As this year's election season heads into its final nine days, the campaigns in Prince William County are charged with a mood of political upheaval.
Voters are declaring that they want fresh faces and philosophies.
Incumbent-bashing rhetoric is running high, and the probability is strong that the Nov. 3 balloting will see a majority of newcomers elected to the Board of County Supervisors.
Despite the rhetoric, there is little evidence to suggest that the supervisors who take over in January will dramatically reshape the current board's approach to Prince William's problems: rapid growth, clogged roads and crowded schools.
This is true even though the seven-member board is likely to change significantly, with three incumbents not seeking reelection and two facing stiff opposition.
Prince William's only countywide election, a race for commonwealth's attorney, has seen record campaign spending, the latest example of the evolution of politics in this Northern Virginia suburb.
What was once viewed as a tight race between Republican Peter W. Steketee and incumbent Democrat Paul B. Ebert, a two-decade veteran as the county's top prosecutor, looks less so to observers in both parties now that Ebert pulled out all stops in the campaign, outspending his opponent by about 4 to 1.
One area where Prince William seems likely to break from recent history is with three referendums asking voters whether the county should issue a total of $44.89 million in bonds to build new schools.
Prince William voters have rejected nine of the last 11 bond issues, most recently a $42 million proposal for roads and other public facilities last November. To the delight of supporters, however, no prominent opposition to the school proposals has materialized, and their chances for passage seem good.
In county board contests, rapid and seemingly inexorable growth has been the dominant issue.
This focus is predictable enough in a locality that many believe is poised for development similar to that of Fairfax County a decade or so ago.
To the south and west of Fairfax, Prince William once was considered a remote outpost of metropolitan Washington. A recent burst of growth has given the county a population approaching 200,000, making it the second largest in Northern Virginia.
Many candidates have struck an aggressive tone, making vows to be "tough" or more "far-sighted" on growth issues. With a few exceptions, however, when viewed closely the candidate's positions on development do not seem substantially different from the current board's.
In general terms, that philosophy has been to assume that a large portion of Prince William's residential growth is inevitable and cannot legally be turned away. Therefore, county officials have argued, the most realistic tack is aggressively to court commercial and industrial development to broaden the tax base, and to pressure developers to provide as much as possible in the way of roads, sewers and other public improvements.
"Rhetoric is general; zoning is specific," said retiring Supervisor G. Richard Pfitzner of the frequent disparity between campaign speeches and the performance of elected officials. Pfitzner said he perceives a mood of realism among many Prince William residents: "People are looking for things that are effective . . . . Voters realize that there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
What follows are brief reviews of Prince William's contested elections this year for commonwealth's attorney and the county board. Commonwealth's Attorney: Any Prince William resident should have at least passing familiarity with this year's commonwealth's attorney race. Ebert, who was Virginia's youngest chief prosecutor ever when first elected in 1967 at age 30, has blanketed the county with more than 2,000 bright yellow-and-red roadside posters.
The garish signs are only one advantage of the $50,000 to $70,000 the incumbent is expected to raise by Election Day, a county record. Steketee, by contrast, is expected to raise about $15,000.
Steketee has pinned his hopes largely on attracting the new residents who have increased the district's registered voter rolls by nearly 75 percent, to 73,800, since Ebert's last contested race in 1979. The challenger has accused Ebert of declining to prosecute too many cases, and has vowed to improve community relations by increasing the office's visibility in eastern Prince William.
Ebert has said his record for prosecution is among the best in the state, and that this has kept Prince William's crime rate among the lowest of any locality in Northern Virginia.
The cities of Manassas and Manassas Park will also vote in the Ebert-Steketee race. Gainesville: Unlike Fairfax, Prince William does not elect a countywide chairman to head the board of supervisors. Of the seven magisterial districts, the race in western Prince William's Gainesville district has drawn perhaps the greatest attention.
First-term incumbent Tony Guiffre, one of two Republicans on the board, is involved in what observers in both parties describe as an uphill battle to save his seat against Democrat Robert L. Cole, a Manassas-area real estate agent.
Guiffre, who lives in Gainesville's rural western end, beat Democrat John Bonfadini in a tight race four years ago. Cole, who lives in the district's suburban end near Manassas, has the support of Donald White, the Democrat who held the Gainesville seat before Guiffre.
Guiffre has emphasized what he describes as his vigorous attempts to blunt growth and retain western Prince William's rural character. Cole has declared that Guiffre has alienated constituents and other county officials through political ineptitude, and said he would be a more responsible voice for the district. Occoquan: At the other end of the county, in eastern Prince William's Occoquan district, another incumbent is facing a severe challenge. Democrat Kathleen K. Seefeldt, the board's senior member, is in her first contested race since she was elected in 1975. Although most observers give her an edge over Republican Gregory L. Cebula, who works for a Springfield federal contractor, they say the challenger is within striking distance.
Seefeldt, who has been endorsed by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, has stressed her work devising Prince William's building and land-use guidelines, as well as her work on a state committee exploring solutions to Virginia's transportation problems.
Cebula has made increased government efficiency and gradual elimination of the personal property tax centerpieces of his campaign. Woodbridge: The Woodbridge district has been home to a lively campaign, with three candidates vying to replace retiring Republican Supervisor Donald E. Kidwell in a race that many observers believe is too close to call.
Republican Ella Shannon, Kidwell's appointee to the county planning commission, and Democrat Hilda Barg, a former businesswoman, have clashed on several issues. Also in the race is independent Edward Rodriguez.
Barg, whose views represent probably the most extreme departure from current board policies of any candidate, has vowed to eliminate the personal property tax and deny new building projects until better roads and other public facilities are in place.
Shannon and Rodriguez have branded Barg's statements irresponsible, saying they promise more than supervisors can legally deliver. Dumfries: Further south along Rte. 1, Democratic incumbent Edward C. King is running against GOP-endorsed independent Norma G. Pandazides in the Dumfries district.
Among the most publicized clashes of this campaign came after King, boasting of his qualifications, made what some interpreted as a sexist slight at Pandazides' job as a federal government stenographer. King, a former marine, was scolded by Pandazides and her supporters, and lampooned in a column by Potomac News editorialist Elizabeth Gropman.
Despite this, King, who has claimed greater familiarity with land-use issues and effectiveness at lobbying the General Assembly, is considered by most political analysts to be the clear front-runner in the race. Coles: In the Coles race, incumbent Democrat Pfitzner is retiring. Terrence Spellane, Pfitzner's appointee to the planning commission, is running as a Democratically endorsed independent against Republican Theresa A. Barratt, who runs a frozen-food business with her husband, and independent Denis A. Catalano, a civilian employe with the Defense Department.
With a strong lead in fund-raising and name recognition, Spellane, a federal government employe, is the clear front-runner in the Coles race, according to political observers. Brentsville: In western Prince William's Brentsville district, two-term Democrat Joseph D. Reading is retiring, leaving a low-key battle between Democrat Norborne P. Beville, a Manassas lawyer, and Republican William J. Becker, a semiretired businessman. Neabsco: In the Neabsco District, centered on Dale City, incumbent Democrat John D. Jenkins is unopposed.