A March 5 article about the Loudoun County GOP should have said that Larry Beerman's supporters pushed for a convention to choose a slate of candidates for the chairman and supervisor positions on the county board. (Published 3/6/03)

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), a key architect of the region's most ambitious and controversial building restrictions, announced yesterday that he would leave the local Republican Party and run for reelection in November as an independent.

The move, which drew public rebukes -- and some private grins -- from opponents across the political spectrum, illustrates the divisions that have emerged in Loudoun as officials in the nation's second-fastest growing county have sought to slow home building.

It also reflects the complexities, passions and grudges underlying Loudoun's politics. The November election is shaping up as a bruising rematch of the 1999 race in which a slate of slow-growth advocates, including York, challenged more pro-development opponents. In that contest, the slow-growth advocates won overwhelmingly. York, a home improvement contractor with a sometimes pugnacious political style, is perhaps the most vivid -- and, for his fiercest opponents, despised -- symbol of that victory.

York's announcement also raised the prospect that voters who support curbing development could be split between York and former Planning Commission chairman Alfred P. Van Huyck, a Democrat and slow-growth advocate also running for board chairman.

York made an expansive appeal yesterday for support from "folks of all persuasions" who back his efforts to manage growth.

"I will take my message to all folks who consider themselves Republicans, independents and Democrats," York said, adding that while he was "celebrating" his break with the local GOP, he remains a loyal Republican. "I am running as an independent from the local Loudoun committee," he said, referring to the county's Republican Party governing body of about 300 members.

In a lopsided vote last week, that group decided to hold a convention, rather than a primary, to choose its candidates. York argued that the process would exclude thousands of ordinary Republicans.

His opponents, however, accused York of simply bailing out when he realized he was going to get walloped.

"It's clearly his campaign strategy to portray the Republican Party in as bad a light as possible," said lawyer and chairman candidate Robert Gordon, who added that voters "will see through that and be able to make an informed decision."

Gordon had supported having a firehouse primary, though he said he is ready to win at the convention. He is campaigning on promises of better fiscal management in the county and said he will not seek to overturn the most sweeping element of the current board's slow-growth policies -- specifically, a decision in January to sharply reduce the number of homes that can be built per acre in the county's western reaches.

Larry Beerman, a former supervisor who is also running for the Republican nomination for chairman, said he was not surprised at York's decision.

"If he was truly a Republican, he'd run as a Republican," said Beerman, whose supporters pushed for a primary.

"If you're going to be a [member of the] party faithful, you run by the party process, whatever it is," he said.

As a major campaign theme, Beerman, like Gordon, has focused on the growing real estate tax burden borne by homeowners.

Beerman also said he would closely review the current board's "rash" policies on development in western Loudoun. "There's a lot of people that got hurt," he said.

Van Huyck scolded York yesterday.

"If he was as popular as he says he is, he certainly ought to have been able to win that convention," Van Huyck said, adding that the county needs a new leader with a plan for the future and a willingness to work with members of the business community with valid concerns about the county's new building restrictions.

"We've got to listen to these people," Van Huyck said.

Joe Maio, founder of Voters to Stop Sprawl, a political action committee that played a key role in the 1999 slow-growth victory, said Republicans missed their opportunity to reelect a Republican chairman.

"It's going to be their loss," Maio said. "Scott is a very, very popular chairman. He has done what the people asked him to do."