Press Club

Democratic Precinct Captain Booted for Supporting Independent School Board Candidate

(Updated at 9:15 p.m.) Arlington Democrats have forced out a precinct captain for supporting a School Board candidate who had to withdraw from seeking the party’s endorsement because she’s a federal employee.

Heather Keppler said in an email obtained by ARLnow that she was pressured to step down as the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s captain for the Lexington precinct because of her support of Symone Walker, a “lifelong Democrat.”

Though School Board races in Virginia are technically nonpartisan, with no party designation next to candidate names on the ballot, Arlington Democrats endorse candidates each year through a party caucus. Walker, a federal employee, initially sought the endorsement, but withdrew after another candidate filed complaints about her candidacy being a Hatch Act violation due to her federal employment.

Walker is now facing the two Democratic endorsees, Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, in November’s general election.

Keppler, according to a statement from the campaign, is Walker’s campaign manager. The statement called the situation “disturbing” and characterized the party’s actions as “shamefully undemocratic.”

“The ACDC caucus process disenfranchises Black and other minority voters and effectively blocks federal workers from serving in their local government when the Hatch Act provides a pathway to do so,” Walker’s campaign said. “We will not be intimidated and will continue to keep our students, teachers, staff, and families the priority of our campaign, unlike ACDC whose only priority is their own power.”

Jill Caiazzo, Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said it’s against party rules to support the opponents of Democratic candidates and endorsees.

“The Arlington Dems bylaws require party officials, such as Precinct Captains, to support all Democratic nominees and endorsees in general and special elections,” Caiazzo said. “If a party official cannot do so for whatever reason, they are asked to take a step back from their party leadership role until the next election cycle, when they are welcomed back to party leadership.”

A similar situation played out with current Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, who faced a temporary expulsion from the local party after supporting independent County Board candidate John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howze in 2014.

Julius Spain, Sr., a community activist and supporter of Walker, said the move to oust her campaign manager from the local party’s ranks — even temporarily — is unnecessarily divisive.

“As a Democrat, I am highly disappointed by the recent decision of ACDC to remove Ms. Walker’s Campaign Manager, Heather Keppler, from her role as a local Democratic party precinct captain,” Spain said. “Ms. Keppler was yet another dedicated Democrat who has done so much over the years to advance inclusivity within our party. This decision did more to divide rather than unite us.”

(Spain is also the head of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which does not endorse candidates.)

Keppler’s full email is below.

The Arlington County Democrats (ACDC) have asked me to step down immediately as Precinct Captain because I am supporting Symone Walker, a lifelong Democrat, federal employee, and Black woman running for school board as an independent. She also happens to be by far the most qualified candidate.

Arlington County currently has a huge equity gap among its white and Black students. One group of students is far less likely to be identified as gifted or enrolled in AP and other advanced classes, but much more likely to be suspended or expelled. You can guess which. It’s great to be white in Arlington County. For decades, these inequities have been embedded in by school board and other county policies that are completely written and perpetuated by “Democrats”.

Now we have the opportunity — with Symone —  to really make a difference for Black students. But somehow she’s worse than a Republican to our county party. When I asked why Republicans could run in our Democratic caucus, I was told “it’s a big tent.” But apparently this tent doesn’t extend to federal employees, who are forbidden by their employer from running a partisan race. (And who are far more diverse than most of our communities: 18 percent are Black.) School board, of course, is non-partisan. The AC/DC chooses to hold a partisan caucus anyway.

Despite disagreeing with the party’s decision to hold a partisan caucus in a non-partisan race, I stayed in the party, hoping I could create change from within. Now I see that it’s impossible with current party leadership.

When I supported all of the Democratic candidates in 2016 and 2017, I was given the Jean Crawford Women’s Leadership Award. When I disagreed this year and wanted to support a lifelong Democrat who wasn’t allowed to participate in ACDC’s caucus, I was asked to leave. This is tyranny, enforced through weaponized bureaucracy and small minds.

I am also disappointed by elected officials who initially endorsed Symone but have been intimidated party leaders into toeing their line. Stand up for what you believe. That’s why we elected you.

And by the way, I was told to resign during the holiest day of the Jewish year, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. AC/DC also scheduled it’s  Logic and Accurate testing on Yom Kippur. So much for a big tent?

I also was asked to resign AFTER I made sure the party’s flyers were delivered to precinct homes — flyers that do not have Symone’s name on them.

Now I’m telling you to look closely at the party’s recommended candidates and learn about their policies. I suspect many of you will disagree with the ACDC endorsements.

Symone Walker is a progressive candidate and the most experienced and qualified for the job.  I highly recommend you check her out and vote for her for school board.

It’s been fun serving you the past two years!

Your ex-Lexington precinct captain

Heather Keppler

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