Gay rights attorney and former congressional staffer Mark Levine won the Democratic primary Tuesday night for the 45th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, emerging as the odds-on favorite to win the November general election in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
The district includes about half of the city of Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties.
Levine received 27.8 percent of the vote in a five-candidate race, beating the presumed frontrunner in the race, Alexandria government official Craig Fifer, who came in second place with 24.3 percent of the vote.
Fifer received endorsements from the Washington Post and from State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who became the state’s first openly gay member of the legislature in 2004 when first elected to the House of Delegates.
“This was a pure grassroots campaign,” Levine told the Washington Blade in an election night phone interview. “This was a campaign that I only won because people took me in their living rooms and we talked and we chatted night after night about their concerns, about their issues.”
Levine, a resident of Alexandria since 2001, served as legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) from 2001 to 2003 and has provided legal counsel to LGBT rights related causes since the late 1990s, including marriage equality legislation.
He has also served as a talk show host or commentator on radio and television, including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, as an advocate for progressive causes during the past decade.
“I knocked on more than a thousand doors and my team knocked on more than 10,000 doors,” Levine said in discussing his campaign over the past several months. “And the entire establishment didn’t think I could win,” he said.
“But what it shows is that the voters matter. It’s not about endorsements. It’s not about what the state party wants. It’s about what the voters want,” he said.
Levine joined all Democratic candidates from Northern Virginia that ran in the June 9 primary as well as other Democratic officials at a joint election night celebration at an Old Town Alexandria restaurant. The event was organized by the Alexandria Democratic Committee. Each of his opponents congratulated him at the gathering as did Ebbin.
“Mark ran a really smart campaign and I think it did catch people off guard,” Ebbin told the Blade. “But he worked hard and really earned his victory. I’m looking forward to working with him. And I think we can get some good things done in Richmond working together.”
Levine said among those who called to congratulate him were Virginia Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).
With no Republican candidate coming forward to seek the party’s nomination for the 45th District seat, Levine could be challenged in the general election by one or more independent or write-in candidates. No general election challenger had surfaced as of Tuesday night.
If he wins the general election Levine would become the third out gay lawmaker in the Virginia Legislature. Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) became the second openly gay Virginia legislator when he came out in February 2014.
Among the remaining candidates in the primary, Julie Jakopic came in third with 23.3 percent; Clarence Tong came in fourth with 17.3 percent; and Larry Altenburg came in fifth with 7.3 percent.