Each year, Arlington Democrats recognizes members who have gone above and beyond to elect Democrats. We presented these awards in May at the Blue Victory Dinner. Read on to get inspired as we work to flip the Virginia General Assembly blue on Nov. 5!
Marsha Johnston, Newcomer of the Year
New volunteers renew the Democratic Party and its commitment to strong ideals each year. This award recognizes an individual who started volunteering with the Arlington Democrats for the first time in 2018 and quickly became an integral team member, bringing new ideas and new energy.
If you spent any time in Courthouse Plaza last year, there is a good chance that you met Marsha Johnston. As the leader of the Arlington Democrats In-Person Absentee Voting Poll Greeting program, Marsha spent a lot of time in Courthouse Plaza. In rain, shine and dark of night, Marsha was there to make sure that voters had Democratic sample ballots. She also inspired a terrific team of volunteers, including Jill Birdwhistle, Diana Gordon, and Sam and Debbie Kirzner, who made voting easy and fun for anyone who wandered into their in-person voting dragnet.
At the beginning of 2018, the Arlington Dems chair challenged Marsha to achieve overwhelming coverage for each hour of in-person voting, as a key element of securing an across-the-ballot win in Arlington—and Marsha delivered.
Howard Solodky, Unsung Hero Award
This award recognizes an individual whose behind-the-scenes excellence makes a significant contribution to the Arlington Dems' growth and continued success. If you delivered a Messenger last year, or attended a poll greeter training for Election Day, you may have met this year’s unsung hero: Howard Solodky. Howard is relatively new to Arlington Democrats, but he has hit the ground running.
From being a Precinct Captain in Madison to serving as the lead for both Messenger delivery organization and Election Day activities, Howard has become a fixture at Arlington Dems headquarters. He spent so much time at headquarters last year that it was only natural for him to take a leading role in the search for a new HQ, since the Arlington Dems lease is up.
Howard’s tireless work on the office search and lease negotiations paid off. In the coming weeks, the Arlington Dems will be moving to 1235 South Clark Street! It’s a terrific new home just in time for the critical 2019 election.
Richard Skinner, Precinct Captain of the Year
This award is named for Herselle Milliken, a legendary precinct captain in Arlington who worked her precinct the old-fashioned way: by knowing everyone in it. The award celebrates a precinct captain who continues that model of successful neighborhood organizing, and our honoree this year is Richard Skinner.
Richard had big shoes to fill, as he took over the precinct captain spot from the legendary Charley Conrad. But Richard was a quick learner, and he did all of the things that you would expect of a truly great precinct captain: he led voter registration events, he organized regular meetings of his precinct volunteers, he recruited new volunteers from his own building to Arlington Dems Weekend of Action events, and he worked every festival in or near his precinct in support of the Arlington Dems festivals team.
Richard did such a great job that he was promoted to the dual role of Co-Area Chair for Four Mile Area, working with the amazing Detta Kissel. And not only that, but he also served as Precinct Operations Vice Chair for outreach to Multi-Unit Buildings or MUBs. Richard applied his best-in-class MUB practices to recruiting many new Building Ambassadors in his precinct, and he shared them with other precinct captains.
Todd Harper, Campaigner of the Year
Campaigner of the Year is always a tough choice, because so many Arlington Democrats go above and beyond to elect Democrats each year. But what sets this year’s winner apart from other worthy contenders is the sheer breadth of his volunteer reach. For the first time ever, we present the Campaigner of the Year award for excellence in digital organizing to Todd Harper.
President Obama proved the power of digital organizing, but it has taken some time for local Democratic organizations to catch up. Last year, Todd revolutionized Arlington Democrats’ approach to social media communications with funny, informative and poignant posts that have made the Arlington Dems social media channels “must read” content on phones across Arlington and beyond.
Todd’s thousands of volunteer hours paid dividends in November, with Arlington Dems able to reach a dramatically increased follower base with information about our great Democratic candidates at little to no extra cost. Today, only the Fairfax Dems reach more progressives online in Virginia—but not for much longer.
The Arlington Dems will continue to follow Todd’s Facebook playbook for years to come—literally by referencing the handbook that he so painstakingly made.
Cristina Diaz-Torres, Young Democrat of the Year Award
We established the Young Democrat of the Year Award this year in recognition of the many contributions that Democrats ages 35 and younger make to the Democratic cause in a young county like Arlington. We must continually find ways to engage with new voters, and one way is by recognizing and celebrating a truly remarkable young leader: Cristina Diaz-Torres.
One of the Arlington Dems Joint Campaign Co-Chairs last year, Cristina was instrumental in the design and production of the multi-candidate grip card, the famous “Wave” yard sign, Messenger, and sample ballot. If you wore a poll greeter “sign necklace” last year, there’s a good chance Cristina made it for you. She also launched canvasses, organized meet & greets, and basically did whatever it took to secure a win across the ballot in Arlington.
Cristina has become a go-to person for any job that requires creativity, judgment, perseverance and a great sense of humor. She provides a fresh perspective to Arlington Democrats, and there’s no doubt that she has a bright future ahead of her.
Atima Omara, Jean Marshall Crawford Women's Leadership Award
This award was established to honor Jean Marshall Crawford’s legacy, not only as a long-time leader in Arlington Democratic politics, but as a leader in the women’s movement in Virginia. It recognizes an Arlington Democratic woman who was an outstanding activist this past year.
This year, we recognize the tremendous contributions of Arlingtonian and DNC member Atima Omara. As a vice chair of the DNC’s Women’s Caucus, Atima has championed women candidates and activists across the country. As a board member of Emerge Virginia and Virginia’s List and board chair of the Planned Parenthood Metro Washington Action Fund, she has provided critical support to candidates throughout Virginia. And through it all, she has somehow found time to run a successful women-owned business, appear on cable news channels, and serve as a co-chair of the Arlington Dems Joint Campaign. Despite the significant competition for her time, Atima has never hesitated to answer the call for support to her local Democratic Party, and this award is long overdue.
Cragg Hines, Mary Marshall Outstanding Democrat Award
Named for former Delegate Mary Marshall, the most prestigious award goes to an individual who not only meaningfully contributed last year, but has made Arlington Democrats and Arlington County better through years of dedicated service. This honor is also long overdue and goes to the incomparable Cragg Hines.
Cragg has made substantial contributions to countless campaigns. A feature at campaign events, you can count on him to be an early supporter for candidates in tough races and for new organizing techniques. He has an uncanny knack for seeing potential—and then for putting his money, mouth, and effort into realizing that potential in support of the Democratic cause.
Gifted with a biting sense of humor, Cragg doesn’t always stay on message when you give him a microphone at a general meeting, but he always speaks from the heart in support of Democratic candidates. And good thing too, because he has probably called more Democrats than any other activist in his role as Vice Chair for the Senior Calls Project.
Cragg could just as easily have won the Unsung Hero Award, because he always can be counted on to pitch in on behind-the-scenes projects that are critical to success. A true workhorse, his efforts have earned him the respect of Democrats across Northern Virginia—so much so that he was elected to represent the 8th Congressional District at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Since then, he has continued to distinguish himself as an unswerving supporter of Democrats and progressive causes. There is no doubt that he will continue to do so for many years to come.