Nadarius Clark could be first Black delegate in his Virginia House district

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The 26-year-old progressive organizer would be the district's first Black representative.

For Nadarius Clark, running for office is personal.

Clark, 26, is the Democratic nominee running to represent Virginia's 79th District in the House of Delegates.

Clark is a native and current resident of the district, which includes parts of Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Portsmouth in the Tidewater region of the state.

If elected, he would be the youngest Democrat ever elected to the state house and the first African American to represent the district.

Clark is running as a proud progressive. He has been endorsed by the Tidewater Democratic Socialists of America, though he does not call himself a socialist. If elected to the House of Delegates, Clark says, he would work to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand health care coverage, pass campaign finance reform, and limit new fossil fuel projects in Virginia.

Clark currently works full-time as a director with the Outreach Team, a national nonprofit consulting and field organizing group. But he points to his own life experience as the starting point for the development of his political convictions.

Growing up, Clark says, racial discrimination was unavoidable. He remembers being followed in stores and being turned away from neighborhood businesses by cashiers who said they "didn't take Black money." His parents, he said, were regularly underpaid because of their race.

Clark's real political wake-up call came when he was a student at Virginia Union University, a historically Black university in Richmond. Donald Trump had just been elected president after spending his campaign stoking racist fears. After his election in November 2016, white supremacist groups around the country celebrated Trump's victory as one of their own.

In Richmond, members of the Ku Klux Klan celebrated Trump's election by marching down Monument Avenue, just a few blocks from VUU's campus. At the time, the avenue prominently featured statues celebrating leaders of the Confederacy.

"I saw the fear my colleagues were experiencing by having a hate group so close to our campus," Clark said.

Jarred by the Klan's presence and Trump's impending inauguration, Clark felt he had to take action. Along with other VUU students, Clark helped create the first chapter of Generation Now Network, a faith-based campus social justice group.

Clark and his fellow activists went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for expanding Medicaid. While there, they learned organizing tactics from some of the former Memphis sanitation workers who, with the encouragement of Martin Luther King Jr., staged a historic strike in 1968 for union recognition, higher safety standards, and higher wages.

After graduating, Clark worked for the nonprofit For Our Future Virginia, was a regional operations director for Joe Biden's campaign, and worked for the mayor of Portsmouth. Clark also hosts a radio show on 94.7 FM The Link, a hip-hop and R&B station.

Clark was inspired to run for political office after learning about the voting record of Steve Heretick, his district's delegate to the Virginia House. Heretick was one of five Democratic delegates to vote against ending qualified immunity for police officers. Heretick was also the only Democrat to vote against a bill that allows Virginia localities to remove Confederate statues without requiring state approval.

Since 2015, when he was first elected, Heretick had run unopposed in the district's primary and general elections. That changed this year.

Clark announced his candidacy in early 2020, driven in part by a desire to "break that status quo of what a politician is," he told the American Independent Foundation.

At first, Clark's campaign team consisted of him and his family, who knocked on doors and gathered signatures for Clark to be on the Democratic primary ballot.

His campaign picked up steam from there, and Clark's supporters eventually knocked on 20,000 doors during the primary.

"When we were going to doors, the thing we'd hear the most is, 'Who's Steve Heretick?'" Sullivan Peterson, Clark's campaign manager, told the American Independent Foundation. "Nobody knew who he was."

"There are a lot of voters down here that campaign after campaign has taken for granted," Peterson added. "When I go to doors, when Nadarius goes to doors, one of the big things we hear is, 'You are the first person ever to show up.'"

On June 8, Clark beat Heretick in Virginia's Democratic primary by a six-point margin, 47%-41%. Clark won by just 234 votes.

The primary became something of a proxy battle between the state-regulated private utility Dominion Energy and its critics, chief among them anti-Dominion billionaire Michael Bills.

About one-quarter of Heretick's campaign cash came from Dominion Energy. By comparison, roughly 86% of Clark's campaign contributions came from people and political action committees associated with Bills — including the progressive PACs Clean Virginia and Commonwealth Forward — and Bills' wife, Sonjia Smith. In total, Heretick's campaign raised $463,981 and Clark's campaign raised $538,353.

Clark's campaign has maintained that it is first and foremost a grassroots effort.

"Larger donors obviously are giving larger amounts, but it's not like there is some huge disconnect between the kind of folks that you want to see support you in your own community," Peterson said.

"Nadarius definitely has a lot of that grassroots support, and it has not changed his mind on where he stands on campaign finance reform. It is a desperate need in Virginia to reform and cap donations from PACs and corporations. And these are things Nadarius was talking about long before Clean Virginia got involved in this race."

Clark now faces Lawrence Mason in Virginia's general election on Nov. 2. Mason is the first Republican since 2001 to contest the seat.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.