Two political newcomers from Alexandria -- defense consultant and former Navy officer Christopher J.T. Gregerson (R) and former Air Force officer David L. Englin (D) -- are vying for the House of Delegates seat in District 45, which is vacant for the first time since 1982.
Gregerson, 55, a retired Navy commander and a volunteer tutor, has centered his campaign on such traditional Republican themes as lower property taxes and transportation and on at least one novel idea: He's a big proponent of the use of biodiesel fuel.
Englin, 30, surprised some local political observers this year when he beat a field of five other candidates -- some much better-known than he -- to win the Democratic primary for the district, which includes the eastern side of Alexandria as well as three precincts near Shirlington in Arlington and six in southeastern Fairfax County.
In debates and on the campaign trail, Englin has sought to paint himself as the worthy Democratic successor to the "legacy" left by Del. Marian Van Landingham (D), who decided late last year not to run again after she had a recurrence of cancer. An artist and popular figure in Old Town, Van Landingham had served in the House since 1982 and was one of its most senior members.
"I am the one candidate who will carry on Marian Van Landingham's progressive leadership for the district," said Englin, who is a former Air Force captain.
From the den of their Del Ray home, Englin and his wife, Shayna, ran an energetic campaign that included a staff of young volunteers and a string of rented phone banks.
Englin -- who sits on Alexandria's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and is active in the parent teacher association of their son's elementary school, Cora Kelly -- said that increasing affordable housing assistance to lower- and middle-income residents is a top priority.
He supports the plan to increase financing for pre-kindergarten programs espoused by the Democratic candidate for governor, Timothy M. Kaine. He also argues that the state should opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Virginia lawmakers have said the state may want to withdraw from the program, forgoing $350 million in federal support, if the state is not given more flexibility in implementing the program.
Gregerson said that his anger over hearing Englin's position on No Child Left Behind is the reason he entered the race. He tutors students in math at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria and serves on the board of Communities in Schools of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit group working to help young people stay in school to prepare for life.
"My opponent wants to obliterate No Child Left Behind . . . but they need all the help they can get. They're names and faces to me, not just concepts," Gregerson said. "I started to run mostly because I thought the central issues to our community were not being addressed."
He favors remaining in the federal program while expanding mentoring for younger students and vocational programs for high-schoolers.
He also advocates establishing an alternative fuel zone for Northern Virginia, which would encourage jurisdictions to expand their municipal fleets to include more cars that run on alternative fuel, such as biodiesel fuels made from vegetable oils.
As does Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, Gregerson advocates widening Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway but adds the caveat that only if it can be done within existing sound barriers. He supports Kilgore's plan to cap property assessment increases at 5 percent a year.
"I want to educate those left behind, use renewable fuels to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and do what we can to cap property taxes," Gregerson said.