Prince William County candidates seeking spots on the Board of Supervisors sparred over a range of issues including roads, rural area development and campaign contributions at the last organized debate of the campaign season Wednesday night.
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At-Large) debated Democrat Babur Lateef and independent candidate John Gray, for the countywide at-large seat. Peter Candland (R) and Ann Wheeler (D), vying for the open Gainesville seat, also debated at the forum, hosted by the civic group Prince William Committee of 100.
Outside of the committee’s members, there were relatively few residents who showed up. Several audience members said that the level of enthusiasm is typical for an off-year election that is likely to be decided by few votes.
“It’s the year everybody has to work the hardest,” said Tom Whitmore, the vice-chairman of the Prince William Republican committee. For him, this election’s biggest issue is jobs and making sure the county adds high-paying employment, he said.
The candidates honed in on transportation issues. Two-thirds of county residents commute outside Prince William, and the D.C. region’s notorious traffic situation is chief among voter concerns.
“When we talk about funding, we have to prioritize,” Lateef said. “Roads are not always the answer.” He said the county needs to look seriously at extending Metro to Prince William, an option Stewart says is not feasible.
Lateef criticized Stewart for taking campaign contributions from real-estate developers who have projects that seek approval from the Board of Supervisors. Stewart repeatedly brought up the strength of the county’s economy and said he was proud to have the support of the business community.
Wheeler challenged Candland for not signing a pledge to protect a part of Gainesville known as the Rural Crescent, which is designated for protection against future development.
“He’s made a lot of excuses as to why he didn’t do that,” Wheeler said. Candland said he would vow to protect the Rural Crescent — but he wouldn’t be signing any pledges.
“My pledge will be to the voters of Prince William County, not to a piece of paper,” Candland said.
The election is Nov. 8.