Prince William County has recently swung more Democratic, with only one Republican winning in a major statewide election since George W. Bush in 2004. For the first time since the position was created in 1991, the county chair will have no incumbent running in a general election. This, combined with a low turnout year, could keep the newly-Democratic county in the hands of the Republican Party.
From 1980 to 2006, Prince William County doubled in population. Since 2006, when Corey Stewart was elected chair of Prince William County, Virginia’s second largest locality has gained more than 100,000 residents and has grown considerably more progressive. Stewart, infamous in Virginia for controversial statements about immigrants and Confederate monuments, has decided not to seek reelection. His decision follows two recent failed attempts at running for statewide office, citing how it’s “become a lot more difficult to win in Prince William County as a Republican.”
While Prince William has shifted demographically and politically, the county is still a sprawling suburban area with vast amounts of protected rural space. Most employment is found in the retail, food, construction, and education sectors. Professional, scientific, and technical services jobs make up a relatively small fraction of the workforce.
With the county lagging behind its neighbors in professional and technical sector jobs, almost every candidate for office has made a pledge to attract more employers. Some have suggested high-quality, walkable communities that could attract new residents and businesses. Unfortunately, Stewart named road building as one of his biggest accomplishments in his State of the County Address in early January, a sign that the county may not be ready for smart growth.
As with any election in Northern Virginia, traffic is always a huge concern. In addition, Prince William is currently battling class sizes that are overflowing to fill more than 200 trailers at schools across Prince William. With these issues and jobs at the forefront, the discussion over smarter community development could be left behind.
So, who are the candidates who have stepped up to fill the void? With the chair’s position open for 2020, four have already filed their candidacies.
Meet the candidates
Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe, a Republican, declared his intentions to run for chair before Stewart announced his own intentions. Elected in 2003, Nohe has also chaired the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority since 2009 and has been a member of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission and Virginia Railway Express Board for many years.
Nohe has pointed towards community safety, growing the local economy, fighting class size, and reducing traffic as his signature campaign issues. During his time on the board, he has been seen as a moderate voice, especially compared to Stewart, and has been attacked by anti-development groups in Prince William for supporting building sewer lines into the “Rural Crescent,” an area composed of 80,000 acres located south of the Route 234 corridor and west of Route 15.
Donald Scoggins is the third candidate in the race, running as an Independent. Scoggins previously served as the chair of the Fairfax Republican Committee and on the executive committee for the Prince William Republicans.
A former candidate for the Occoquan District Supervisor seat, Scoggins left the Republican Party in 2018. While running in 2015, his largest issues were controlling development and protecting the Rural Crescent.
John Gray is a familiar face to longtime residents in Prince William County, having run for chair previously as an Independent in 2011 and for School Board in 2015 with the backing of the local Republican Party. He also asked to be considered for an appointment to serve as the interim School Board Chair position in 2018. A resident of Prince William for over 30 years, Gray is a certified public accountant and Marine Corps veteran. He announced on March 3 that he would be seeking the Republican nomination to Prince William County Board Chair, causing a local firehouse primary for county Republicans on May 4 to choose their candidate.
In 2011, during his previous campaign for the Chair seat, Gray stated there is “no indication whatsoever citizens want to ‘break’ the promise of the Rural Crescent. Development starts when one ‘little exception’ is made here, then the second exception is made there. And before we know it, the development 'crack' has been opened.”
The only Democrat in the race, Ann Wheeler was the first to announce her candidacy back in October. A Prince William resident since 2001, Wheeler has served on the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) Board for 14 years, the Hylton Performing Arts Center Board, chaired the county’s Board of Social Services, and recently served as president of the Prince William Committee of 100, a non-partisan education forum.
In her announcement, Wheeler centered on funding schools, creating more jobs, lowering taxes for home owners, and making Prince William a more inclusive place. Wheeler ran unsuccessfully for the Gainesville District board seat in 2011, when she signed a pledge not to develop in the county’s “Rural Crescent.”
What's coming up in this race
There will be a firehouse primary for the Republican nomination on May 4. If another Democrat steps into the race, local Democrats will most likely choose an open primary on June 11 to pick their candidate. The general election will be held on November 5. We'll keep you updated as this race develops.