Del. Lee Carter

Democratic Del. Mark Keam, of Fairfax County, jokingly displayed an image of a Soviet hammer-and-sickle behind fellow Democratic Del. Lee Carter, of Manassas, as Carter spoke against a bill he said could inadvertently harm poor Virginians. Keam later publicly apologized.

A Democratic delegate from Fairfax County delivered a public apology to Del. Lee Carter on the floor of the House of Delegates Monday after Keam jokingly displayed a Soviet hammer-and-sickle image behind Carter as Carter spoke against a bill he said could harm low-income Virginians.

Del. Mark Keam, D-35th, said he violated decorum rules of the state’s lower chamber by “making jest of one of my colleagues.”

Keam went on to add that members sometimes “go overboard by laughing and having fun with each other during our debates,” but said committee meetings should not “be a place where we bring juvenile jokes.”

“I apologize to the body and my good friend from Prince William for putting [him] in that position, and I will try to live up to my standards for this body going forward,” Keam said.

Keam’s remarks were made after the stunt, which was captured on the official House of Delegates’ video stream of a morning meeting of the House Finance Committee.

Carter was delivering a speech about the perils low-income neighborhoods sometimes face when confronted with new development while speaking in opposition to Senate Bill 883, which aims to give tax breaks to companies that bring new jobs or investment to struggling Virginia counities.

 In a text message Monday night, Lee said he was thinking of the residents of the East End Trailer Park when he said low-income neighborhoods sometimes find themselves “trying to fight the bulldozers” that threaten to “kick them off their land.”

The City of Manassas nearly purchased East End Trailer Park, on Va. 28, because of its former owner declined for years to repair the park’s faulty sewer and storm-water system. The city stepped away from that arrangement a few months ago, however, to allow the nonprofit Catholics for Housing to buy the park and fund repairs to its infrastructure, which allowed its mostly low-income residents to stay put.

But Carter noted that many aren’t so lucky, including those who lived in the Old Town Manassas apartments that were razed to make way for luxury townhomes.

“And you know, [new development might] make that locality look richer on paper,” Carter told the committee. “It’ll look like [they’ve] done something about poverty. But at the end of the day, if this is what has happened in Northern Virginia, what will happen in Southwest and Southside and the Eastern Shore?”

Just as Carter was ticking off those less-prosperous Virginia localities, Keam, who was sitting behind him, could be seen chuckling, shaking his head and fiddling with his electronic note pad.

Soon, Keam briefly held up the device up behind Carter’s head, the screen displaying a red background and a bright yellow hammer-and-sickle.

Seemingly oblivious, Carter continued, saying Petersburg could be “particularly susceptible” to such a predicament.

“What will happen is, you won’t have any poor people in those localities,” Carter added. “And it won’t be because they’ve been given any help.”

It’s not clear when or if Carter noticed he was the brunt of Keam’s joke. But by midday, the scene was replaying on Virginia news sites, including Blue Virginia, which admonished the stunt as “NOT funny.”

By Monday evening, Carter said he understood Keam clearly intended to make a joke.

“But it was in poor taste, it was out of place and it demonstrated a lack of understanding of the history of the political left,” he texted.

The delegate has taken ribbing in the past for his ties to the Democratic Socialists and has had, on occasion, to explain the difference between dictator-style Communism and the DSA, which it’s website says fights for reforms “to weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.” Among Its goals: decreasing the influence of money in politics and advocating for gender equity.

But while Keam was flashing the Soviet symbol behind him, Carter said he was just trying to explain his opposition to the bill, which ultimately passed on a bipartisan 16-to-4 vote.

“As for me,” he added, “I’m focused on the bills that are in front of me.”

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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