First off, let me just start by saying that there *are* good things about Sen. Petersen, which is part of why I used to really like him. For instance, he’s pushed to restrict campaign contributions from Dominion Energy; he’s also pushed for clean energy for many years (e.g., the “Clean Energy Future Act” back in 2008); he’s gotten 100% ratings on women’s reproductive freedom in recent years, as well as a 100% rating from Equality Virginia in 2021; etc. So Sen. Petersen is not – repeat, NOT – all bad, by any means. He’s also a very personable guy who works hard, knocks a lot of doors, etc. All good stuff.
However…having said all that, my view is that in this new, OVERWHELMINGLY blue district (SD37 – Fairfax/Falls Church), Democrats can and should do better. Why do I say that? Let’s start with a few of the things I find to be not so great about Sen. Petersen. For instance:
- He’s consistently been one of the least progressive Democrats in the State Senate: 12 out of 22 in 2023; 20 out of 21 in 2022; 21 out of 21 in 2021; 21 out of 21 in 2020; 19 out of 19 in 2019; etc. He also scored below what would be expected given his district’s partisan lean for many of those years (e.g., see here for 2022), and that was *before* 2021 redistricting, which made the district Petersen would represent significantly “bluer.” In short, Petersen is a conservative Democrat representing an increasingly progressive, deep-blue Senate district.
- He took issue with the word “transfer” as pertaining to firearms “transfer or sale” in universal background check bill SB870 from Sen. Louise Lucas.
- He played a major role in deep-sixing Gov. Ralph Northam’s assault weapons bill.
- He formed a “Redskins Pride Caucus” and defended the team’s name and railed against so-called “political correctness,” a “one-sided portrayal of this issue in the media,” etc.
- As for COVID, early in the pandemic (just a couple months after it started, way before we had a vaccine), he was railing against what he called “fearful voices,” falsely (and irresponsibly) claiming that “infection numbers are driven by TESTING” (similar to what Trump was saying), urging that Virginia be “reopened” and that “we must allow freedom” (again, at that point we were at the start of a deadly pandemic, without any vaccines, with hospitals being overwhelmed…); heck, he even joined with far-right Del. Dave LaRock in suing Gov. Northam over COVID protections (that alone should be a disqualifier in a Democratic primary); and even argued that it’s not worth closing schools because an old person might die (yikes!); etc.
- He went on Trumpist/MAGA radio to claim that during “Jim Crow” era, “there were some bad decisions made, but at least they had a functioning school system” (he was condemned for those remarks by many Democrats and later apologized) while also bemoaning the fact that Confederate monuments in Richmond could be pulled down.
- Last year, he teamed up with Republicans to try to elect a right-wing politico as Mayor of Fairfax City and to attempt to defeat Democrat Catherine Read. Fortunately, he failed (by a tiny margin), and Catherine Read is now mayor, but still…why would he have done that? (and note that he’s appealing to Republicans again this election)
- He strongly opposes getting rid of union-busting, so-called “Right-to-Work” laws (or as Leslie Byrne called them, “Right-to-Be-Poor” laws).
- This February, Sen. Petersen was one of two conservative Democrats in the State Senate who “broke rank and voted alongside Republicans to reject the amendment [strike Ellis’ name from Senate Joint Resolution 276 — which confirms a number of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s appointments] in an otherwise party-line vote — Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears cast the tie-breaking ‘nay’ vote.” For more on Ellis and why he NEVER should have been confirmed, see UVA Students Rip Gov. Youngkin Pick of Bert Ellis to UVA Board of Visitors as “either negligent or willfully rewarding behavior that endangers students”, EDITORIAL: Youngkin, this was the wrong call, etc.
This list could go on, but that’s enough of a sampling to give you a flavor for who Sen. Petersen is, politically speaking. Honestly, there are times when it’s almost surprising he hasn’t ditched the Democratic Party to become an independent. But regardless, as I noted above, in this new, OVERWHELMINGLY blue district, Democrats can – and, I’d argue, SHOULD – do better. (Note: this is also a highly diverse district – 22.5% Asian Americans, 16% Hispanic/Latino, 11.2% multiracial, 8.0% other, 5.0% African American)
Fortunately, we have a better alternative, namely Sen. Petersen’s Democratic primary opponent Saddam Salim. Here are a few highlights about Salim, who I’m endorsing for this seat.
- He’s got a compelling life story – “a first-generation immigrant born in Bangladesh” whose family was briefly homeless, then “lived in basements in Falls Church for two years until they were eligible for Fairfax County’s low-income affordable housing program.”
- After his family settled in – his father “work[ing] his way up from a dishwasher to the chef for more than 20 years at the popular restaurant Haandi Indian Cuisine on West Broad Street” – Saddam Salim “attended Falls Church High School where he was a track and field athlete, president of his class and a recipient of the John Morris Athletic Scholarship.”
- Then, “During his senior year of high school, his mother’s health issues required surgery. Since his parents relied on minimum wage jobs, Saddam stayed back to help his mother, giving up college out of state to instead attend Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. With the help of community healthcare, his mother’s surgery was a success, but the medical bills were a source of struggle for the family.”
- Saddam Salim then “graduated from George Mason University in 2012 with Bachelor of Science in Public Administration and went back to GMU for a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in public and non-profit finance.” He “has worked at PenFed Credit Union, Kearney and Company and the United States Institute of Peace as a financial consultant. Today, Saddam works for 11th Hour Service as a Senior Consultant advising federal clients.”
- He’s also “served as Co-Chair to the Providence District Democratic Committee and Finance Vice Chair of Fairfax County Democratic Committee. He was the founding member of both API and FCDC Black Caucus. He currently serves as second Vice Chair of the 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee, Vice President of Fairfax Young Democrats, Co-State Director for South Asians for America and is a Board Member of DemBiz Council.”
It’s impressive, and when you talk to him in person – as I had the chance to do a couple weeks ago – it comes across even more powerfully and emotionally, as he convincingly ties his own family’s struggles into his views on the importance of public service, affordable housing, healthcare, education, and much more.
On the issues, you can check out Saddam Salim’s views (which overall I’d describe as “pragmatic progressive”) here. A few highlights include:
- He believes in “a future that works for all Virginians – a clean energy economy, respect for our diverse communities, LGBTQ+ rights, strong schools and forward-thinking leadership.”
- He’s committed to “ensure every Virginian who needs it has access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion services.“
- He supports an assault weapons ban (in contrast to Sen. Petersen) and other “strong, common-sense gun control laws.”
- He “will fight for the expansion of affordable housing options in our region. He will work to create financial incentives and a more streamlined process for localities to construct additional affordable housing along with more funding for affordable housing projects.”
- “He will support developing our infrastructure for EVs, improving our public transportation, and preparing our grid for wind and solar. Saddam believes that the transition to clean energy can be a job creator and push for training programs in these fields.”
- He “believes that we need a strong public school system…will fight for better teacher pay along with proper funding for school resources, facilities, and mental health programs…will not villainize our teachers or threaten to hold back funding to schools.“
All very good and essential stuff.
As for endorsements, not surprisingly most elected Democrats have stayed out of this race so far, in part because until the announcement on Thursday by Erika Yalowitz that she was ending her campaign, there were two Democratic challengers to Sen. Petersen, and the widespread belief was that this would split the anti-incumbent vote and pretty much guarantee Sen. Petersen winning on June 20. But now that’s no longer an issue. Also, of course, many elected Democrats have known Sen. Petersen for years and don’t necessarily want to make him angry or to burn their bridges, especially given the general belief that Sen. Petersen remains the favorite in this race. Anyway, hopefully Saddam Salim will gain more endorsements in coming weeks, in addition to ones he already has, such as Erika Yalowitz, former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Virginia Center for Public Safety Legislative Director Legislative Director Andrew Goddard, former Falls Church Democratic Committee Chair Peg Willingham, South Asians for America, FCPS Pride Co-Chair Robert Rigby, etc.
The bottom line is this: in a deep-blue district like SD37, there’s no need for Democrats to worry about losing in November, so we can just focus on electing someone who best represents our progressive, environmental, etc. values. That person, in my view, is Saddam Salim, who I encourage everyone to get to know and, if you like him, to support in the upcoming Democratic primary!