For the first time in years, countywide elections in Fairfax this November will not feature a battle at the top.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) has escaped any serious challenge to her five years in office and will run for reelection without a Republican opponent. Her three challengers--two independents and a libertarian--are not expected to offer much resistance.

That contrasts sharply with Hanley's earlier experience. In 1994, she ran in a hotly contested special election against Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) after former chairman Thomas M. Davis III was elected to Congress. Then a year later, Hanley was elected to a full term after a bruising fight with Republican Gary Jones, the former chairman of the county's School Board.

Not one to take things for granted, Hanley was cautious.

"I have three opponents," she said. "I'm optimistic, but I take this as I take every election: seriously."

Asked why she thinks the Republicans declined to run anyone against her, she said, "I never get involved with the other party's reasons for doing things."

Instead of a single, big local race competing for voters' attention, there will be a series of small, local skirmishes on the Fairfax County political landscape.

In addition, Fairfax voters will elect 12 members to the School Board. There are 25 candidates, including 10 incumbents, seeking the seats. Voters also will be asked to approve $297.2 million in bonds to pay for school construction projects aimed at relieving crowding and renovating aging facilities.

The majority of the supervisors on Fairfax County's 10-member board are running without serious opposition. But there are four races in which political observers say anything could happen.

There's the fight about the future of the Hunter Mill District among Republican incumbent Robert B. Dix Jr. and challengers Democrat Catherine M. Hudgins, a former aide to Hanley, and independent John M. Thoburn, a conservative landowner.

And then there's the struggle between Democratic incumbent Penelope A. Gross in the Mason District and Republican Christine Trapnell, a former supervisor of that district. Stephen Lawrence, an independent, is also running for that seat.

Incumbent Democrat T. Dana Kauffman, who is finishing his first term as the Lee District supervisor, is being challenged by Republican Robert M. Jones, a home builder. The debate there will focus on how best to upgrade the look of the Route 1 corridor and how to handle growth in the communities of Springfield and Franconia.

Finally, there is the question of the Dranesville District, where challenger Barbara H. Phillips, a Democrat, is hoping that the controversy about the development of Evans Farm will topple Republican incumbent Stuart Mendelsohn.

"My opponent has been running on a single issue, and that's Evans Farm," Mendelsohn said. "I don't think it will succeed. We've had an open process in everything we've done. I'm proud of my record over three and a half years "We've accomplished a lot."

Other supervisors will glide into their next terms without any opposition. Republican Michael R. Frey (Sully), who turned down his party's entreaties to challenge Hanley for the top job, has no opposition to retain his seat. Supervisors Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) and Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) also are unopposed.

In addition to the supervisors, voters in Fairfax will choose new law enforcement and court officials.

Extending his long run as the commonwealth's attorney, Democrat Robert F. Horan Jr. is running unopposed. Horan, a fixture in the county's judicial system, has been the chief prosecutor for more than two decades.

Circuit Court Clerk John T. Frey, a Republican, is unchallenged this November for the eight-year term. By the time Frey finishes his second term, he will have served as the top court administrator for 16 years.

The excitement this year swirls around the race for sheriff. Incumbent Republican Carl R. Peed is being challenged by one of his own deputies. Stan Barry, a Democrat, is the son of Republican state Sen. Warren E. Barry (Fairfax).

Peed made headlines earlier this year when he told Barry he could not run, citing a rarely used county ordinance meant to give county administrators some say about how much time an employee uses to run for office.

After Barry insisted on running and asked for a leave of absence, Peed fired him. Barry has said he is considering a lawsuit against the department for wrongful termination. In the meantime, he is campaigning hard, accusing Peed of poor performance as sheriff.

In recent weeks, Peed has been challenged by a discrimination lawsuit filed by former deputies and by an embarrassing jail break involving two inmates at the county's Adult Detention Center, which Peed oversees.

In addition, voters in Fairfax will decide who should hold three of the seats on the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. There are seven candidates for the three seats, including two incumbents. There are no constitutional amendments on the ballot this year.