Va. state Senate candidate Marsden faces residency issue
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Del. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax) owns a house right across the street from Virginia's sprawling 37th Senate District in western Fairfax County. He's so close -- a few hundred feet -- he can literally look out his window on Jackson Street in Burke and "throw a rock and hit the boundary line," he said.
As Marsden runs against Republican Stephen M. "Steve" Hunt in Tuesday's election to replace Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli II R) in the District 37 seat, some opponents raise the question: Where does Marsden live now? Is his primary residence the house with his wife and children outside the district or three miles south, in a guest bedroom in the district?
Marsden's living circumstances illustrate the complications sometimes caused by Virginia's residency requirements for elected officials.
To fulfill county and state residency guidelines, Marsden has rented the lower level of a house for $600 a month from Ronald L. and Paula J. Seward, longtime state Democratic Party donors who live in a four-bedroom on Stonecutter Drive in Burke, just three miles from his home of more than 25 years in the 34th District.
Ronald Seward, the president of a consulting firm specializing in government contracting, has given about $100,000 to Democratic candidates since 2002, according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, including $3,725 to Marsden's first campaign for state delegate.
Marsden's opponent Hunt, a former Fairfax School Board member, declined to comment about the rental but told a podcast program in December that it was "minor." Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, was less forgiving: "It doesn't matter which party it is, to go ahead and hop, skip and a jump into a district in order to run is distasteful and disturbing," he said.
One voter, Anna Lee, a well-known Republican Party donor from Centreville, filed a complaint in December with the Fairfax Electoral Board, alleging that Marsden did not fulfill the district's residence requirement, and asking that his voter registration be canceled. County officials responded that they did not have the authority to revoke his registration.
Seward's neighbors said they have seen Marsden periodically, with his car that has delegate license plates parked in the driveway. One neighbor, Boudi Hayek, 55, said he has seen Marsden pick up his morning newspaper about 7:30 a.m. as Hayek walked his daughter to nearby school.
"We talked about Christmas lights, because both of our houses got hit by the same kids taking them," Hayek said.
His campaign manager, Mark Henson, pledges that Marsden, 61, is sleeping in the guest bedroom and that he goes back to his Jackson Street home, which is officially designated as his legislative office, every day to check mail and see his family.
"Dave Marsden has lived in Fairfax County for 57 years and moved three miles south, meeting all legal requirements to run," Henson said.
Marsden's new landlords said he is in every day, usually about 10 p.m., and wakes up with the Sewards about 7 a.m.
Marsden's campaign declined to answer more detailed questions from The Washington Post about the rental agreement and blog items and mass e-mails alleging that Marsden might not live at the Seward house, with Henson saying that the delegate "wanted to focus on the important campaign ahead."
Fairfax County officials are limited in what they can do to verify Marsden's living arrangement, said county Registrar Edgardo Cortés. Marsden filed change-of-address paperwork with the county on Nov. 23. His driver's license has also been updated with the new address.
"It's about consistency," Cortés said. "We're not going to do anything additional for him that we wouldn't do for any other resident of the county."
The Virginia State Board of Elections, which crafted a tougher voter residency policy in August after a task force studied the matter for four months, said the issue of candidates moving into districts to run for public office is a local one. The voter residency policy states that a residence must both be a "place of abode" -- a second home, a hotel, an apartment or even under a bridge -- and a "domicile," defined as the primary place where the resident intends to live his or her life. Essentially, many places can be an "abode" but there can be only one true home, said James Alcorn, deputy secretary of the state elections board.
"We recognize people can own multiple homes. You can live on 10 island countries and those can all be places of abode, but you can have only one residency," Alcorn said. "Still, it's very difficult to define. It's not very black and white."
It's not uncommon for Virginia political candidates to move into districts with the intention of running for elected office, a practice referred to by critics as carpetbagging.
Almost a year ago, Loudoun County Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) moved his family into a house in Sterling in Virginia's 86th District, an area that borders Fairfax and Loudoun counties, so he could run against Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Herndon). Miller lost in November.
Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) moved his family down the street in 2006 so he could run for state Senate because his old house was about 500 feet from the district boundary.
In 2001, Del. James M. Shuler (D-Montgomery) moved his belongings to one of his three houses -- a home in southwest Virginia -- to avoid getting gerrymandered out of his public post by Republicans.
He later moved back to his Blacksburg home to run for a seat vacated by Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath).
Shuler said he's confident the practice is not a big issue with voters. "The fact of the matter is voters probably don't care about the boundary lines because they never know where they were to begin with."