The contentious debate over horse racetracks proposed in Prince William has seeped into municipal-federal relations.
Dumfries Mayor Chris Brown, who is championing a track for his struggling town in the county's east end, is under attack by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), an outspoken opponent of gambling.
Wolf's 10th Congressional District does not include Dumfries, which is represented by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va). Wolf's district spans Prince William's western end.
But that did not stop him from firing off a letter--plus 18 pages of supporting documents--to Brown telling him the people of Dumfries deserve better.
"I know that you care about Dumfries and that you want to help bring economic development to the area," Wolf wrote on Sept. 16, the day after the Virginia Racing Commission heard dozens of residents oppose the Dumfries track and a second track proposed for the county's west end.
Citing findings of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which he helped create, Wolf warned of the increased crime, social problems and other pathologies gambling has wrought around casinos.
"I know you want to do the right thing and to do what is best for Dumfries," Wolf wrote, urging Brown to change course and denounce the Colonial Downs track.
The other track, proposed by Middleburg businessman James J. Wilson in Nokesville, is in Wolf's district. County supervisors have expressed more opposition to that track, but for Wolf there's more at stake in Dumfries, where town officials are more divided.
"I can't expect [Dumfries officials] to know how bad this is unless we share the information with them," said the 10-term congressman, who three years ago fought a proposal to allow off-track betting in Manassas Park. The measure was defeated at the polls in a referendum.
Brown, newly elected, ambitious and eager to leave a legacy in the town of 4,280, decided to turn the sudden attention from Capitol Hill to Dumfries' advantage.
"I appreciate your concern for the welfare of the citizens of Dumfries," Brown responded in a letter to Wolf, "and look forward to your assistance in bringing quality economic development to our town."
"Obviously he had an urgent need to talk about what could be good for Dumfries," Brown said last week. "Given that he's interested, I've identified those things I think he could help us with." Brown mentioned road projects including curbs, gutters and sidewalks and widening Route 1 from two lanes to four. He noted that Wolf chairs the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee.
Brown said the racetrack could be an economic engine for Dumfries and an improvement--aesthetically, at least--over the 90-acre landfill.
Wolf, who is scheduled to speak against the racetrack Oct. 4 at a rally organized by its opponents, said he's "always out to help any community in any way that I can"--just not with a racetrack.