I met him through Walter Tejada. Walter had been a community organizer for more than a decade and was the de facto leader of a large and growing Hispanic community in Northern Virginia. Walter was indefatigable. He was becoming a political powerhouse in Arlington and would be elected to the Arlington County Board in 2003. Years later he would become the first Latino to Chair the County Board.
At the time Tim Kaine was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia with big ambitions. Demographics were changing rapidly in Virginia and suddenly, for Democrats, the Northern Virginia region was a rich source of votes and a key to electoral victory statewide. He was attending a reception for Walter high up on the terrace of what was then the Rosslyn Key Bridge Marriot Hotel. There was such a 'gee-whiz' aura about Kaine. He had a broad smile and an immediately likeable persona; greeted everyone in such an authentic, endearing manner -'Llamame Tim' he would say. He spoke adeptly to everyone in Spanish and followed conversations with excellent responses. He even answered reporter's questions in the language. It was the first time I heard him speak about his time in Honduras and his Catholic faith. His friendliness, his use of Spanish, his bright, optimistic smile and good natured banter made him instantly attractive and charming.
Early on Kaine & Tejada organized and attended each other's events across N. Va. in venues such as the Marriott at Key Bridge and the Salsa Room on Columbia Pike. This photo from 2008 was taken at the Marriot.
I would again meet the Governor, then Democratic Party Chair and finally Senator, at public events over the next decade. On each occasion he was equally attentive and always supportive of a progressive local agenda. Most of the times we met it was at Tejada's insistence. Kaine was a supporter and proponent of Walter and backed him whenever and wherever possible. In the meantime Walter had built himself a solid reputation as a loyal soldier and solid Democrat. During the elections for Governor and especially Senator it was Tejada who organized, pounded the pavement and rallied the troops for Tim in our area -and helped him achieve the margin of victory he needed.
The last time I had the pleasure of hosting the good Senator from Virginia was in March of this year. The National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP) put forward a Legislative Summit on the Hill and at the National Press Building. It was an historic event in that both African American (NNPA) and Hispanic publishers joined together for the first time to sponsor a combined Summit. We also partnered with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute to produce the 3 day conference. Our liaison at CHCI was a wonderful young Ecuadoran American, Irving Burbano. He was an ex-Kaine staffer and raved about the cooperative and egalitarian spirit of the Senator's office, the open door policy and the collective spirit of the team. He managed to get our invitation in front of the Senator who accepted the invitation to be our keynote speaker at the plenary luncheon.
To our great embarrassment the African American publishers, who had previously scheduled an engagement at Howard University, were caught in DC traffic and we waited almost an hour for their arrival. Senator Kaine waited patiently while the rest of us were a nervous wreck. He had a vote in the Senate and had allotted 45 minutes for his speech. Walter Tejada had been invited and sat with the Senator along with Alberto Avendaño from El Tiempo Latino, another 'friend of Tim' and Martha Montoya, Chair of the NAHP. Through it all the Senator waited good naturedly, chatting with those present, taking pictures and telling stories.
Finally, Kaine took to the podium and launched into a 25 minute speech where he explained his views on where the country was headed, his work with the US/Spain Council, how important it was to elect Hillary Clinton and why he would make a good Vice Presidential candidate. He spoke about running for Vice President in a manner that was less campaigning for the position himself and more about what he could do to help Democrats elect the next President. He explained how he would deliver Virginia for Clinton and provide a different viewpoint and message on the campaign trail. It all seemed a very natural and dispassionate argument. He didn't appear to be pushing it or exhorting anyone to pressure the Clinton candidacy in his favor. And yes, he gave part of the speech in Spanish, but not in a manner that said 'see, I can speak your language', but in a way that flowed naturally into the speech and made important points.
Senator Kaine during his keynote speech before the joint Legislative Summit of the NNPA and NAHP, at the National Press Club this past March. Even then there was a sense he might be the VP candidate for the Democrats, although he made light of it.
To our minds in that room, there was no doubt he would be an effective, outstanding Vice President and that our community would be well respected and welcomed by this new administration. Many of us, who preferred Julian Castro at the time and who thought it would be exciting to have the first Hispanic VP, left very impressed with his performance. His local activism gave him credibility among those of us from this area and his command of Spanish and understanding of Hispanics -and the political debt he owes us- made him a particularly sympathetic figure. He treated us like family.
On Senator Kaine's last visit to the NAHP he posed with various Hispanic publishers at the National Press Club. Featured in the photo; Dante Viscarra of La Comunidad News in Wisconsin, Gonzalo Aguirre, La Conexion in North Carolina, Elias Gutierrez, Latino Detroit, Senator Tim Kaine, Martha Montoya, El Mundo of Washington State and Chairperson NAHP Board, far right Alberto Avendaño, El Tiempo Latino Washington DC.
After the speech at the Press Club he took questions and worked the room, relaxed, calmly, as if he had the entire afternoon for us. Everyone was at ease and charmed by his attention. He stayed with us close to 2 hours that day, ultimately explaining he had to leave because there was a vote on legislation he was co-sponsoring on the Hill. He was gracious, generous with his time, genuine, interesting and challenging with his message. That week there were a spate of stories in African American and Hispanic publications across the country and many of our publishers left speaking about: 'Mi amigo Tim'.