Focus on Immigration At Issue During Debate

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

Days after Prince William County supervisors unanimously approved one of the nation's toughest crackdowns on illegal immigrants, county board Chairman Corey A. Stewart reaffirmed in a debate last night that he is staking his reelection on the issue.

"Sometimes you need to rock the boat. Sometimes you need to butt heads to get things done, and that's what I've done," Stewart (R-At Large) said during his latest face-off against Democratic challenger Sharon E. Pandak.

Pandak countered that the county has delayed action on important issues so Stewart could work for passage of a resolution that "means nothing."

Stewart, 39, a trade lawyer, moved to Prince William from Fairfax County in 2001. Pandak, 54, a lawyer and former county attorney, has lived in Prince William for 20 years. Her experience and familiarity with the county, she has said, qualify her for the job.

"Prince William is not a way station for me," Pandak said. "It is my home. I will not put my personal ambitions before the progress of Prince William County."

Stewart is "media-crazed," she said, and has spent his time stirring people up on divisive issues. "His 15 minutes are up," she said.

When prioritizing county issues, Stewart listed immigration third, after long-term land-use reform and transportation impact fees on developers.

"We let builders get away with murder," Stewart said. "We let them build subdivision after subdivision without adequate roads. We are living with a legacy of a failure to control government." Stewart also attributed school crowding to increased development.

Pandak said she would work to control growth, ease traffic gridlock and reestablish "a sense of stability" in the county's budget, which she said has been through "massive swings in tax rates."

Of about 100 people in the audience, only three said they were undecided on the candidates when Stewart asked for a show of hands.

Stewart and Pandak have gone head-to-head before. He defeated her last year in a special election to replace Sean T. Connaughton (R), who resigned to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

This time, a four-year term is on the line.

Before illegal immigration became Stewart's big issue, his tenure in office was marked by a yearlong freeze on applications for residential development. He also pressed to keep tax bills flat by squeezing services and trimming staff.

Illegal immigration became Stewart's signature issue this summer, when he championed the county's plan to deny some public services to illegal immigrants and to increase immigration enforcement by police.

The county's stance evolved over time. Early Tuesday, after listening to 12 hours of emotionally charged testimony, the board passed a measure curtailing the services it can legally withhold, including help for substance abuse, homeless assistance and county programs for the elderly.

Last night's debate was sponsored by the Prince William Committee of 100, a nonpartisan group that hosted a series of candidate forums this election cycle.

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