Democrat, Republican proxy spar at Olam Tikvah election brunch

“Happy Merchant” image above the Pyon campaign mailer, and the original photo Dan Helmer.

The Democratic candidate for delegate in Virginia’s 40th district sparred with a proxy for his Republican opponent in Northern Virginia on Sunday.

Incumbent Del. Dan Helmer (D) faced Mike Ginsberg, a member of the state GOP Central Committee. The Republican candidate, chemical engineer and patent attorney Harold Pyon, did not attend.

The annual Olam Tikvah Men’s Club Election Brunch came a week before balloting in Virginia. It was four weeks since Helmer accused Pyon of sending an antisemitic campaign mailer.
Ginsberg emphasized Pyon’s background as an immigrant and an educated professional. “In many ways, [Pyon] has lived the American dream.”

Helmer focused on his background in the Army and his record as a state delegate, since 2020.

Asked for positions on the issue of mask and vaccine mandates, Ginsberg appeared to offer his own position. “We should follow the science…if the science is clear on masks, we should do [a mandate], but I do not think the science is clear,” he said.

Helmer came out in support of mandates. “Masks prevent outbreaks. Those who equivocate on the science will make the pandemic worse.”

On education, Helmer said that as a Rhodes scholar, he supports advanced-placement programs, adding that these programs need to be made more widely available. “We ought to be creating opportunities for every single child who qualifies for [advanced courses],” he said.

Ginsberg said that Pyon is against diversity quotas. “We need an education system based on merit,” he said.

He said that Pyon will not allow critical race theory into schools, and accused the theory of dividing students into the oppressors and the oppressed. “[Pyon is] going to take ideology out of school.”

Critical race theory “is not in our schools.” Helmer responded. “We need to move beyond Fox News talking points. I know what is in the curriculum.”

He added that students should be learning about the role that historic institutions — such as slavery and segregation – played in shaping the country.

Helmer said he supports Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that enshrined a woman’s right to an abortion. “[Abortion] should be a conversation between a woman and her doctor,” he said.

From left, Mike Ginsberg, Del. Dan Helmer, Irving Varkonyi and Gary Aiken.

Ginsberg’s position was in line with the Republican Party’s platform. “Roe vs. Wade was a mistake.” He said that the decision to outlaw abortion should be left to the states.

On taxes, Ginsberg said Pyon would repeal the grocery tax, which he said was “extremely regressive” and targeted middle- and lower-income people.

Helmer responded, “If you support transportation infrastructure, if you support education infrastructure, if you want Virginia to remain competitive, you cannot gut its source of funding.”

The men also addressed the Pyon campaign mailer that showed Helmer in front of a table piled with gold coins. Helmer, who is Jewish and the grandson of Holocaust survivors, had pointed out that piles of money is an antisemitic trope. He said the mailer’s creators had altered his image to give him a hooked nose and removed the West Point insignia from his vest.

When shown the mailer, Ginsberg, who is also Jewish, said, “There is nothing antisemitic about these fliers.”

He added, “[Pyon] is the least antisemitic person I know.”

“He might not be an antisemite,” Helmer said, “but he is willing to traffic in antisemitic tropes that are an affront to our community.”

Helmer followed by criticizing recent rhetoric by progressives against Israel. “Defunding the Iron Dome is antisemitic,” he said.

Pyon “wants a new direction” for Virginia, Ginsberg said. In his closing remarks, Helmer criticized Pyon for declining to speak to Congregation Olam Tikvah and refusing to confront him and his constituents, calling it “cowardice.”

Audience member Sara Luckman-Heimowitz said Pyon’s absence was significant.

“It’s important to see which candidates do show up if we are important to them,” said the Olam Tikvah congregant. “[These events] are important because they bring out the community to hear different viewpoints and they allow people to express what is important to them.”

“We are very motivated and energized, but we are not all on the same [political] side,” said Irvin Varkonyi, a member of the Men’s Club and an event organizer. “This synagogue has a lot of diversity in its opinions. We always promise the candidates that we have a lot of voters and they all go out to vote.”

The Election Brunch was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

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