WINCHESTER — Local attorney Irina Khanin announced Wednesday that she is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the 29th District seat in the House of Delegates.
The seat was vacated by Republican Chris Collins on June 28 after he was appointed a 26th Judicial District-General District Court judge. Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam set a special election for Nov. 3 to fill the remainder of Collins’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2021.
This isn’t Khanin’s first time running in the 29th District. She ran against Collins in the November 2019 election but was defeated, with Collins receiving 64.4% of the vote to Khanin’s 35.6%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
Although the 29th District typically votes Republican, Khanin said entering last year’s race was “totally worth it,” even though she knew “how much of an uphill climb it would be.” She said she believes she offered many solutions and discovered “a huge amount of enthusiasm” among local Democrats.
In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she maintains the issues she campaigned on last year are more important than ever.
She said improving access to high-speed internet in the 29th District, which includes the city of Winchester and parts of Frederick and Warren counties, has “moved up” on her list of priorities, as more people are working, going to school and having online medical appointments from home.
Khanin said the need for improved broadband was an issue before COVID-19 hit, “but now with telehealth it’s completely crucial. This is the only way some people can access health care. And with schools being either all online or partially online, that access … there is no price to put on it.”
She said the pandemic has “crashed into our lives and uprooted everything” and that she hopes to “stop the bleeding.” If elected, one of her goals will be to work with the state legislature to try to prevent the state’s economy from plummeting while simultaneously keeping Virginians safe from the coronavirus.
“We want to help our local businesses as much as we can,” Khanin said. “But we also want to make sure that the employees of these businesses and owners are safe. That their customers are safe. We want to make sure that the schools do what they can as far as educating kids in person and online and help parents not lose their jobs because they have to stay home with their kids. But we also need to do those things safely. We need to protect the teachers. We need to protect the students.”
She said the General Assembly needs to collect evidence on the best way to proceed with the pandemic and “constantly be ready for correction” as new information becomes available.
Khanin’s other priorities include providing affordable housing, making sure teachers are paid well and ensuring that health care is accessible and affordable.
“... We need to continue improving access to affordable quality health care that is so critical now, including access to mental health services,” Khanin said. “Overdosing is back on the rise, the level of additional stress and anxiety experienced by children and adults alike as a result of the pandemic has also increased tremendously. Our frontline workers are dealing with burnouts.”
Khanin, 50, is a native of Russia. She said she came to the U.S. at age 20 because her father, an architect, had become increasingly threatened by the KGB. She turned 21 while in the process of immigrating and was granted political asylum.
She attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, majoring in political science, and then completed law school at the University of Virginia.
She has lived in the Northern Shenandoah Valley for close to 20 years. She lives in Winchester with her husband Dr. Jeffrey Feit, vice president for population health for Valley Health System. She is an active member of the Winchester Education Foundation and Northwestern Community Services Board
Khanin says she has a wide range of life experiences, work experiences and educational experiences that make her a good fit for the job and allow her to look at things from different perspectives.
So far, Khanin is the only Democrat to enter the race. Winchester-Frederick County Democratic Committee Chairman Bill Fuller said there will be a virtual caucus in the second week of August for Democrats to choose their nominee.
Two Republicans are vying for the GOP nod: Richard Traczyk, 76, of Frederick County, and Bill Wiley, 49, of Winchester. Republicans will choose their nominee at a firehouse primary on Aug. 8 at Millwood Station Banquet Hall.