Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce Meet Candidates

Kirk Jackson | 10/14/2009, 9:08 p.m.

For independent insurance agent Rudy Johnson, the €Candidate€s Night€ held Tue., Sept. 22 and sponsored by a group of African American entrepreneurs at a Tyson€s Corner hotel was worth the trip from Prince William County, Va.

€It gave me a chance to meet the politicians, listen to them, see what their platform is, to see what their objectives are,€ Johnson said.

€Although most of the politicians that are here are not from Prince William County where I live, at least I understand to a certain extent where they stand. It€s still the same state.€

Sponsored by the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, a group formed to promote minority business in Washington€s Virginia suburbs, the event offered Johnson and many other entrepreneurs a chance to mingle with candidates who are running for election in November.

€This event was designed so that the Black community could meet people who are running for office, talk about what their issues were, and learn what the candidates represented,€ said Vice-Chair Gaea Honeycutt, who co-founded the group about a year ago with other Northern Virginia entrepreneurs.

€[We provide] contact which candidates don€t always get, particularly with the Black community and which the Black community definitely doesn€t always get.€

Nearly 40 candidates or their representatives attended the event, Honeycutt said. Several statewide politicians or candidates sent representatives, including Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Creigh Deeds, Democratic candidate for governor; Jody Wagner, Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor; Ken Cuccinelli, Republican candidate for attorney general and Steve Shannon, Democratic candidate for attorney general.

The chamber also invited several civic organizations, including the Fairfax and Arlington branches of the NAACP, the Northern Virginia Urban League and the Virginia Leadership Institute.

Though chamber officials introduced candidates and gave them a chance to make public statements, the majority of the evening involved one-on-one interaction between candidates and potential constituents.

Charniele Herring, Democratic incumbent for delegate from the 46th District, said events such as Tuesday€s gives candidates €the opportunity to have dialogue with business owners.€ Herring, an attorney, said such forums also allow candidates to feel the €presence€ of Virginia€s Black business community and help them understand the important role it plays in the state€s economy.

The only African American delegate from Northern Virginia, Herring, who represents western Alexandria and a section of Fairfax County, had advice for African American candidates who want to overcome potential skepticism from White voters.

€The advice is almost with any candidate,€ she said. €Pay your dues, learn the community, serve the community. People want to know that you€re a part of them and you have done them well in the past. And, that in turn earns trust.€

Joe Bury, Republican challenger for the 39th District delegate seat, felt the strong presence of business people at the event provided an audience friendly to his advocacy of incentives for the small and medium sized businesses he believes will provide jobs needed for the nation€s economic recovery.

€These people are entrepreneurs,€ he said. €That€s why it€s a great opportunity to be here tonight because more than anything else they understand what business is about,€ Bury said.

Noting that only three candidates or surrogates discussed the issue during their public statements, Linda Nixon Haughton of the Black Nurses Association of Greater Washington D.C. felt the politicians were €straddling the fence€ on health care.

€They didn€t say universal health care at all, they just said children€s health care,€ said Haughton, a strong supporter of a universal health care bill sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

Ressurrection Graves, owner of H.E.A.L. Massage and Bodyworks, said that she felt it was worth making the trip from Prince George€s County, Md., where her business is located to push for a cause that she is passionate about: a bill setting guidelines for massage therapy.

€I pretty much just let them know what my passion is behind writing the bill, the purpose that the bill is for and the changes that will be made as a result of the bill being passed,€ she said.

€One being, that massage will be separated from prostitution, which will give it more of a respectable standard in the industry.€