Racing to Collect Candidates

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 13, 2006

A fast-moving race to succeed Sean T. Connaughton as chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors is going even faster now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed his nomination to a federal post.

Republicans and Democrats are rushing to prepare conventions for Saturday to select nominees before key election deadlines. The field of hopefuls so far includes two Republicans and a Democrat.

Both sides believe that Connaughton's imminent departure to head the Federal Maritime Administration will probably trigger a special election coinciding with the Nov. 7 general election.

Their haste has been necessary to meet election deadlines in a process that could become more complicated depending on the timing of Connaughton's resignation.

Connaughton, 45, a maritime lawyer in Washington, was nominated in June by President Bush to head the maritime agency. The Senate approved his nomination early this month.

Connaughton, whose second four-year term as chairman is scheduled to end in December 2007, said he is waiting for the president to sign his commission as administrator and is wrapping up loose ends in the county. His resignation and swearing in, Connaughton said, could come as soon as Sept. 1.

"It will all be simultaneous -- one, two, three," he said.

But Democrats say that because the Senate has confirmed him, Connaughton should resign now.

"Connaughton's playing a game," said Victor D. Bras, chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee. He said Connaughton was holding on to the office long enough to find a Republican candidate who would satisfy the business community.

Republicans John S. Gray, a former Board of Supervisors candidate from Lake Ridge, and Supervisor Corey A. Stewart (Occoquan) are vying for Connaughton's position.

Gray formally notified the county's Republican party chairman Wednesday of his intent to run and Stewart, 38, officially filed with the county last month. He has been critical of Connaughton's legacy, saying that the county has been too friendly to developers and too quick to raise taxes.

"I've been the voice of dissent on many of the growth issues," said Stewart, who won office in 2003. "I think the county needs to turn the corner and head in a new direction."

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