Voters in Loudoun County will go to the polls in a special election next week to choose between two candidates for commissioner of revenue.
Incumbent Catherine Ashby, a Democrat, was appointed to the post in July by a three-judge circuit court panel shortly after long-time commissioner Lee Keyes resigned following his arrest in an alcohol-related car accident.
Ashby, 37, cites 16 years' experience in the office as her chief qualification for the post. She started at the bottom, she said, and worked her way up to chief deputy under Keyes at the time he left office.
"I worked hard and learned something about everything in this office before I became deputy," Ashby said. "I think I deserve the chance to do it on my own."
Her campaign style has been low-key. Press releases issued from her office are more informative than political, the latest one telling residents that Nov. 1 is the deadline for the land use value taxation program.
Ashby does not mention her opponent, Susan Dietrich Rutherford, a Republican, in her news releases or speeches and has refused to debate Rutherford, a civic leader and professional manager.
"This is not a policy-making position," Ashby said. "The commissioner's job is to carry out the laws of Virginia as defined by the state code and carry out the ordinances set by the county. There are no issues to discuss."
Rutherford, 40, has taken the offensive in the race for the $37,000-a-year post. Besides challenging Ashby to a debate, she has taken several ads in local newspapers in which she criticizes her opponent without naming her.
Rutherford also has been more assertive when both candidates speak to civic groups, according to both Rutherford and Ashby. Ashby admits to a dislike of public speaking, a role for which Rutherford's years of community involvement have prepared her.
"I criticize Ms. Ashby's performance because I believe her experience has been mainly clerical and she isn't aware that there is a more efficient way to run that office," said Rutherford, who has taken a month-long leave of absence from her position as Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce executive director in order to campaign.
As an example of inefficiency, Rutherford cited long lines at the commissioner's office two days after personal property tax bills were mailed to residents.
"We don't need more people in that office," she said of the 16-member staff. "We need to better utilize the people we have."
Two staff persons should be used as field supervisors, Rutherford said, to check for noncompliance with the business license tax ordinance.
"The county collected $650,000 this year," she said. "Figures at the chamber of commerce show that there should have been another third of that amount collected."
According to incumbent Ashby, chamber of commerce figures usually count the businesses in Loudoun's incorporated towns that have their own license taxes from which the county cannot collect.
"This has been a rough campaign," Ashby said. "I'll be glad when it's over. I just want to do my job."