adam Ebbin, though his re-election was assured in the heavily Democratic city. She said she was hoping to be part of a tide that swept Democrats to power in Richmond and forever change the direction of state priorities on gun laws and funding for roadway improvements and schools.
Immigration, she said, was also a key issue. But her view is vastly different from those who favor crack downs or harsh penalties for those in the country illegally. "My husband is an engineer and works on civil construction projects. Without immigrants, roads wouldn't get built, airport runways wouldn't get built, the economy would stop," she said.
"Through his experience, I became much more aware of how hard immigrants work." She said she disapproves of new laws that give local police the authority to pull people over and check their immigration status. "They're not going to be pulling whites over," she said. "It's going to be all about how you look. I completely disagree with that."
Just up the road at Maury Elementary School in Alexandria, Leif Jorgenson stood in the first line he can remember for an off-year election in his 30 years in Alexandria. He waited in line 10 minutes to vote, which, he said, is "unheard of." The match-up between Democratic Del. David Englin and his well-funded, well-connected Republican challenger, Mark Allen - who had initially considered a primary challenge against Englin as a Democrat - brought voters out in larger than usual numbers.
Jorgenson, too, said he wanted to vote in what he called the heavily Democratic "People's Republic of Northern Virginia" in the hopes that progressive Democratic politics would begin to hold sway in the state. "Bush is so bad that the Democrats now have a chance to take over in places they never even thought they could," he said. "I say, great!"
Jorgenson said he hoped a Democratic General Assembly would give more power to local governments. "Republicans say they believe in power to the people at the grassroots level. But they don't practice it," he said. "When we tried to pass a local ordinnce to keep guns out of Rec Centers, the state said no. That's hypocrisy."
On immigration, he said that the national issue had been "demagogued" by some local politicians. "Who among us doesn't get the benefit of these people working in restaurants and in construction?" he said. "Come on." It's a national problem, he said, that needs a national solution.
In South Arlington, another heavily Democratic region that has been undergoing a sea change demographically, with both increasing immigration and gentrification, immigration was a big issue as well. Voting at Claremont Elementary, the local Spanish language immersion school, retiree Herman Lester, said he was one of the lone Republicans - and lone white voters - left in the area. Taxes are his chief concern, he said. And then immigration. He congratulated localities like Prince William County for attempting to go after illegal immigrants. "That's the way it should work," he said. And he said he was disappointed that Congress and President Bush had not acted to curb the flow of illegal border crossings. "I want them to close the border," he said.
Samir Ghosh, a retired tax consultant and immigrant himself who usually leans Democratic in elections, said, outside the war in Iraq, the economy and global warming, immigration is a big concern. "I think only those who have earned their citizenship should be able to get a driver's license," he said. He didn't like the idea of anyone being pulled over by local police and asked about their immigration status. "But if anyone is caught doing something wrong, the police should be able to check," he said.
Over at the Drew Community Center, in the predominantly African American Nauck neighborhood, Raul (accent over the u) Angulo, an immigrant who came from Bolivia 22 years ago, said he voted Democratic because Democrats have been more willing to help immigrants, both legal and illegal. "Illegal immigrants are humans also. They need help," he said. "But others treat them like trash. Who's going to do the job they do? That's my question. They don't think about that. It's really sad."
But Evelyn Newman, also a Democrat, saw it differently. She has lived in her house for more than 40 years. And these days, there are no places to park, because so many people live together in the houses on her block and they all own their own cars. "I'm all for legal immigration. And I don't like to call them illegal aliens, because they are human beings," she said. "But I think we should know who is in this country. And I don't think our tax dollars should be spent on them. A lot of people say I am a racist. I'm not. And I should know. I'm black. I'm not saying we should send them all home. But we have to work something out."
In wealthier North Arlington, Joanne Edwards, an independent, said she voted straight Democratic this year to send a message to Republicans locally and nationally. "We've got to get this administration out," she said. Locally, she said she wanted to control development and, when it comes to immigration, she'd like a change of strategy - away from Virginia. "I'm in favor of loosening immigration up out west. I know there's plenty out places out west that immigrants could fill up."
James Gilbert, voting a block from his home at another of Arlington's Spanish language immersion schools, Key Elementary, said he was voting Republican in the County Commissioner races "just to get the Republican flow going in Northern Virginia." Though, he said, in such a heavily Democratic area, "it's kind of pointless." The former independent said he was becoming more conservative because of two issues: gun control and immigration. "I want them to enforce the immigration laws," he said.
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