Prince William County voters looked their county's rapid growth in the eye Tuesday -- and for the first time in years, they didn't blink.
Political observers said yesterday that the most far-reaching result of Tuesday's balloting may have been the overwhelming approval of three school bond referendums calling for $44.89 million in new schools construction. In approving the measures by more than 60 percent, Prince William voters added a new page to a long history of bond proposals defeated by a combination of fiscal conservatism and antigrowth sentiment.
In races for commonwealth's attorney and the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, individual personalities in individual races -- rather than sweeping countywide trends -- proved decisive, political observers said.
In the end, the defeat of one-term Republican incumbent Guy A. (Tony) Guiffre in western Prince William's Gainesville District ensured that a majority of the seven-member county board taking over in January will be newcomers.
Three incumbents were not seeking office again. Three others survived the election, although Dumfries Democrat Edwin C. King beat GOP-endorsed Norma G. Pandazides by a far narrower margin than many had expected -- 6 percentage points.
"In most instances, it was pure and simply local" issues and personalities that swayed voters, said King, who has been in office for four years.
In the race for commonwealth's attorney, Republican challenger Peter W. Steketee deliberately styled his campaign against two-decade Democratic incumbent Paul B. Ebert to appeal to Prince William's thousands of newer voters. But his strategy was overshadowed, according to political observers, by a high-profile campaign by the incumbent in which Ebert set a county record by raising $38,000 -- outspending the challenger by more than 3 to 1.
Steketee said Tuesday night that he had been urged by county Republicans to wage a more aggressive campaign against Ebert, placing greater emphasis on personal attacks on the incumbent. The GOP challenger said he was not comfortable waging what he said would have been a low-road campaign and declined to do so.
Ebert carried 60 percent of the vote, which includes returns from Manassas and Manassas Park.
In the Gainesville race, political observers yesterday attributed Democrat Robert L. Cole's victory with 57 percent of the vote to his success at exploiting Guiffre's reputation for aloofness and inept political style.
In eastern Prince William's Occoquan District, three-term Democratic incumbent Kathleen K. Seefeldt beat GOP challenger Gregory L. Cebula with 59 percent of the vote, outpacing the expectations of many analysts who had expected Cebula to take advantage of the district's many new residents to mount a stronger challenge.
Next door, in the Woodbridge District, Democrat Hilda M. Barg won 47 percent of the vote to succeed Republican incumbent Donald E. Kidwell, who is retiring.
Barg, who enunciated the most extreme antigrowth positions of any general election candidate, relied on an aggressive door-knocking campaign to edge Republican Ella Shannon and independent Edward Rodriguez.
The retirement of two-term Democrat G. Richard Pfitzner in eastern Prince William's Coles District opened the way for a three-way race in which Terrence Spellane, an independent endorsed by Democrats and Pfitzner's appointee to the county Planning Commission, took 45 percent of the vote against Republican Theresa A. Barratt and independent Denis Catalano.
In the largely rural Brentsville District, Republican William J. Becker edged Democrat Norborne P. Beville with 52 percent of the vote to replace retiring Democrat Joseph D. Reading.
John D. Jenkins, a Democrat appointed to the board in 1982 from the Dale City-area Neabsco District and one of Prince William's most formidable politicians, was unopposed for reelection.
Although a majority of the incoming board will be new, little fundamental change of direction is expected on the core issues of growth and transportation.
It may be on tax issues that the new board will face its most daunting challenges.
Pfitzner, the retiring Coles incumbent, noted that many of Tuesday's winners, including Barg and Spellane, campaigned on platforms calling for gradual elimination of the highly unpopular personal property tax. At the same time, he said, most winners had the support of the county's teacher and police unions and were seen as supportive of increased spending, including competitive salaries for county employes.
Concluded Pfitzner: "There's going to be a strong dose of reality during the first budget period . . . . That's where the rubber is going to hit the road."