By Timothy Dwyer and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Jeff Dion said it wasn't the bloggers' vicious personal attacks about his "gay lifestyle" that made him end his campaign for a Prince William County seat in the Virginia House of Delegates but practical politics.
"I heard from key supporters and party leaders who I know and respect, and they suggested that it would be best for me and the party and the hopes of winning the seat to bow out," said Dion, a Democrat from Lake Ridge. "Ultimately, I would much rather us win than for me to stay in the race on a matter of principle and lose."
Dion, who is openly gay, announced Friday that he was quitting the race, saying that party leaders told him that he could have trouble winning the House seat in the 51st District, which includes part of Prince William. The incumbent, Del. Michelle B. McQuigg (R), is stepping down to run for clerk of the circuit court.
Dion declined to identify the Democratic leaders, but party officials said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former governor Mark R. Warner urged Dion to withdraw and support another Democrat, Paul Nichols, who practices family law. Dion posted face-saving comments by Kaine and Warner on his Web site as part of his withdrawal announcement.
Matt Felan, a Kaine spokesman, said: "The governor makes a lot of political calls. He has no comment on calls he made politically to Jeff or others."
Warner did not return a phone call. Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) said he talked to Dion last week but did not ask him to drop out. "The concern expressed to him, by me, was he had lost the recent board of supervisors race," Moran said, referring to a special election in the fall for a seat on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. "Our conversation had more to do with how we could win the district."
Dion said that although he was willing to fight back against the bloggers, the "toxic" atmosphere they created, as well as hundreds of comments -- some obscene and untrue -- generated on mostly conservative Web sites, would have made it nearly impossible to speak about issues.
"Nothing that they say on the blogs that is true bothers me," Dion said. "The real factor is that the stuff they put out on the blogs made a lot of other Democrats really nervous, and it undercut my support and made it really difficult for me to continue. If it was up to me, I'd say, 'Let's go ahead and have this discussion about me running as an openly gay candidate.' Some people say that I am implying that the bloggers outed me. That is not true. I have been out."
Dion's homosexuality was first raised in the fall when he lost the supervisor's race to Republican Michael C. May.
One popular conservative blog, Black Velvet Bruce Li, in a posting called "Meet Jeff Dion," said that Dion and his wife divorced in 2001. It said he was living with another man, which Dion said is not true. The blog speculated, "To an outsider like me, it sure looks like he left his marriage and destroyed the stability of his family in order to pursue a homosexual 'lifestyle.' "
Dion and his former wife have two children and share custody, he said. The "Meet Jeff Dion" blog story generated more than 100 responses, with multiple responses from the same contributors, including the proprietor of Black Velvet, who bragged about digging up "dirt" on Dion, saying the Democratic Party was trying to keep his sexual orientation a secret.
When Dion entered the House race, the bloggers' attacks resumed, including a posting of a profile that Dion put on a gay networking and dating Web site. Even longtime Republican strategists in Richmond said they were appalled last week when Dion's gay.com profile appeared on a blog called Not Larry Sabato. They said they thought it crossed a line of fairness.
Dion's profile was first posted on Black Velvet Bruce Li. Ben Tribbett, author of the widely read Not Larry Sabato, then linked to it. Tribbett, a Democratic activist, said Dion should have taken the profile down before filing for office. He noted that social networking sites have increasingly become fair game in politics.
In 2006, national blogs went so far as to post the profile of congressional candidates' children, Tribbett said. "So for a candidate themselves to have a profile, they have to expect for it to be public game. Anything else would be ridiculous."
Mark J. Rozell, a politics professor at George Mason University, said the posting of the profile on Not Larry Sabato crossed a line but noted that in politics these days the line, if it still exists, is blurred.
"Politics have become a pretty ugly environment in the modern era, not that it hasn't been ugly in the past," he said. "There has always been an unseemly part of political life, but today in the blogosphere, there is an immediacy, and there is not a filter for material that is over the line."
Dion said some bloggers made up news about him by writing that he had been asked early last week to drop out of the race. But no one had counseled him to withdraw at that point, he said. "Some people may have been saying that about me, but nobody said it to me," he said. "But the bloggers reported it as fact."
Dion, who has worked with victims of violent crimes, said he does not see himself as a victim. "You know, in politics, it is called exploiting an opportunity, and that is exactly what people have done with the blogs."
Craig reported from Richmond.