FALLS CHURCH, VA — Democrat Saddam Azlan Salim is facing incumbent State Sen. J.C. “Chap” Petersen in the June 20 Democratic Party Primary.
This current election cycle is the first time that candidates will be running in newly redrawn districts. Salim and Petersen are competing to be their party’s candidate on the November ballot in the 37th District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, the Town of Vienna, and parts of Tysons, Oakton, and Merrifield.
A resident of Falls Church, Salim is a federal financial consultant. This is the first time he has sought elective office.
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Early voting for the primary got underway on May 3 and runs through June 17, which is the Saturday before the primary. More information about voting in Fairfax City, Falls Church and Fairfax County is available online.
Patch invited each of the candidates in the 37th District race to fill out a questionnaire about their campaign. The following are Salim’s responses.
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Saddam Azlan Salim
State Senate, 37th District
Age (at the time of election)
Family: Names, ages and any pertinent detail you wish to share.
I live with my parents and my brother and sister in Falls Church. My brother recently married and had his first child, my niece. We live in a multi-family household so we can take care of my parents and also support my brother as his family grows.
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government? This includes any relatives who work in the government you’re running for.
None of my family or relatives work for the state government. I do work as a federal contractor, but we don’t have contracts with the state.
Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Public Administration, George Mason University
Occupation – Please include years of experience
Federal Financial Consultant, 7 years experience
Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office
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Why are you seeking elective office?
I am an immigrant from Bangladesh, whose family came here after climate catastrophes in the late 1990s. After arriving here, my family was evicted onto the streets and made homeless so our home could be turned into luxury housing. It was mostly policies enacted by Democrats, like Fairfax County’s affordable housing program and local community health centers, that helped my family stay afloat and eventually thrive. I am also a product of our great public schools, community colleges, and public universities. You could say that I’m proof that those policies work — that when we invest in these critical issues, it produces people like me, someone who went from no English to a Master’s degree, who is ready to serve and give back to his community. I am running to ensure that more Virginia families can benefit from the same programs that helped me. I know firsthand why things like housing and healthcare matter and I am emblematic of the next generation in this region – I’m focused on caring for my aging parents while also planning for the future of my family. So I know what challenges we need to meet and what the future will bring for Virginia.
My opponent has been in office a long time, and I think he’s taken community support for granted. He’s cast some votes that go against our best interests, like voting against an assault weapons ban in 2020. He is one of the most conservative Democrats in the State Senate, who votes with Democrats only 67% of the time. We deserve a Senator who’s there for us 100% of the time. We need someone who will fight for gun violence prevention, defend reproductive rights and the LGBTQIA+ community, support our public school system and look forward rather than backwards for what Virginia needs.
The single most pressing issue facing District 37 is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
Gun violence prevention. We have had more mass shootings than days in the calendar year so far. Governor Youngkin just announced $2.4 million for active shooter drills – it’s like he’s just decided that we have to live like this. Meanwhile, he’s refusing to take the $5 million in funding to implement red flag laws, so that’s money we could be using for gun violence prevention that we’re just leaving on the table. And Chap Petersen has certainly been willing to accommodate the Republican agenda in the past by voting with them on guns. That’s not acceptable and I will fight in Richmond for more gun violence prevention legislation — we need an assault weapons ban, we need stronger restrictions for gun sales and transfers, more safe storage restrictions, we need to fund and implement red flag laws and we need a ban on ghost guns.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
Our backgrounds are very different — I am an immigrant who grew up in poverty, after facing climate change disasters, homelessness and so on. I know what working people are going through in this district. My father worked his way up from a dishwasher to head chef of the Indian restaurant Haandi in Falls Church — I know what it means to live on less than $50,000 in this area. As a younger person I’ve coped with active shooter drills in schools and I know it’s not normal. I also lost half of my family back in Bangladesh to COVID-19, so I know how people have suffered through the pandemic. Despite all those things, I’ve overcome a lot and made the most of the resources available to me. I’ve seen that when we invest in people, we get good returns on that investment — so for me it’s about supporting people with what they need most and fighting for the changes they need us to make.
My opponent will tell you he’s the descendent of Confederate officers, that he grew up here, and he will talk about his connections to local political life. My sense is that he’s a good family man, but I think he’s lost touch with what it means to serve the people he represents as a Democratic State Senator. He has his own law firm and the overlap between that law firm and his work in the Legislature is a concern. You shouldn’t be appointing judges on the Judiciary committee when you know you have cases coming up in front of those same judges. That’s part of the old boy network in Virginia that we need to change.
I also think he’s just too conservative on a lot of the issues. He will listen to the gun lobby when he should be listening to constituents. When we had the chance to get an assault weapons ban passed in 2020, he wouldn’t vote with Democrats to get it done. He voted against raising the marriage age, a really baffling move, and he’s been reluctant to support LGBTQIA+ rights and reproductive rights. He sued a sitting Democratic governor during COVID and refused to acknowledge the role of masks in containing the virus during the pandemic — his rhetoric sounded more like Trump than a Democratic State Senator. The voters deserve a nominee who reflects real Democratic values, not someone we have to argue into doing the right thing.
If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)?
The biggest failure has been not voting for the assault weapons ban in 2020. Democrats held the Governor’s seat and both houses in the General Assembly. It was the moment to get that done for the people. And instead of working to address his concerns to get the bill passed, Chap Petersen went on Fox News to talk about how “Second Amendment activists” changed his mind. That was the moment we could have passed an assault weapons ban, and he didn’t deliver on that for us. Saying he’d vote for it now is beside the point – we don’t have a Governor that would sign that into law now. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time, when it matters most.
I have also talked a lot with people about how he’s interfered in local government to stop cities from changing Confederate street names or removing Confederate monuments. There was an entire process the City of Fairfax went through to change those street names — listening sessions and a community conversation — and he didn’t participate in that, he just sent a letter on his State Senate letterhead lambasting the process that so many people worked on. That’s not leadership on this issue. We need to be focused on forging the right future for Virginia, one that is inclusive of diversity while respectful of our history, and lauding the Confederacy just sends the wrong message.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.
One thing I’m very passionate about is affordable housing — we are in the middle of an affordable housing crisis and I think we need to be talking about it more often. We have to start being creative to address the crisis, especially since we also have a commercial real estate crisis happening as well after the pandemic — so we have vacant office buildings and not enough housing. We need to find a way to make vacant commercial buildings into housing — business owners need a way to make those buildings viable and people need affordable housing, so it’s time to see if we can bring those two needs together. We also need to look at incentivizing local governments to get affordable housing proposals permitted and approved, so developers can bring housing to market much quicker when it’s going to house the population that needs it most.
I’m also very focused on ensuring we protect reproductive rights, in particular abortion, and that we expand access to reproductive healthcare to underserved areas. Now that North Carolina has banned abortion, people will come here for care — Virginia becomes one of the only Southern states with abortion access. We need to make sure we are ready for that, and ready to serve our own residents with whatever healthcare they need. We also need to address the maternal mortality problem in this state — that one is dear to my heart, because my own mother was affected by some of those issues. Women of color are more vulnerable to the conditions that cause maternal mortality, so we need to look at our standards of care, to see how we can improve things for them.
I’m also talking to a lot of voters about defending our LGBTQIA+ community. When the Muslim ban happened in 2017, members of the LGBTQIA+ community came out to defend the rights of the Muslim community and to speak out for us. Now, I think the tables have turned and Republicans are targeting the LGBTQIA+ community — so I feel pretty strongly that, as a Muslim, I need to be there for them and help stand up for them. Atif Qarni, the former Secretary of Education, has endorsed me and a big part of why is that we are very united on this issue. He helped write the policy that provided inclusion for trans students under Governor Northam, and I completely supported that policy. I support our FCPS School Board in fighting the Youngkin’s administration as they attempt to roll back rights for trans and non-binary students. And as a State Senator, I will also sponsor legislation to protect LGBTQIA+ people.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
I work as a financial manager, so I have learned how to negotiate budgets and conduct business for the federal government. I would bring that strength to the State Senate — we are losing Senator Janet Howell, who is retiring, so we need someone with budget experience and skill. I also attended the Emerging Leaders Program at the Sorensen Institute, so I feel like I’ve spent some time already thinking about what needs to happen at the state level. I was also the first person in my family to get a master’s degree and I was able to do that without student loan debt, something I’m very proud of. And finally, I helped found South Asians for America, which was originally South Asians for Biden — I’m very proud of the work we did to get President Biden elected and turn the country around.
The best advice ever shared with me was:
Someone told me at the start of the campaign that I should just keep going, no matter what obstacles I find in my way, because it’s about the fight to get people what they need and not about any one candidate. I keep my mind on that fact – about the people out there who really need politicians to do the right thing. Lives are on the line when it comes to things like gun violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQIA+ issues. So, I try to ask myself every day, did I raise awareness on these issues? Did I do something to make sure we’re heading in a better direction? That’s been a really helpful way for me to reframe the tougher moments so I keep myself focused on what really matters in this race.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
I’m really grateful to this community for the support I’ve already received — I was raised here, educated here and I’ve thrived here thanks to the work that Democrats have already done to make this a great place to live. I want people to know that I’m ready to serve them now I want to repay their kindness to me and be the person they can rely on now. On Election Day, it will actually be the 20th anniversary of my coming to this country. It’s really an incredible thing, to go from speaking no English, displaced by climate change and living on the streets of DC, to being on the ballot in Virginia. We live in such an amazing community and I am looking forward to where we go from here.
READ J.C. “Chap” Petersen’s responses to this candidate questionnaire.
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