Prince William County Democrats are honing in on the School Board’s Occoquan seat, as officials say it might be a key chance for the party to capture a spot in a year when many voters might turn out for November’s presidential election.
In a special election, Occoquan District voters will select a replacement for Grant Lattin, who suddenly retired from the School Board this year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Democrats are choosing between Stanley Bender, a retired government contractor and Marine, and Lillie Jessie, a longtime Prince William educator. They plan to make a final decision in the coming weeks.
Bender said in an interview that he would bring a business perspective to the School Board. “I’ve had a terrific career, and I couldn’t do that without a teacher,” he said.
Jessie couldn’t be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.
Although School Board positions are by law nonpartisan — no candidate can run with a party affiliation on the ballot — parties often provide organizational support and fundraising assistance.
Bender, Jessie and Laurie Bauckman-Moore, co-owner of Mechanix Auto Repair in Woodbridge, have filed initial paperwork to get on the ballot, according to the Office of Voter Registrations and Elections. Officials say they all still have additional paperwork to file to be on the ballot.
All three asked the School Board to consider them for the interim position, which is being filled by Michael E. Wooten, the unanimous choice of the School Board. Wooten, a former member of the Prince William County Republican Committee, did not respond to requests for comment. It’s unclear whether he will run for the position.
Myra Sawyers, co-chair of the Democrats’ education committee, said that officials are particularly tuned into this election because of the rancorous debate about teacher pay.
“We really feel that this seat will bring us one seat closer to having a School Board that is friendlier toward teachers, that has a vision for education that is empowering,” Sawyers said.
She said gaining the seat would allow the party to get a jump-start on School Board elections in three years.
Bill Card, Republican Committee chairman, said he has reached out to Wooten and Bauckman-Moore to ask whether they are interested in the party’s endorsement. The party has a good track record; nearly everyone on the School Board has received the Republicans’ endorsement.
He said the biggest help to a candidate is being listed along with the committee’s other Republican choices on a sample ballot given to voters on Election Day.
“Voters might not have been paying as close attention to the School Board as national politics,” Card said. “When they flow through there and see these are my choices . . . that might have a positive impact on them rather than pick a name out of the hat.”
He said the party will seek to endorse its nominee next month or in September.