Few groups have a less prominent role in Stafford County than the Democratic Party, but that will change, at least for today, as area Democrats are throwing a party for longtime activist Delia Trevino Zisman.
Zisman served as chairman of the Stafford County Democratic Committee from 1992 to 1996 and currently is vice chairman of the First Congressional District of the Democratic Party of Virginia. A slew of prominent Democrats will pay tribute to her today at 10 a.m. at the Riverside Center in south Stafford, including likely gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner and former Fredericksburg mayor Lawrence Davies. Organizers expect about 150 people to attend.
"She's a very dedicated person," said Alane Callander, chairman of the Stafford County Democratic Committee, which is host of the party at Riverside Theater. "She's an energetic, charismatic person. She makes friends easily. She's outgoing, spirited, gets people moving. She's a very important person to the Democratic Party in the region."
Among Zisman's accomplishments are organizing the biggest Democratic rally in Stafford history (500 people), to back incumbent Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) in 1994, and serving as campaign manager for Davies, who in 1988 became Fredericksburg's first African-American mayor.
To Zisman, who relishes the behind-the-scenes "grunt work" that others avoid, the party in her honor will be a mixed moment of pride and embarrassment.
"I'm embarrassed on the one hand," Zisman said, "and honored because I was the first minority person elected to chair the Democratic Committee in Stafford."
Indeed, Zisman, a Mexican-American, has spent most of her life championing minority issues. She was one of the originators of the Fredericksburg Area Community Relations Organization, a multicultural group dedicated to improving relations between the races. She also is active in the National Organization for the Advancement of Hispanics and the NAACP. Zisman teaches at John F. Pattie Elementary School in Prince William County.
"Historically, the Democratic Party has done very much for minorities," she noted. "I've been very involved with Fredericksburg area community relations organizations. What I see in high schools seems to be a denial of what goes on between whites and minorities.
"If you interview an African American or Hispanic," Zisman continued, "they'll talk about subtle and not-so-subtle acts of discrimination. But if you talk to whites, they'll say we get along just fine."
The fete for Zisman comes at a time when Democrats are feeling optimistic about their prospects of increasing their influence in Stafford, despite the fact that a Democrat has not been on the Board of Supervisors in more than 10 years, and no Democrat currently holds any elected position in the county.
But Democrats think that Peter Fields, who will be playing classical guitar as part of today's festivities, stands a solid chance of unseating longtime Republican Alvin Y. Bandy for the George Washington seat.
And even if Fields is unsuccessful, party organizers see abundant opportunities to expand their base in the new residents moving from other parts of Northern Virginia.
"Everybody [in Stafford] isn't a Republican," Callander said. "We have to identify new Democrats; there's a lot of new residents."
For today, though, the party will content itself with celebrating one of its older members. "I always thought when you have something like this, I thought it's for someone that's 75," Zisman said. "I'm only 72!"