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Mittiga, Toscano discuss policies ahead of June primary

Over 200 attend forum between Democratic candidates for House of Delegates seat

<p>The two candidates for the Democratic Party Nomination for the Virginia House of Delegates 57th district seat Del. David Toscano and Ross Mittiga.&nbsp;</p>

The two candidates for the Democratic Party Nomination for the Virginia House of Delegates 57th district seat Del. David Toscano and Ross Mittiga. 

Over 200 people attended a forum between the two Democratic candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates 57th district — incumbent David Toscano and challenger Ross Mittiga — Wednesday night in Nau Hall. The event is the only currently scheduled joint-appearance of the two candidates before the Democratic Party primary on June 13

The University Democrats co-sponsored the event with the Charlottesville Democratic Party. Brett Curtis, a third-year Curry student and University Democrats president, said they began planning the forum after spring break.

“As we’re seeing all across the country, young people and students, especially at the University of Virginia, want to get involved in the political process,” Curtis said. “The minority leader of the Democratic Party is our representative in Charlottesville, he’s running for reelection, and has a primary challenger, and we wanted to help start conversations that students and member of the Charlottesville and Albemarle community want to be a part of in an open forum where they could do so.”

Toscano serves as the minority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The forum opened with each candidate giving a three-minute introduction. The candidates then responded to questions prepared by the University Democrats. The floor was then opened to questions from those attending the forum or watching the livestream.

The forum lasted for two hours, with the audience asking 12 questions. Not every person in line to speak was able to ask their question.

The questions touched on topics including campaign finance, nuclear energy and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

This is Mittiga’s first political campaign. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the University’s Department of Politics, studying environmental political theory. Climate change-related issues are among the key points of Mittiga’s platform.

“I came to environmental research while at U.Va. And that, in so many ways, has changed my life,” Mittiga said. “It was my research here at the University of Virginia that really, in some sense, radicalized me. It gave me the time to reflect on a very important issue and that issue connected me with a community of people who cared deeply about the issue.”

Toscano has been the 57th district representative since 2006, and has served as House Minority Leader since 2012. While Toscano had to run a primary campaign in 2005, he has not faced a primary challenger until this year.

“It’s very different because the electorate is so different and the groups that come out are so different,” Toscano said. “The group tonight was stacked toward students and people opposed to the pipeline, and as a result of having all these questions asked about the pipeline, we didn’t talk about a lot of things that we actually do in Richmond.”

During the forum, Chelsea Granados, a fourth-year College student, asked both candidates for a yes or no answer in regards to whether they support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Mittiga said he opposes the pipeline, stating “no new pipelines,” and argued the pipeline would disproportionately affect people of color.

Toscano would not directly say either yes or no, pointing out that the pipeline could help workers. He said he would like to see the pipeline reduced in size, moved away from water and not run through Nelson or Buckingham counties.

Toscano said he saw the event as a good opportunity to learn more and sharpen his arguments.

“I’ve been sharpening them around Republicans, now I’m sharpening them on people who are little bit left of center,” Toscano said. “It’s great to have people come out and express their points of view and ask questions. Any really good candidate will learn from every question that gets asked or any comment that gets made and incorporate that into their worldview.”

As the 57th district is a historically Democratic seat, the Democratic candidate will likely win the seat in November. Also, no Republican candidates have entered the race. As a result, both candidates are campaigning hard, and the University Democrats have planned initiatives to get out the vote.

Toscano said he’ll do more outreach, and Mittiga encouraged students registered to vote in Charlottesville to vote absentee if they will be out of town in June.

Curtis said the University Democrats are working together with the Charlottesville and Albemarle Democratic parties to encourage voter turnout.

“It’s all about coordinating our efforts to ensure come November, we have a united front to be able to put forward the best candidates, and the best organizing and ability to turn out the vote as well,” Curtis said. “This is one opportunity to reach out to the community and participate, not just as students but as C’villians and citizens.”