|Atima Omara, Candidate for Virginia House of Delegates|
On June 27, Bob Brink, who has served the folks of Arlington in the Virginia House of Delegates for 17 years, announced his retirement after being offered a position in Gov. McAuliffe's administration.
Brink's retirement launched a crowded field for the Democratic primary being decided tomorrow on July 6th, among them Atima Omara, who has generated enormous support since she announced her candidacy, just this past Tuesday.
But not everyone is enthusiastic. Popular local Democratic blog Blue Virginia expressed thinly-veiled pettiness toward Omara based on rumors they heard:
"Atima Omara gets an "A-" for her answers, which are solid across the board. My main concerns about Omara have nothing to do with her answers to the questionnaire, but with people have been telling me over the past few days (I didn't know anything about Omara before this race and had absolutely no preconceived notions), such as that she's "not a hard worker" and that she has "no substance." Is any of that true? Got me, but I keep hearing it from Arlington Democrats who know her well, so I'm not sure what to believe at this point. Also, she ran into a buzzsaw of criticism yesterday after her campaign claimed an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, which that organization quickly made clear they did NOT make. So, while she gets an "A-" for her answers to my questionnaire, there are many questions in my mind about her candidacy."
Of course, to those of us in the DC metro area who know Omara--and there are many, she has a vast network--this is a strange, ridiculous assertion.
She doesn't work hard enough? No substance?
Last year, Omara became the first black woman elected President of the Young Democrats of America and only the fifth woman in its 81-year history.
She's a board member at Planned Parenthood Metro Washington, DC Abortion Fund, and Emerge Virginia. Previously, she served on the board of the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Arlington Country Commission on the Status of Women.
She's been an organizer on behalf of health care worker unions at SEIU, an advocate for the mentally-ill and disabled with the National Disability Rights Network, and worked passionately for women's advocacy through the Women's Campaign Fund and Doorways for Women and Families.
Her direct campaign experience is just as impressive: eight elections on the federal, state, and local levels and prior to that, a Special Assistant to then-Gov. Mark Warner.
And her extensive resume hasn't gone unnoticed: in the past year, she's been honored by the Women's Information Network with a "Young Women of Achievement Award in Leadership" and was named to Ebony Magazine's "Power 100" and Jet Magazine's "40 under 40".
Did I mention she's a child of African immigrants? Or that she graduated from the University of Virginia and subsequently earned an MPA from George Mason?
This doesn't strike me as someone who doesn't "work hard" or "lacks substance", and had Blue Virginia taken five minutes to Google her name, they would have found such rumors without merit.
This all makes me wonder what's intended here by Blue Virginia. For candidate Paul Holland, one of the "top scorers" in their rubric, they wrote simply: "gets an "A" for his answers, which are excellent across the board. Nice job -- Holland is definitely one of the top choices for Democrats going to the caucus Sunday to consider voting for, either #1 or #2!"
Despite the slander, Omara is apparently choosing to stay above the fray, campaigning hard in the final 36-hour stretch before the polls close and declining to validate ridiculous rumors.
But I am not above the fray, and I can confidently say this: had Omara been a white male with her dazzling resume, she would have been declared the frontrunner on the day she announced.
There would be no third-hand hearsay claiming she doesn't work hard or lacks substance. There would be no targeting of a woman widely praised for her advocacy on reproductive rights because her campaign mistakenly announced an endorsement from NARAL, even though she already has the enthusiastic backing of Planned Parenthood Metro Washington and Virginia NOW.
And given that Blue Virginia's assessment is already making the rounds, I find it horribly irresponsible for this blog--one that's supposedly progressive--to peddle lies about a candidate that's been heartily endorsed by Mayor of Alexandria Bill Euille, Arlington School Board Chair James Lander, and a large contigent of other local Democratic leaders.
But for any dedicated observer, it's clear to see this is the challenge of black women running for office, even in reliably progressive campaigns: an uphill battle to earn credibility and respect, often despite qualifications that put them head and shoulders above other candidates, as in Omara's case.
Voters will make their choice at Yorktown High School tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.