New ideas, symbolized and spurred by the county's prodigious growth, dominate over established ways of thinking in this year's elections in Stafford County. In what could prove to be a pivotal election year, an energetic and determined cadre of newcomers is taking on the old guard in the hopes of redirecting the county's approach to development.

Stafford has quickly become one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, and residents are divided over how to deal with unfamiliar issues such as traffic congestion and crowded classrooms. The slate of challengers is attempting to lay the blame for those unwanted intrusions on their opponents, while the incumbents speak proudly of Stafford's progress.

The X factor in this ongoing debate is likely to reside with the county's most recent residents; 15,000 new voters have moved to Stafford in the past four years, and nobody is quite sure how they will vote.

One thing is certain, though: In at least two offices, new people will be in charge. Gone is the sheriff, Ralph Williams, who is retiring. Gone is George Gordon, the commissioner of revenue and county legend for the last 57 years, who also is stepping down.

House of Delegates

Three-time incumbent Del. William J. Howell (R) takes on virtually unknown independent candidate Garrett T. Baker in the race for Stafford's seat. The low-key contest has produced little in the way of defining issues, which has left Howell to run as the competent incumbent and Baker to try to drum up some anti-establishment furor.

If elected, Howell's primary focus would be to guarantee that lottery profits are returned to localities to fund education, he said. The stance is popular in Stafford, where the school system is being pushed to its limits and the county can use every additional state dollar it can get.

Baker, meanwhile, has sought to define himself as an outsider on a mission rather than a champion of any particular cause.

"One thing I see right now in society when it comes to parties is that they're not really voicing the views of the majority of the county," Baker said. "Therefore I decided to run. I want to be heard, and I believe taxpayers should be heard regardless of their views."

If he wins, Baker said he would curtail the county's catering to big business and be more responsive to the wishes of the average citizen.

Sheriff

Although no incumbent is running in the three-way race for sheriff, Charles E. Jett, a captain and member of the force for 22 years, has been able to position himself as a pseudo-incumbent. Jett enjoys the support of retiring Sheriff Ralph Williams and has been endorsed by the department's deputies, making him the establishment candidate of choice.

Jett secured his image of front-runner after a resounding defeat of G.W. "Jerry" Tolson in the June Republican primary, a contentious race that many observers believe was tougher than the upcoming election.

Nevertheless, Jett's opponents, led by C.A. "Chuck" Feldbush, have been able to seize upon some Jett slip-ups. Earlier this month, Feldbush requested a criminal investigation into Jett's use of a county fax machine for campaign purposes. Jett did not deny that the machine had been used to send out a flier, but said that it was done by someone else unknown to him.

The incident gave Feldbush and William "Bill" Hale Hoyt, both of whom are running as independents, the opportunity to hammer home their position that the Sheriff's Department is run by a small group of "good ol' boys" and that the time is right for a change.

But the primary issue in the campaign has been about which candidate is best prepared to manage law enforcement at a time when Stafford County is bubbling over with new residents. Jett's stance is that the status quo, with a few minor improvements, is the way to go. Hoyt has highlighted the need for more minorities as the county becomes increasingly diverse, while Feldbush thinks the department is in need of a major personnel and technological overhaul.

Clerk of the Circuit Court

The race for Clerk of the Circuit Court pits Republican incumbent Thomas M. Moncure Jr. against his former employee, Wayne G. Shelton, who transferred to Spotsylvania County three years ago to become chief deputy clerk after working in the Stafford office for 13 years.

Shelton, an independent, said he has three goals if elected: removing politics from the office, instituting an internship program with local high schools and colleges, and resuming the sale of hunting and fishing licenses through the office.

"The response [from voters] has been overwhelming," Shelton said.

Moncure, meanwhile, points to the upgrades he has made with the office's computer systems as the primary achievement of his tenure. In that time the county has moved from an antiquated filing system to a paperless one. Moncure plans to take the system another step by making records and other information available to residents over the Internet during his second term.

Commissioner of Revenue

For the first time in nearly 60 years there is a bona fide contest for commissioner of revenue. The race to replace George Gordon, who has held the post since 1942, is between two strong candidates: Scott A. Mayausky and John R. Harris.

Mayausky enters the general election after a solid, and somewhat surprising, victory over Board of Supervisors Chairman Kenneth T. Mitchell in the June Republican primary. An assistant in the revenue office for the past few years, Mayausky is Gordon's choice to succeed him. Thus, Mayausky is running on a platform of continuing on the well-worn path Gordon laid, while also promising to update the office's technology and to fight for more dollars from the county.

Harris, an independent, is attempting to make the switch from one county position, as a member of the planning commission, to another. Harris is hoping to capitalize on his name recognition from his position on the commission, especially after a few months of headline grabbing meetings concerning the Celebrate Virginia project. Harris also has not been shy about attacking Mayausky and, despite Gordon's endorsement of his opponent, figures to make this a tight race.

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

George Washington District

Seven-time Republican incumbent Alvin Y. Bandy has found himself in the fight of his life this election year. Newcomer Peter J. "Pete" Fields, the only Democratic candidate in the county, is making a strong push to oust his Republican opponent by attempting to capitalize on a few key issues.

Primarily, Fields has been able to make some inroads by addressing one of Bandy's pet issues: transportation. Bandy, who lost a brother in a traffic accident many years ago, has long been an advocate of widening roads in order to manage the county's growing traffic problems. But so far he has wavered on the issue of extending commuter bus service into Stafford. Fields, meanwhile, has virtually staked his entire campaign on bringing in a bus line and in the process has tried to cast himself as an alternative thinker to Bandy's traditional solution of building more roads.

The result has been a contentious campaign. Bandy repeatedly has accused Fields of being an outsider (he has lived in the county for 13 years) and an inexperienced, unrealistic politician. Fields has responded by accusing Bandy of permitting the recent glut of growth.

It would be a major upset for a Democrat to defeat an entrenched Republican in Stafford, but Fields has been relentless in his campaigning.

Griffis-Widewater District

The Griffis-Widewater race is a rematch of the 1995 contest between incumbent Lindbergh A. Fritter (R) and opponent Jack R. Cavalier (I). Fritter edged Cavalier by about 100 votes in that election and this year's contest figures to be just as close.

But a lot has changed in the past four years. Several thousand new voters have moved into the district since 1995, and the candidate who is able to grab the majority of their votes will likely win. In 1995, a third candidate split the electorate, and it is unclear who will capture those votes this time.

Like Fields, Cavalier has sought to position himself as a new thinker at a time when Stafford County is going through a series of pivotal changes. Fritter has obliged Cavalier's stance and is hoping to gain reelection by casting himself as the experienced candidate who will maintain the current course.

Aside from growth, the issue of bringing more recreational facilities to the county has been at the forefront of this race. Cavalier promises to expand facilities for residents, while Fritter says no money is available to build such rec centers.

Rock Hill District

The race in Rock Hill has become a battle of management philosophies as independent challenger W.A. "Bill" Gray has taken repeated issue with two-time Republican incumbent Robert C. Gibbons's management style and ability.

Specifically, Gray has criticized Gibbons for pushing through nearly $200,000 for raises for sheriff's deputies this month at a time when the county has little, if any, money to throw around. Gray supports the raises, but says that the issue should have been taken up when the budget is decided in the spring. Furthermore, Gray has accused Gibbons of promoting the recent raises as an election ploy.

Gray also has criticized Gibbons for moving to forgive a $700,000 loan that the county made to the Kenmore Association when it bought a portion of Ferry Farm. The board denied that motion.

Gibbons is unapologetic about the raises or trying to forgive the loan. Instead, he has attempted to steer attention away from those two issues and toward the board's accomplishments over the last eight years. Gibbons also has vowed to get more money from Richmond to fund the county's increasingly heavy service load.

SCHOOL BOARD

Rock Hill

Patricia A. Healy and Tanya Y. Singleton-Moore, two newcomers to county politics, are vying for the seat vacated by Tom Kane.

The winner will acquire such challenges as a school system that is absorbing students at a rate of about 800 a year--almost enough to fill an entire elementary school--and a Board of Supervisors that is increasingly reluctant to give more money to schools.

Funding for Stafford schools did not increase this year despite the opening of the new Colonial Forge High School and the addition of hundreds of new students. Thus, administrators were forced to reduce teacher raises, a move they say will cost them good educators to higher-paying counties.

The refusal to increase the school budget has created a rift between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board that the winner will have to handle. With no incumbent, whichever candidate gets her name out and makes some mark in the minds of voters figures to win.