Growth, which dominated the Prince William political debate last year with the passage of the county's Comprehensive Plan, figures again in Tuesday's elections, with the candidates in the main contested races staking out various points on the growth spectrum.
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D), a 23-year veteran of politics, is pictured in her campaign flier holding a stop sign above the caption, "Stopping Growth."
Supervisor Edgar S. "Ed" Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), who voted against the slow-growth Comprehensive Plan, says the plan is flawed because the number of homes it already allows keeps increasing, which will flood the county with new residents.
Their challengers, Republican Sean T. Connaughton (R) and Gary C. Friedman (D), respectively, say the incumbents came lately to the managed-growth bandwagon and are in large part responsible for the problems of growth in Prince William.
Supervisors Maureen S. Caddigan (R), L.B. "Ben" Thompson (R), Mary K. Hill (R), Ruth T. Griggs (R) and John D. Jenkins (D) are running unopposed.
The low-key race in the Woodbridge District features three-term incumbent Hilda M. Barg, a Democrat who's challenged by first-time GOP candidate Lester D. Gabriel, a logistics manager for a Chantilly defense subcontractor.
Gabriel a retired Air Force intelligence officer, said he's concerned that local politicians have "grown distant" from the people they represent, although he does not cite Barg personally.
"It does the system good to have competition," he said.
Barg has touted her 12 years of public service, especially in the field of human services. A county homeless prevention center was named for her earlier this year.
Connaughton, a political newcomer who is challenging Seefeldt for the at-large seat on the board, cites as issues the county's lagging property values, increasing crime rate and failure to balance residential growth with revenue-rich commercial business, calling his campaign a referendum on "accountability."
Also running for the chairman's seat is Robert K. McBride of Woodbridge, a computer systems analyst whose Libertarian platform calls for reducing taxes and government regulation.
Seefeldt, dean of the board and its top campaign fund-raiser, bristles at suggestions that the county's quality of life is ailing. As evidence, she points to Internet behemoth America Online Inc.'s choice of Prince William for its new $520 million data center.
"An AOL executive said the big reason they came here is because of the quality of life," Seefeldt said.
She cited a 25 percent increase in police officers since 1995, the creation of 3,400 private-sector jobs in the last 18 months, lower taxes for small businesses and plans to build or renovate 10 schools as signs that the board is addressing the needs of a growing county. She pledged to secure more money for roads and public transportation in a seventh term. Seefeldt initially expressed reservations about development limits in the slow-growth plan, which she eventually approved.
In the Gainesville District, long a hotbed of slow-growth activism, Friedman, a former real estate broker who calls himself a stay-at-home father, has attacked Wilbourn for voting against the Comprehensive Plan.
"The vast majority of Gainesville citizens supported it, yet he did everything in his power to oppose it," Friedman said.
Wilbourn, who was criticized by slow-growth activists two years ago for having plans to build in the county even as he voted on land-use issues before the board, ended up never building anything. He works only as a consultant to a general contractor, he said. He touts his record in helping the county attract more employers.
Wilbourn in turn has attacked Friedman as "anti-transportation" for his opposition to the western bypass that would link the Dulles area to Interstate 95 in Stafford County.
Wilbourn, the board's loudest critic of the slow-growth plan, argued that it eliminated too many luxury homes and called for unfair developer fees. He now criticizes it for allowing too much high-density development on small lots.
Friedman called the view an "election-year conversion."
Campaign contributions also have become a litmus test in the race, with Connaughton and Friedman charging that the incumbents' sizable donations from the development industry compromise their judgment on land-use issues.
Seefeldt's $177,090 war chest dwarfs the $37,316 Connaughton had collected as of Oct. 20 and the $2,109 McBride raised. Developers, builders, real estate agents and contractors account for 34 percent of her donations, a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance records shows.
Seefeldt insists that just 13 percent of the money comes from the industry, which she defines to exclude related businesses such as real estate.
"I voted for the 'Rural Crescent,' and I didn't make the development community happy by doing that," Seefeldt said, referring to the slow-growth plan.
More than half of the $113,159 Wilbourn reported collecting came from contractors and developers, the finance analysis shows.
Wilbourn said Friedman's donations, which totaled $35,015, also includes special-interest money, from donors who oppose development.
Barg raised $63,830 and Gabriel $580.