WILLIAMSBURG - Republican Heather Cordasco and her Democratic opponent for the 93rd House of Delegates district seat, Mike Mullin, put their opposing views of gun reform, Medicaid and childhood education on display this week.
Cordasco, the former vice chairwoman of the Williamsburg-James City School Board, and Mullin, a Suffolk prosecutor, held a back-and-forth debate Wednesday evening at the Williamsburg Library.
The House seat is open because Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, is resigning to run for the state Senate once held by the late John Miller, who died in April.
While Cordasco and Mullin agreed on little, they did find accord in the need to address Virginia’s infrastructure issues. Both candidates agreed that prioritizing projects is important.
“We need to do more to expand (Interstate) 64 all the way to Richmond,” Mullin said. “There needs to be an investment made regionally not just on a locality base.”
I-64 is currently being renovated from Williamsburg to Newport News.
Mullin is a third generation Virginian who attended Christopher Newport University and now lives in Newport News. He has three boys who range from 1 to 5 years old. He is a prosecutor who focuses on cases involving gang violence, child predators and domestic violence.
Mullin says he can see the strengths and weaknesses of the public education system because his son is in the public school system as a pre-kindergartner.
Cordasco is a former vice chairwoman of the Williamsburg James City School Board and sees her time as a service to the community. She also has three children.
“I know where money can best be used,” said Cordasco, who believes her background will help her serve as an interpreter between school boards and the General Assembly. “I think my ability to promote big ideas and connect people would be very valuable.”
Cordasco said she has concerns about finding money for pre-K education and said federal programs are already in place. She said she wouldn’t mandate childhood education but would be interested in small, organic programs.
Cordasco was appointed to the Regional Issues Committee for the Historic Triangle in 2012 and serves as a member of the Education Committee at the Greater Williamsburg Chamber.
She said, if elected, she would join her colleagues in the House’s Republican majority and provide results.
Cordasco lost a close race for the Roberts District Board of Supervisors seat in James City County last year, falling to incumbent Supervisor John McGlennon by only 42 votes out of nearly 4,000 cast.
In a spirited back-and-forth, Mullin and Cordasco addressed gun reform after a question was submitted from the audience.
Mullin said he understands the need for gun control, referencing an instance when someone he convicted showed up to his doorstep.
“I agree personal protection is important,” Cordasco said. “Certainly we want to make sure people are safe. We want to make sure they have the opportunity to bear arms, and I’m not sure that I think there’s specific reform that can happen.”
Cordasco said she favors people safely owning firearms.
“After the scare we had in Sandy Hook and other areas, my concern was always that somebody would not be running away from a problem to go get a weapon that was locked in their trunk,” Cordasco said. “We have to be reasonable and understanding.”
Cordasco called assault weapons “a cosmetic change” from a regular gun.
“It’s not something I’m excited about having in my house,” Cordasco said. “It’s a term that’s blown out of proportion.”
“I’ve seen too many people come into my courtroom that have been shot by an AR-15 to think it’s a cosmetic difference,” Mullin said. “On a regular and routine basis, assault weapons are used in Newport News and anywhere on the Peninsula to attack our fellow citizens and our law enforcement.
“We need to be very careful about minimizing the level of gun violence that has occurred throughout Virginia and throughout our nation,” Mullin said.
Mullin said a large portion of cases he handles as a prosecutor deal with firearms that have been illegally obtained.
“We need to be doing more to encourage our ability to be able to take those illegal firearms off the streets,” Mullin said.
“Guns don’t commit violence, people using guns commit violence,” said Cordasco, eliciting both sighs and cheers.
The candidates also addressed the state’s Freedom of Information laws.
A subcommittee appointed by the legislature and the governor's office is in the process of a three-year FOIA review that will eventually make recommendations for reforms to the law to the General Assembly. The Council's final recommendations are due at the end of this year.
“Our FOIA system that we have here in Virginia is flawed,” said Mullin, who believes legislative proceedings recorded and streamed live.
Cordasco thought Virginia’s Freedom of Information rules worked better than the federal government’s and said transparency should be looked at by a case-by-case basis.
“Could we have some improvements (in transparency), sure,” Cordasco said.
Mullin said Republicans and Democrats are both at fault for the current state of redistricting reforms.
“Politicians are picking their voters, voters aren’t picking their politicians,” Mullin said.
Cordasco said it’s not easy to find places for people to vote but said she didn’t think it was a pressing concern.
Cordasco said she didn’t favor the expansion of Medicaid. Mullin said expanding the program is a “moral obligation” that needs to be considered.
Mullin and Cordasco did find some common ground for a moment.
Cordasco and Mullin agreed on not putting power lines across the James River. Both said they want to preserve the river.
Dominion Power has proposed building 500-kilavolt transmission lines connecting the utility’s Surry power station to a proposed switching station in Skiffes Creek. The proposal would cost about $181 million, not including the $85 million for mitigation.
The project is opposed by environmental and historic preservation groups, including the National Park Service, that argue the project will disrupt the viewshed along an historic section of the James River.
Cordasco has raised about $36,000, about $7,000 more than Mullin, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks campaign spending.
Mullin and Cordasco both said they plan to continue their door-to-door campaigning as they reach the final weeks before the election.
Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.
Residence: Newport News
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University and a law degree from The Catholic University of America.
Occupation: Criminal prosecutor.
Other: Certified Gang Investigator by the Virginia Gang Investigator's Association and congregant and volunteer at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church.
Residence: James City County.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in English from Nyack College in New York.
Occupation: Served on the Williamsburg/James City County School Board from 2012-2015 and now is a personal trainer.
Other: Chaired the meal committee for the Jamestown High football team and worships at Williamsburg Community Chapel.