Two months ago, when Peter Fields announced that he would oppose Alvin Y. Bandy (R) for the George Washington seat on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, Bandy had never met or heard of his opponent.
"I'm sure he's a nice fella," Bandy said at the time.
Since then, Bandy--and the rest of the board--has become very familiar with Fields. The Democratic challenger has repeatedly attacked Bandy and many of his policies during the citizens' comment time at board meetings. In effect, Fields has used the public time to outline his platform.
At the center of that platform is Fields' view on how to relieve the county's ever-expanding traffic problem--by extending the Fredericksburg bus service into southern Stafford.
"If we can have roads for cars," Fields declared at a recent board meeting, "we can have buses for people."
Bandy fervently backs bigger, better roads, including the proposed Outer Connector, as the solution to congestion.
"Roads are clogged; there's gridlock all over place," Bandy said. "The only thing that will really change it is building roads."
Thus, the two opponents have drawn early battle lines for this fall's election. On the one side is Bandy, a tireless and passionate supporter of better primary and secondary roads, and on the other is Fields, who seeks "alternatives to auto transportation."
Attacking Bandy on the transportation issue carries a lot of risks for Fields--as does running as a Democrat in a solidly Republican county, where most challengers label themselves independents. Bandy is personally and professionally bound to seeking a better transportation network because he lost a brother in a traffic accident more than 30 years ago and has made transportation his pet cause for most of his political career. In doing so, he has become the county's foremost expert on traffic issues.
"[Transportation] was his field; it's not my field," Fields acknowledged. "I concede life experience to him."
But making transportation a central issue also could be the bold, risky move that enables Fields to make a name for himself among voters and gives him the chance to unseat his popular, well-known opponent.
"I think, for me, transportation funnels out of the big picture of sustainable growth," Fields said. Instituting the bus service would be the "first step in what would be a comprehensive plan."
That comprehensive plan, for Fields, would be to reduce the need for people to drive. Rather than allowing growth to occur where and when developers desire, Fields argues, the county should control growth in a way that reduces traffic. For instance, grocery stores and other general services should be encouraged, if not required, to be near residential neighborhoods so people don't have to drive to them.
"Mr. Bandy and the board have accepted whatever development plans have been handed to them in regards to zoning and land use," Fields said. "I'm sure they've done what they feel is best, but the path we've arrived at is not going to work."
"The problem is that the people who come to meetings, people that fall out of trees . . . those people have got time all day long" to get where they need to go, he said. "They don't have any idea how many people are losing their lives out on the roads."
Bandy is not entirely opposed to alternate forms of transportation. He fully supported bringing Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to Stafford and headed the effort to get double-decker rail cars for VRE trains.
Still, Fields has made transportation the cornerstone of his campaign.
"I think my approach to sustainable development is going to separate me from Mr. Bandy," Fields said. "My approach realizes that growth is central to protecting other institutions."