NORFOLK. Va. (WAVY) — In a mad dash to find a nominee for the special election for Virginia’s 89th House District seat, the local Democratic party has managed to find controversy.
The controversy centers around residency requirements and whether all candidates looking to carry the party’s nomination are qualified to hold office if they are actually elected.
By the Norfolk Democratic Committee’s 1 p.m. deadline Monday, three candidates had submitted their request to be the nominee: Alicia E. Smith, Jackie Glass and Dante Walston. Out of the three, two have voted in elections outside the 89th District within the last year, which has brought about cause for concern.
The whole process has moved at lightning speed.
On Thursday, Del. Jay Jones, (D-Norfolk) announced his intent to resign from his seat that he just was re-elected to in November. On Friday, the outgoing speaker of the House of Delegates announced the special election for his seat would be on Jan. 11 and that all candidates must file by 5 p.m. on Dec. 22.
The seat is expected to stay in the Democrats’ hands, as Jones defeated Republican challenger Hahns Copeland by nearly 60 points. Copeland was the seat’s only Republican challenger in the last 15 years.
The Democrats will choose their candidate via drive-thru caucus on Tuesday from 4-8 p.m. at the International Longshoreman’s Building, 3300 E Princess Anne Road in Norfolk.
Both Glass and Walston have run in political campaigns before. Glass just narrowly lost a special election to fill the Norfolk City Council Superward 7 seat. She has also previously run for school board.
It’s Walston and Smith where concerns about candidate qualifications come into play.
On the third page of the Virginia Department of Elections guide to run in the HD89 special election, it states a candidate can get on a ballot if: They have been a resident of Virginia for one year immediately preceding the election; they are a resident of the 89th House of Delegates District, and they are registered to vote in 89th House of Delegates District.
In June, Walston ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nominee for the 79th House of Delegates seat with a Portsmouth address. In a phone interview with 10 On Your Side, he said he has since moved to Norfolk near Broad Creek to take care of his mother.
“I’m moved several months ago and when the opportunity came to run I thought I’d try again because we have a lot to do,” Walston said.
In the case of Smith, there are also concerns whether she has actually lived in the 89th District.
Smith said she decided to run when she “saw a void” following a phone call from a friend. The 42-year-old former Virginia Education Association lobbyist said she never considered ever being a politician herself.
“I think it’s important for people of faith to be in power, making decisions for others and supporting others. And I am a person of faith,” Smith said in an interview from her Norfolk home Monday. She added that she is passionate about equality and inclusion issues as well as education.
On Sunday, she posted on her Facebook page a graphic with her headshot, as well as 15 headshots of those who endorsed her. Those politicians include Jones, state Sen. Louise Lucas, (D-Portsmouth), state Sen. Lionel Spruill, (D-Chesapeake) and Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan.
However, McClellan has since withdrawn her endorsement.
“I had initially agreed to endorse another candidate, simply (because) we needed someone & this train was moving FAST,” McClellan tweeted. “But after learning that Jackie was willing to run — and knowing her years of stellar work on NORFOLK issues — it was a no-brainer. Jackie all the way.”
Multiple sources tell 10 On Your Side that McClellan’s switch may have more to do with concerns Smith’s candidate qualifications.
Smith owns her home in the Lindenwood neighborhood in Norfolk, which is within the 89th District, and she put down the address as her on her statement of organization to the state. However, Smith herself confirms less than 60 days ago she voted in Chesapeake in the 2021 state elections.
Smith also owns a townhome in Great Bridge and until this weekend her Linkedin page said she lived in Chesapeake.
But Smith maintains that is simply where her mother lives, and where she once lived before going to law school at Western Michigan University. She said she moved back to the Lindenwood property in late 2020 and has been there since.
“I am a domestic violence survivor,” Smith said. “One of the ways I have been keeping myself and those I love safe and also protecting my mental health, which is very important, is by keeping my address in Chesapeake but living [in Norfolk].”
Multiple sources confirm she recently registered to vote in Norfolk.
However, all that could be problematic in itself.
“She either lived in Norfolk but voted in Chesapeake or lived in Chesapeake and now is trying to run in Norfolk. Either way this is a mess,” a source within the Norfolk Democratic party that wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Under Virginia law, registering to vote in the 89th District seat wouldn’t satisfy the “intent to establish domicile” that is required for candidates to meet residency requirements. Some fear if she becomes the nominee, she could risk being ousted from the seat.
In 2019, a panel of state judges voided the election of Virginia Beach City Councilman David Nygaard after determining he intended to move to the Beach District just to run for election.
Meanwhile, Glass thinks the whole situation is troubling.
“Some of these concerns are why I chose to run,” Glass said Monday afternoon. “We need a candidate that is active in the community.”
Charlie Stanton, the chair of Norfolk Democrats, says all concerns about qualifications have been passed off to the Democratic Party of Virginia.
On the side of Norfolk Republicans, at this time they are focused strictly on nominating a candidate of their own.
“We are diligently vetting our own candidates for the 89th House and honestly don’t have the time to worry about who the Democrat nominee is, especially for a lightning quick race,” said Bob Brown, chairman of the Republican party of Norfrolk. “The Norfolk Party has no plans to intervene in their process, as I would hope the Democrat Party would not intervene in our party business. We think the tide has turned on politics in Virginia and the 89th needs a delegate to represent all the voters in the 89th House and believe that choice is Republican.”
Brown said they expect to release their nominee Tuesday night.