In the contest for Virginia governor, what issue do the candidates think Jewish audiences want to hear about most?
At Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax on Sunday, neither speaker wasted time in getting to the subject.
“I am so proud of our current governor, Terry McAuliffe, and our attorney general, Mark Herring, and I was there with them to call these individuals out for who they are,” Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said. “We made it very clear to them that we do not condone hatred. That is not what this country or this commonwealth of Virginia is about.”
And Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (R), standing in for Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, began with: “I personally, and Ed Gillespie, do not tolerate anti-Semitism. He came out very strongly against the bigotry in Charlottesville. It is something that does not belong in our community.”
Herrity left the forum after addressing the group for about six minutes.
Northam also spoke about health care and education at the session hosted by the Conservative congregation’s Men’s Club. But he reminded the audience of the deadly protests in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, led by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups.
Gillespie had drawn ire from Democrats when he condemned the violence but did not name the hate groups. President Donald Trump had responded to the Charlottesville violence by saying there were, “very fine people on both sides.” Then, on Aug. 29, five Jewish legislators called Gillespie’s refusal to name the hate groups or criticize Trump’s response a “colossal failure of leadership.”
One of those five was state Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41), who introduced Northam on Sunday. She said she still receives concerned phone calls and emails about the Charlottesville violence, and about two anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in Northern Virginia.
In February, Gesher Jewish Day School received one of the many false bomb threats reported across the country that month. In April, swastikas were painted on the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. Filler-Corn said in both cases, Northam was one of the first elected officials to contact each institution’s director.
Virginia voters go to the polls on Nov. 7.
The group questioned Northam on other issues, but not Herrity, as he was already gone.
Asked by an audience member how he would solve the commonwealth’s education problems, such as the loss of teachers and overcrowding, Northam pointed to Virginia’s average teacher salary of $49,000, which is $7,000 less than the national average.
“If we’re going to bring talented teachers to Virginia and retain them we need to pay them,” he said.
Northam criticized Gillespie’s proposed 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut and said it would take away funding for education.
Northam also was asked how he would respond to people losing their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. He said that repealing the law would put Virginia in a “very vulnerable position,” but did not elaborate.
He said he would advocate expanding Medicaid in Virginia — a section of the ACA that is left to states to decide. McAuliffe attempted to expand Medicaid this year, but the proposal was rejected by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Northam said Virginia allocated $30 million in the current budget for mental health issues, particularly the growing opioid crisis, which he called the commonwealth’s “number one challenge.”
“We have lost more than 1,100 Virginians in the past year to overdose,” he said. “That’s more than will die on our highways.”