Trading veiled barbs and quibbling over statistics, the two candidates for the Gainesville District seat on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors met this week at a sparsely attended public forum, and the debate served to narrow the race seemingly down to one issue: growth.

Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R), a proponent of "managed growth" policies in the county that have long been viewed as developer-friendly, fended off subtle allegations from Democratic challenger Gary C. Friedman that Wilbourn's four years on the board have been spent trying to cultivate residential sprawl. Friedman, a strong supporter of slow-growth measures that aim to preserve the county's rural heritage, hinted that Wilbourn has been promoting growth that is "out of control" and "reckless."

"With sprawl, we get higher taxes and cultural decline," Friedman said at the forum Thursday night. "Large new housing tracts require massive new infrastructure and have enormous impacts far beyond the boundaries of their own property lines. But the money needed for these public facilities is taken out of the county by the huge development corporations who come into Prince William, walk away with their profits and leave us to play a fool's game of catch-up. But it's a game we cannot win."

Wilbourn countered by saying he is in favor of smart growth that will bring more revenue to the Gainesville District while balancing the interests of current residents, noting that the board had approved all but two of the current development projects in the district before he took office. Wilbourn deflected many of Friedman's comments by portraying himself as a team player who has been working in unison with his fellow supervisors to chart the county's future.

"Positive attitudes get Gainesville more, while negative attitudes get us less," Wilbourn said. "Politics is not a solo job; it is a team job. To get things done, you must be an active team player."

Wilbourn said he supports the concept of the county's Comprehensive Plan, which was approved to help define and direct growth and introduced the idea of preserving a "Rural Crescent," but doesn't support the policy--which he labeled "flawed"--as a whole because it doesn't accurately predict growth.

Friedman said the Comprehensive Plan is a "good first step in the right direction."

About 40 people attended the forum, which was sponsored by the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church's Community Impact Team. After brief opening statements, each candidate answered nine questions submitted by audience members, a few of which were directed at Wilbourn, referring to his 1980s bankruptcy and asking him whether a developer can be an objective supervisor.

Each candidate also addressed questions regarding off-road vehicles, Internet filters for the county library computers and the controversial sector plan issue, a growth-related topic being reviewed by the board.

Wilbourn said he hopes voters judge him on his record, pointing to his history of keeping his campaign promises.

Friedman said voters should look at Wilbourn's record and ask themselves whether his conduct in office has been for the "betterment of the community," adding that a county supervisor needs to "act as agent and defender of your interests."