While they deposed veteran Board of County Supervisors Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt last week, voters in the hotly contested race for Gainesville supervisor returned Republican Edgar S. Wilbourn III to office for a second term.

Wilbourn defeated Democrat Gary C. Friedman, an advocate for curbing growth in the fast-growing district who attacked the incumbent for his ties to the building industry and his opposition to the slow-growth plan supervisors approved last year.

Wilbourn is the first incumbent since the early 1980s to be returned to office in Gainesville, an activist district in the county's western end.

Friedman and Sean Connaughton, the GOP novice who defeated Seefeldt (D) in the race for the at-large chairman seat, carried similar messages to voters. They pledged to curb development, resist campaign contributions from the building industry and find more room for the county's crowded schoolchildren.

But while Connaughton won handily in Gainesville, Wilbourn led Friedman by a comfortable 271-vote margin, a defeat observers attribute partly to incumbency and the district's strong Republican leanings.

Wilbourn's efforts to portray himself during the campaign as a proponent of managing growth despite his earlier opposition to development limits also might have appealed to voters.

"Wilbourn shifted his message and adopted a managed growth approach," said Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs (R-Occoquan), who was elected last year on a slow-growth platform.

Friedman won Gainesville's largely rural precincts north of Interstate 66, but Wilbourn captured the district's more developed sections south of I-66, including the outskirts of Manassas.

"What this vote was all about is that the majority of people did not believe the spin," Wilbourn said. "They were trying to paint me as somebody that I'm not. . . . I'm not a developer in Prince William County."

The race began with a hard-fought, three-way Republican primary last June in which Wilbourn eked out an 11-vote victory over two slow-growth candidates, Martha W. Hendley and Kevin P. Childers.

It ended with Wilbourn and Friedman each charging that the others' campaign money came from special interests--Wilbourn's from developers and builders, Friedman's largely from slow-growth advocates.

Wilbourn, who took half his campaign money from the building industry, now works as a consultant to a Maryland general contractor for which he previously served as director. He eyed several development projects in Prince William several years ago but did not build any.

Friedman, who refers to himself as a stay-at-home dad, said his opponent "presented a picture of himself that was in stark contrast to his four years in office," a term in which Wilbourn voted to approve many developments and opposed the county's popular slow-growth Comprehensive Plan.

"We're winning the war on these issues in the region," Friedman said, noting Connaughton's victory and those of eight growth-control advocates in neighboring Loudoun County.

During the campaign, Wilbourn said the slow-growth plan underestimates the number of houses already approved by the county and expressed concern over the number of new families those homes could bring to Prince William County.

Friedman supporters say his campaign was undercut by a lack of backing from key county Democrats, including Sheriff E. Lee Stoffregen III and Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), who threw their support behind Wilbourn.

"I didn't endorse him because I didn't know a thing about him," Jenkins said of Friedman's candidacy. "He just popped up one day and said, 'I'm running.' "