Voters living in the 53rd House of Delegates District have a choice Nov. 2 between four-term incumbent Del. Marcus Simon and Republican challenger Sarah White.
The 53rd District, which includes the city of Falls Church and the Fairfax County areas of Pimmit Hills, Idylwood, Merrifield and West Falls Church, has been a Democratic stronghold for decades, but first-time candidate White said she will keep working hard, despite the odds.
“I’m definitely going to keep fighting until the day of [the election] because, you know, crazy things happen,” she said.
Simon has held the office since 2013, after he fended off candidates W. Brad Tidwell and Anthony Tellez to succeed his mentor, the late Del. James Scott (D). Simon ran unopposed in 2015 and 2019, but had to defeat challenger Mike Casey in 2017.
Simon was born in Texas, but was only weeks old when his parents moved to Arlington. He graduated from McLean High School in 1988, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Middle East studies from New York University.
Simon worked as an aide to Del. Scott and former Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley (D), earned a law degree from American University and spent three years as a prosecutor with the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps. He now runs Ekko Title in McLean.
Simon highlighted his efforts on voting rights and ballot access and said as vice chairman of the Freedom of Information Council he had worked to expand public access to police cold-case files.
Simon also has advocated for affordable housing and against housing discrimination. If re-elected, he said he would work to restore the public’s faith in the electoral system, increase the minimum wage at a faster rate and advocate for criminal-justice reform while avoiding unintended consequences.
In the race against White, Simon said experience and knowledge are the key differences.
“It’s been a little bit hard to know what her specific policy positions are,” he said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot on where she stands on a lot of really important issues.”
Simon has had less time to campaign because he sits on the Virginia Redistricting Commission, which has been trying to draw new General Assembly and congressional districts.
“We did our best to try to come to some sort of bipartisan compromise, but in the end we didn’t really get all that close to the kind of super-majority support we would need for any particular plan,” he said. “So I think it’s on the way to the [Virginia] Supreme Court shortly.”
White grew up in Parkersburg, W.Va., and is a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fan. She attended college for a time, but left without earning a degree.
White has worked for more than 20 years in the restaurant industry. She now is chief operations officer for YHR Holdings and manages Cowboy Cafe and three of five Lost Dog Cafe locations.
The Republican supports having resource officers (i.e., police) in schools and having counselors help de-escalate situations when police interact with people having mental-health crises. She also favors simplifying and clarifying legislative language, particularly on business-related bills.
Education, specifically how much influence parents should have over their children’s education, is one of the biggest issues in the election, White said.
“Parents really want to have a say in what’s going on with their child’s education,” she said. “We’re a very large small town and we need to have that ‘community feel’ between our teachers and our parents. They need to be working together to educate our children.”
White supports COVID vaccine mandates, especially in fields such as airline and restaurant work that involve much contact with the public. Fairfax County is heavily vaccinated against the virus and its case numbers are plummeting, she said.
Both candidates are active in the business sector. NOVABIZPAC, the political-action committee of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, recently endorsed White, making Simon one of just a few incumbents who didn’t get the nod this year.
Simon said the chamber opposes unions and any attempt to repeal Virginia’s right-to-work policy.
“To the extent that it’s an anti-union-advocacy organization, it doesn’t align with my core beliefs,” he said.
Simon and White said the election had revolved around relevant policy positions, not petty disputes.
“I appreciate her style,” Simon said. “I think she’s been a very cordial, polite and respectful candidate. I think she wants to offer a different way or an alternative. That’s absolutely what elections are all about.”
“It’s been a very pleasant election season,” she said. “You don’t hear that a lot between candidates, but we’ve stuck to the issues. We just both really care about District 53.”