Stafford voters sent a strong message to slow down growth and expand county services Tuesday by electing two newcomers to the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors Alvin Y. Bandy and Lindbergh A. Fritter, both Republicans, are respected, longtime incumbents. They were ushered out of office by voters seeking legislators who would stem the tide of new subdivisions, heavy traffic and crowded schools while also bringing recreation centers and bus service for seniors to the county.
Bandy, who has been on the board since 1972 and in county government since 1963, was defeated in the George Washington District by political neophyte Peter J. Fields, who got a surprising 58 percent of the vote and is the first Democrat elected in Stafford in a dozen years.
Jack R. Cavalier, who narrowly lost to Fritter in 1995, reversed his fortunes this time by capturing 61 percent of the vote in the Griffis-Widewater District even though he was outspent by about 4 to 1.
Of the supervisors up for reelection, only Robert C. Gibbons, a two-time Republican incumbent in the Rock Hill District, was able to hold his seat. Gibbons won by 55 percent, staving off a concerted effort by challenger Bill Gray (I).
The makeup of the board shifts dramatically in the wake of Tuesday's vote. Instead of six Republicans and one independent, there will be four Republicans, two independents and one Democrat when the new supervisors take office Jan. 1.
More important, however, the board shifts to a much less developer-friendly stance. Supervisor David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth) and Fields are firmly in the slow-growth camp, while Cavalier appears to also seek a slow down of development. Many votes, then, will likely come down to Gibbons, who shares many Republican views but also supports a more tempered approach to sprawl.
In addition, there may be some hard feelings after the election. Some supervisors are miffed at Beiler's open campaigning for Fields, while they remain unsure how the newcomers will change the board.
"It's one thing to sit and hope someone doesn't get elected," said Ferris M. Belman Sr. (I-At Large), "but to get out and publicly campaign against another member of the board doesn't seem right to me."
Still, Belman said he doesn't foresee much difficulty working with Fields and Cavalier. "I don't believe it's going to be a problem; I think the newcomers will have some fresh ideas," he said.
In Stafford, which is about 65 percent Republican and elected GOP candidates in every other local race Tuesday, the tapping of a Democrat and an independent for the board sends a clear message that residents want to go in a new direction.
"The old slogan 'Get the old blood out and get the new in' probably had some impact," Fritter said.
Many observers also read the election as a referendum on the board's policies toward growth.
"It's pretty clear," Beiler said, "since the two incumbents who were closely identified with the pro-development policies of the past were soundly defeated, and the one incumbent up for reelection who had been pushing for growth controls won."
Perhaps more surprising than the results were the margins of victory. Before the election, most local political observers predicted tight races and said the Cavalier-Fritter contest would come down to a handful of votes.
"Fritter didn't come as a complete shock because the demographics of the district have changed so much," said John Van Hoy, chairman of the Stafford County Republican Club. "But Alvin's district came as a complete surprise. We still haven't figured out exactly what this means. It appears we were outhustled and outworked."
Relatively low turnout on a rainy day also played a role. Only about 15,000 of a possible 48,000 registered voters, 32 percent, voted. Before the election, Van Hoy predicted that if the turnout was in the 30 percent to 35 percent range, the incumbents would be in trouble; that is precisely what happened.
"What surprised me as much as anything else was the turnout," he said. "It looks like our folks stayed home."
Nevertheless, the hefty winning margins now appear to give the victors a strong mandate to push their platforms.
"There's no question now," Fields said. "It's not only the strength of the mandate, but the character of the board has changed. Things will proceed much faster.
"There's going to be a lot more 4-to-3 margins," Cavalier said.