Helen Zurita Manassas

Helen Zurita, whose volunteer activities include running a food bank in Manassas, is challenging Del. Lee Carter for Democratic nomination for the 50th District seat in the House of Delegates.  

A Manassas activist is challenging Del. Lee Carter in a Democratic primary for the 50th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Helen Zurita, 50, has filed paperwork to challenge Carter, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, for the nomination in the district, which covers the city of Manassas and nearby parts of Prince William County.

Carter is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor and, like many candidates running for governor or lieutenant governor, is simultaneously running for another two-year term in the House of Delegates. If he wins the governorship, a special election would be held for his House of Delegates seat.

Zurita was born in Salamanca, N.Y., a small town in southwestern New York, and was raised in Charleston, W.Va. She has lived in Virginia for 35 years and Manassas for the past 17.

She sought the Democratic nomination for three seats on Manassas City Council in 2020 and came in fourth with 863 votes

In announcing her candidacy, Zurita was critical of Carter’s tenure, saying he hasn’t connected with the community or communicated with the Manassas City Council or School Board. 

“I feel like Lee Carter has not given enough constituent services,” she said. “He has been a no-show on all levels.”

She said Carter also isn't providing enough support to residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I see the people hurting and we need the help out here now,” she said.

Carter’s campaign manager, Josh Stanfield, said Carter’s constituent services team searched its records and couldn’t find any evidence of Zurita reaching out with a concern, suggestion or complaint. Stanfield said when Carter heard about Zurita’s announcement, he was at the hospital for the birth of his child and working through a policy issue with a constituent. 

Zurita is advocating for an expansion of Medicaid by raising income levels for families. She supports more state funding for school divisions and raises for teachers.

She said the state needs to repeal the so-called right-to-work law, which prohibits unions from forcing members to pay dues as a requirement for employment.

Zurita also said Virginia needs to establish incentives and programs to lift people into employment after the pandemic subsides.  “If they’re unemployed, we need to give them incentives to find jobs."

Zurita, a night auditor for Marriott, spends the daytime as an advocate and providing food to families in need. She runs a food bank that is open 24/7 and feeds about 500 families a week.

Her advocacy came to light starting in 2016 after Manassas officials planned to step in and buy the East End Mobile Home Park after years of working to convince the owner to fix a sewage system that regularly spewed its contents all over the park. The fix would have involved evicting the park’s hundreds of residents, many of whom are Latino and couldn't afford rent elsewhere in the area.

“I didn’t do the advocacy work to get in office,” Zurita said. “I’m running this campaign because I feel like I can do more in Richmond and bring the money to constituents and get them back on their feet.”

Carter won the seat in 2017, knocking off six-term Republican incumbent and House Majority Whip Jackson Miller by almost nine points. Two years later, he held off challenges from two sitting Manassas City Council members, first beating Democrat Mark Wolfe in a primary, then defeating Republican Ian Lovejoy in the general election.

Michelle Maldonado is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Mike Allers Jr. and Dr. Steve Pleickhardt are seeking the Republican nomination, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

The nominees will be chosen in primaries on June 8. 

Nolan Stout covers Prince William County. Reach him at nstout@insidenova.com or @TheNolanStout on Facebook and Twitter.

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