Mark D. Wolfe got the most votes Nov. 8 in a seven-way race for three spots on the Manassas City Council, but that’s perhaps not the most notable thing about his victory.
Wolfe has logged top vote-getter status before. First elected in 2008, he received the most votes among council candidates four years later, when he secured a second term.
The 59-year-old won those contests, however, as a Republican. This year, he ran as a Democrat.
“I had grown increasingly uncomfortable in what has become the Republican Party,” he said recently.
Wolfe, president of the heating and air-conditioning firm Air Distributing Co., known as ADCO, said that he considered himself a centrist — an “Eisenhower Republican” — and that the GOP had become too divisive.
“That’s not me,” he said.
He said he didn’t make the change because of President-elect Donald Trump per se, but that Trump’s ascension in the Republican ranks “was certainly a part of it.”
Wolfe also said that he’s not a “party-first person” but that it would have been hard to run as an independent.
As he saw it, the situation amounted to: “If I’m not here, I’m there.”
The change frustrated many in the Manassas GOP ranks. But Republican Councilman Ian T. Lovejoy, who also was reelected Nov. 8, said the governing body’s members will be able to work together.
Wolfe complained of bullying, name-calling and attack ads in the GOP nationally. But Lovejoy said that he hasn’t seen divisiveness locally and that he’s looking at the new composition of the council — with four Republicans and three Democrats — as simply representing the diverse opinions of city residents.
Lovejoy said many of his party mates worked for eight years to back Wolfe and promote him, only for Wolfe to use that name recognition to aid the opposing side this year.
“So I think that frustrates people,” he said.
Politically, though, Lovejoy said Wolfe’s switch was a “brilliant move,” considering that local elections in Manassas are now in November. The municipal contests used to be in May, which produced a lower overall voter turnout, but one Lovejoy said probably leaned more GOP.
This year, he said, “There was definitely a Democratic headwind.”
To wit, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton got more votes in Manassas than did Trump, and Democrat LuAnn L. Bennett bested U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in the city, although Comstock ended up being reelected in the 10th District.
Democrat Patricia E. Richie-Folks also defeated Republican Russell T. Harrison in a special election for city treasurer, and Manassas School Board member Pamela J. Sebesky, a Democrat, was elected to the city council with Wolfe. Sebesky got 6,474 votes to Wolfe’s 7,184. Lovejoy came in third with 5,852.
The Prince William County region as a whole also is turning more Democratic, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
But, Farnsworth said, it is rare for a candidate to switch parties and be successful.
In Wolfe’s favor, he said, would have been the fact that local officeholders are in their “district” all the time rather than in a faraway capital where they serve in legislative sessions. That means constituents get to know them well.
Also, there’s an adage about there not being a Democratic or Republican way to pick up the trash — meaning local issues aren’t necessarily partisan.
“A lot of what local governments do doesn’t have the same ideological dimension as a lot of the state and national issues do,” Farnsworth said.
Wolfe mentioned this aspect of governing, too.
“Locally, it’s about delivering services,” he said.
And now that he’s going to serve another four years, he said, his agenda includes promoting a strategic planning process for the city, talking to school-system leaders about expanding the prekindergarten program and expediting the construction of a second fire station.