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Similar on policies, Bennett-Parker and Levine differ on style in 45th District debate

At a debate Monday night, Delegate Mark Levine couldn’t think of any policy differences between his opponent, Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

“I’m not sure there are any,” Levine told Alexandria and Arlington Democrats in a Zoom debate.

Levine wants voters to check his name twice on the ballot on June 8, as he runs in the Democratic primary for both lieutenant governor and his 45th District seat in the House of Delegates.

“It’s a weird situation,” he said. “If I win both races, obviously I’ll resign my delegate seat in time to make sure that we have a full election prior to the ’22 session, because I want to make sure that seat is filled by a strong progressive Democrat.”

Bennett-Parker said Levine’s plan, if successful, would end up costing the region more than $100,000 in election costs, including the printing of new ballots, and paying staff and election officers and postage for ballots in the three jurisdictions that fall within the 45th District.

“Local taxpayers and local governments have special elections, and those costs are increasing because of COVID,” she said. “Culpepper County held a special election earlier this year and it cost them about $86,000. Their population is smaller than this district. This district encompasses three different jurisdictions, so I think it’s safe to assume that the cost might be a little bit more here.”

As for their differences, Bennett-Parker said they were more about “perspective, experience, style and focus.”

“I think my style is very collaborative and I work effectively with officials, not only on my own Council but across the region,” Bennett-Parker said, without commenting on whether Levine’s style is also collaborative.

It’s no secret that Levine is louder and more aggressive, while Bennett-Parker is more quiet and calculating.

Levine said that his work ethic has resulted in an important endorsement from House Speaker Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, and that his office is strong in constituent services.

“I have the perspective of an outsider,” Levine said. “I fought for marriage equality for 20 years. I know the pain of being left out and I fight really hard, but I also have the experience of an insider… I get into the details of legislating, and I get those details right.”

Bennett-Parker also said that Virginia’s funding formula for public schools needs revamping. Levine agreed.

“This is a flawed system that needs to be fixed because it only exacerbates existing inequities,” Bennett-Parker said. “We need to fix this formula, because education funding is the largest single portion of our budget in both Alexandria and Arlington.”

Both candidates also support repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law, and ending the Medicaid waiver waitlist, which had more than 13,000 Virginians waiting for coverage in 2020.

Levine touted his record of bills passed, and said that he’s not a “go along guy.”

“I’m not a newcomer, and you know how hard I’ve worked,” he said. “I’m the guy who pushes the ball forward and makes us more progressive, that’s the reason why I’ve been rated the second most progressive legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, I’d appreciate your vote twice for me.”

Bennett-Parker said that her perspective as co-director of the nonprofit Together We Bake also sets her apart, in addition to serving on City Council the last three years.

“I’m proud of the work that I’ve done as Vice Mayor,” she said. “I will always roll up my sleeves and work collaboratively to solve issues and deliver results for our district.”

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