Stormy McLean Community Center election ends with victory for Democratic-backed candidates

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A trio of candidates backed by members of the local Democratic Party committee won seats on the board of the McLean Community Center in a heated election that sparked controversy in the normally apolitical center following an event “Drag StoryBook Hour” for preschoolers last summer.

With around 2,500 ballots cast – more than 10 times the usual amount – preliminary results showed Kristina Groennings, Anna Bartosiewicz and Ari Ghasemian leading the other six candidates by at least 750 votes.

Katherine Gorka, a former Trump administration official whose presence in the race has caused intense concern among Democrats, came in a distant fourth, with 643 votes, according to preliminary results. The election will be certified by the County Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks, which will officially name the board winners, a spokeswoman for the community center said.

“It was a real wild ride,” Groennings, 45, said of the run-up to the election, in which residents quizzed candidates on their positions at the Pride Month event, co-sponsored by the center and a local library last June. , which featured performers reading aloud stories about gender fluidity to a group of children and their parents.

Groennings, who received the most votes with 1,531, said she understands the interest but suspects most members of the liberal community of 50,000 don’t see a drag the event in priority.

“There are so many other things we can talk about,” she said.

The bulk of the voting occurred through mail-in ballots cast ahead of the McLean Day family festival on Saturday which served as the primary venue for the election, a reflection of aggressive lobbying on behalf of Groennings and his running mates by Dranesville Democratic Party committee members.

How ‘Drag Story Hour’ sparked culture wars at the Virginia Community Center

While Gorka was the only Republican on the field, some members of the local Democratic Party committee worked to elicit votes by warning residents of a conservative plot to take over the community center.

“This year, voting is more important than ever,” read an email from a former party committee chairman to local Democrats. “Now right-wing candidates have filed for election this year and the people of McLean deserve better than to accept an agenda of intolerance.”

Julie Waters, chair of the party committee, said none of the candidates had received official support, but she acknowledged that some members favored “more progressive” candidates.

The concerted effort angered several of the other candidates, who said the election was meant to be non-partisan and over substantive issues affecting the community center, such as whether or not to install vehicle charging stations. electrics in the car park and the modification of the centre’s governance structure. .

“The ongoing aggressive campaign is ridiculous,” Lauren Kahn, one of the candidates, wrote to a local newspaper.

“We will serve the entire Greater McLean community, not the narrow agenda of any political party or other special interest group,” wrote another list of three candidates – Mayor Shine, James Lawless and Debra Butler – in another letter sent to the same newspaper.

Groennings said she and her running mates worked harder than others, spending their own money on campaign signs and efforts to get the vote — a $2,000 expense for Groennings.

“My 78-year-old mother canvassed every day for over two weeks,” she said. “I had people supporting my campaign who weren’t Democrats. I think that was really encouraging because that’s how the community council should work. It’s not meant to be a political institution.

Kathleen Gillette-Mallard, who was among a group of residents upset about the drag event, said she voted for Gorka, Groennings and Butler, based on their responses to questions about the issue.

Although Gorka did not win, she said, the election showed that there are a significant number of residents who are concerned about the direction of the community center.

“We’ll see what happens,” Gillette-Mallard said. “We will work with this new board and we will be calm and cool and reasonable and hopefully the concerns of a fairly large segment of people in the community will be heard.”

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced an email sent to local Democrats about the McLean Community Center board election. The author is a former Democratic Party committee chairman, not a current party official. The article has been corrected.

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