Former Prince William NOW president launches bid for state delegate

By Jill Palermo
As printed in the Prince William Times

Lake Ridge resident Hala Ayala has been active in the local political scene for a while. She volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2012 and re-launched Prince William County’s dormant NOW chapter, becoming its president in 2014.

Now, Ayala says she’s ready to take it to the next level. The 43-year-old mother of two launched a campaign last week for the 51st District state delegate’s seat, currently held by Del. Rich Anderson, a Republican serving in his fourth term.

Ayala said she made the jump because she doesn’t think voters in the diverse 51st District “are having their voices represented in Richmond.”

“I’m passionate about the families in our community and I want them to be represented equally and fairly in Richmond,” Ayala said in an interview with the Times.

If elected, Ayala said she will fight for issues that benefit women and families, including expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage and ensuring women earn equal pay for equal work. Toward that goal, Ayala said she would urge her fellow state lawmakers to support the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ayala said she became more aware of systemic inequality through her involvement in NOW, the National Organization for Women. She also cites the 2010 documentary “Miss Representation” for inspiring her to become politically active. The film argues there are too few positive role models for young girls and that the media shirk their responsibility to showcase them.

“It struck a chord with me … it was like being gut-punched,” Ayala said of the film. “At that point, I said we’ve got to do something about this. We’ve got to take a stand in our communities.”

Ayala is the second Democrat to enter the race. Ken Boddye, a member of the Prince William Progress Coalition, announced his candidacy late last year. The two will face off in the Democratic primary June 13.

Ayala waited until about a week before the March 30 filing deadline to announce her candidacy. She attributed the delay to the many decisions she faced to run, including leaving her job as a cyber-security analyst with the Department of Homeland Security. She also had to take a hiatus from her position with NOW.

“I had to talk with my children, talk with my family, I had to talk with my [NOW] board members because I’m passionate about everything,” she said.

Ayala is a native of Prince William County. She went to Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary, Fred Lynn Middle and Woodbridge Senior High School, where her son, 19, and daughter, 22, also graduated. She has a degree in psychology.

Like many residents in minority-majority eastern Prince William, Ayala’s background is diverse. Her last name, Ayala (eye-ala) is Hispanic, due to her father’s Salvadorian and North-African roots. Her first name, Hala, is Middle Eastern, her mother being Irish and Lebanese.

“It’s a little like Ragu,” Ayala jokes. “It’s all in there.”

The 51st District stretches across the center of the county, from just northwest of Occoquan, in eastern Prince William, to Nokesville on the county’s western border. The 51st has been targeted by Democratic operatives as one of the “Clinton 17,” districts that voted for Hillary Clinton last fall but are held by Republicans.

Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel, was first elected in 2009, when he beat Democrat Paul Nichols in a squeaker by just 269 votes. Since then, he’s gained a reputation for his work on veterans’ issues and distracted driving and is known for the time he devotes to constituent outreach.

Anderson, 61, was uncontested in 2011 and 2015 and beat his 2013 opponent, Reed Heddleston, by nearly 2,000 votes. His wife, Ruth Anderson, was elected to the Prince William Board of Supervisors in 2015.

Ayala said there’s reason to be hopeful Democrats will remain energized this year. A recent NOW town hall meeting, held a few weeks after the Women’s March in Washington, attracted a crowd of more than 250 women, she said.

Trump’s election, she added, inspired her to “walk the talk.”

“If someone is voting to restrict my rights or to loosen gun-safety laws or is discriminatory toward immigrants, its painful to watch,” she added. “I just decided it’s time to get off the sidelines. Enough is enough.”