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Four-Way Race Will Decide County Board’s Leader

© Leesburg Today - 10/29/2015

Anyone who says that local politics is boring must not have been paying attention to this year's race for Loudoun County chairman.

Rumors about who might challenge incumbent Scott K. York started before 2014 ended, and the field, now with four candidates, wasn't even set until June.

Between those endpoints, York got out of the race as a Republican and then back in as an independent. Leesburg lawyer Charlie L. King prepared for at least two potential opponents for the GOP nomination only to end up taking the party nod without a challenge. Phyllis J. Randall secured the Democratic nomination, and Thomas E. Bellanca, the Dem nominee in 2011, decided to field his own independent bid.

Got all that?

It's indeed been a busy political year, and the summary above doesn't even get into everything that's happened during the campaign. But the election is Nov. 3, so Loudoun is now only days away from picking a chairman from the field of York, Bellanca, King and Randall.

Who will win is a matter on which even some astute observers of Loudoun's political scene can't agree. Nonetheless, the victor will claim not only the county's marquee elected office but also the unofficial title of being the last candidate standing in what's been a rough-and-tumble election season.

The back-and-forth has included charges and allegations that go beyond the simple Democratic-Republican divide, though maybe that's to be expected in a race featuring two independents.

It seemed as 2015 opened that York, a political veteran who was last elected in 2011, as a Republican might face a challenge from King for the GOP crown. But then the incumbent rocked Loudoun's political world by announcing at the first Board of Supervisors meeting of the year that he wouldn't seek re-election.

Speculation then landed on board Vice Chairman Shawn M. Williams (R-Broad Run) and Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). Wouldn't one of them take the baton from York?

Buona decided he wouldn't. Then Williams got in the GOP race for chairman, but he would later drop out of that contest after news of past run-ins with the law came to light.

A coalition of York supporters, meanwhile, continued to urge their man to run as an independent as he had done in the past. Their wishes came true June 2. York said he would run, and he characterized his opponents as not having the experience necessary to lead the county.

Next, the Loudoun County Republican Committee denounced York's decision, and then King contended that Williams shouldn't serve as York's volunteer campaign treasurer.

York defended his colleague, but then in early September, Williams resigned his supervisor's seat after an arrest on simple assault and unlawful entry charges. That led to criticism from King and Randall that York had made bad decisions in associating with Williams.

The Republican nominee also has called the incumbent's ethics into question regarding his connection to Brian Reynolds, a Loudoun-based Web developer and graphic designer who has done work for York's campaign. Reynolds has a criminal record but has pointed out that his convictions came two decades ago. [This story has been corrected to reflect Randall's contention that her comments about Reynolds at a League of Women Voters forum didn't concern his background, only that he had done campaign work for York and Sheriff Michael L. ""Mike"" Chapman.]

The strong rhetoric aside, the candidates don't seem that far apart on the issues. For example, though they differ on specifics, they all support the expansion of full-day kindergarten in Loudoun, economic development in conjunction with the county's planned Metrorail stations and protecting the rural character of western Loudoun.

Mainly their differences amount to this notion: York touts his record of service-he's in his 24th year of service to Loudoun, counting time spent as Sterling District supervisor and as a planning commissioner-while King, Randall and Bellanca argue that now is the time for change.

To wit: At the end of a debate held last week by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, the quartet of hopefuls was asked to sum up their campaigns in a single word.

Randall, a therapist, said, ""better,"" and King offered, ""integrity,"" while York put forth ""success.""

Bellanca, for his part, said ""honest.""

But the businessman arguably goes one step further than King and Randall in seeking change. He's advocated at recent voter forums that the county should not only have a new chairman but also a new form of government by operating under a charter as do Roanoke, Chesterfield and James City counties. Loudoun currently runs under Virginia's ""traditional"" form of county government.

Though the chairman's race, at the top of the local ticket, has garnered a lot of this year's political headlines, it's certainly not the only office on Loudoun's Election Day ballot.

Every other seat on the Board of Supervisors also is up for election. Here are snapshots of those contests:

Algonkian District

The race in this eastern Loudoun district pits incumbent Republican Suzanne M. Volpe against Democrat Andrew D. Resnick, a public affairs professional.

Resnick has criticized Volpe for not signing a Board of Supervisors ethics pledge, and he said Monday that she has failed to vote to provide proper funding for schools.

While the incumbent is out of touch with district residents, the Democrat said, ""Our campaign is all about community.""

Not surprisingly, Volpe has a different view. She noted in July that she didn't sign the ethics pledge because the county attorney's office deemed that it wouldn't be legally binding.

And she pointed out Monday that, though some may see school funding as lacking, the current board has increased the amount of money spent on education over time.

As for her constituents, Volpe said they appreciate the work she does to improve their lives, such as fixing potholes, and her ideas.

""My message resonates with people,"" she said.

Ashburn District

The candidates in the Ashburn District said residents there, like many in Loudoun generally, are worried about traffic.

Specifically, incumbent Supervisor Ralph M. Buona said, ""I hear about the [Dulles] Greenway a lot.""

The Republican, an executive with Telos Corp. and vice chairman of the Loudoun board, frequently has touted the work that the present group of supervisors has done in terms of getting new roads built in the county.

But his Democratic challenger, Mike R. Turner, said that the supervisors shouldn't concentrate on just building or widening roads.

""You cannot build your way out of congestion,"" he said Monday.

His ideas? Turner said that the county could give incentives to businesses that allow employees flexibility in working hours or to telecommute, and he even envisions a time when a light-rail system could carry passengers from Leesburg to Loudoun's Metro stops.

Turner also has proposed a ""Shop Loudoun"" program to provide property tax rebates to county residents who buy goods and services from participating Loudoun businesses.

It's based on a New Jersey initiative that has expanded to 12 communities, he said. Participating companies in the New Jersey program have seen a 4.6 percent rise in new business, Turner said, and 14.5 percent higher customer retention.

Even if the challenger loses and doesn't get to implement the program, however, he's already logged lots of time in public service.

In fact, that's one thing the nonprofit executive has in common with his opponent. Buona and Turner both are graduates of the Air Force Academy and former officers.

Blue Ridge District

Roads and education are of interest to Blue Ridge voters, according to the two men who would like to represent them, but many in the sprawling district also are concerned about another issue: broadband connectivity.

Republican Supervisor Janet S. Clarke is not seeking a second term, so the race pits GOP nominee Tony R. Buffington Jr., who works in federal law enforcement, against independent Richard A. Jimmerson Jr.

Both candidates say they'd like to increase the reliability of broadband access, especially because it affects lots of different parts of life in western Loudoun.

Students sometimes have a hard time completing homework because they can't get as good of an Internet signal at home as they do at school, Jimmerson noted.

And Buffington pointed out that some rural businesses have a hard time processing sales, which, obviously, could harm their bottom line.

As many as 30,000 Loudoun households are estimated to be underserved in terms of Web connection, and most of them are in the rural western part of the county. Why has this happened? The small number and low density of homes in that area makes getting a good return on investment challenging for Internet service providers, and the natural landscape can hamper wireless signals.

How bad is it? Jimmerson, who works in the Internet industry, said he heard from a married couple who used to live in Africa that they had a better broadband signal there than in Middleburg.

Broad Run District

This district seat also is open because Williams hadn't planned to seek re-election even before he resigned last month.

The contest is between Republican Ron A. Meyer Jr. and Democrat Al R. Nevarez, and much of the talk in the campaign has been about transportation, particularly on toll roads.

The main plank that Meyer, a media executive, is running on is providing an alternative for drivers who don't want to use the Dulles Greenway. He proposes extending Shellhorn Road to connect to Sterling Boulevard, creating one path all the way to Rt. 28. The new route would parallel the Greenway, and it is one that county staff members are examining on their own, or, in other words, regardless of who wins in Broad Run.

Meyer and Nevarez both also have decried a plan by Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration to charge tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour. That idea has been roundly criticized even by McAuliffe's fellow Democrats, such as Nevarez, who said he understands all too well the plight of commuters.

""I'm on 66 every morning,"" said the economic researcher, who works in Washington, DC.

And while the hopefuls see eye to eye on this negative, they also each said it's good that their race has been one of policy stances, not personal attacks.

Too many of the other contests this year have grown nasty, Meyer said.

""I think that's really unfortunate,"" he said.

Catoctin District

The political atmosphere in this district, which stretches from central Loudoun all the way to the county's northern border, was relatively quiet this year until early this month.

That's when incumbent Supervisor Geary M. Higgins, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Hamilton Town Councilman Craig M. Green, began exchanging barbs about a simple matter: attendance at meetings of their respective governments.

First, Green said that Higgins has missed 12 percent of all supervisors' meeting since taking office in 2012.

""You've got to be there and push and advocate for your issues,"" Green said.

However, Higgins said that his research shows that the Democrat has missed lots of meetings of the Hamilton council. Green has an overall absence rate of 26 percent, the Republican said.

Higgins also said that no constituent has ever complained to him about his attendance record.

And the incumbent has talked to a lot of Catoctin residents lately, saying earlier this month that he had campaigned at 3,000 or more homes.

""I've been working hard,"" he said, ""doing a lot of door-knocking.""

Dulles District

As in Catoctin, the Dulles District race has heated up quickly over the past few weeks.

Businessman Anjan S. Chimaladinne, a Democrat, was one of the last supervisor candidates to get in this year's race, but he's recently fired off a string of allegations at incumbent Republican Matthew F. Letourneau, who chairs the Loudoun board's finance and economic development committees.

""In politics, your record is up for debate,"" Chimaladinne said in a statement issued a week ago.

He has questioned his opponent on campaign contributions, the overhaul of a county government computer system and on when he knew about a controversial project in which Dominion Virginia Power wants to put power lines along Rt. 50.

On the latter, Chimaladinne said that Letourneau has a conflict of interest because the Republican works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of which Dominion is a member.

""This is unacceptable and speaks volumes about Matt's ethical standards,"" the challenger said in a prepared statement.

Letourneau, however, has been a vocal opponent of Dominion's preferred route for months now, and he noted in a response to Chimaladinne's charges that he has confirmed with the county attorney's office that his work on Dominion projects as a supervisor is not a conflict.

""My work in communications for the world's largest business trade association-with over 300,000 members-has nothing to do with my service on the Board of Supervisors,"" the incumbent said. ""I do not work for Dominion, have never been paid by Dominion or have ever received a political contribution from Dominion.""

Indeed, Letourneau said that the whole Dulles South community is involved with opposing Dominion's placement of the lines along 50.

""It is a shame that my opponent is seeking to capitalize on this issue to try to score points for his campaign, and it is disgraceful that he has decided to attack my integrity in the process,"" the supervisor said.

Leesburg District

The Leesburg seat on the Board of Supervisors is another post that's open as Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid, a former Leesburg town councilman, decided not to seek a second term.

The Republican announced in January that he wouldn't run just as he was about to face another elected official well known in Loudoun's county seat: Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd.

The popular town leader is the Democratic nominee in the district, and she will face William A. ""Will"" Estrada, a Republican who is making his first run for office.

Estrada, a lawyer who works for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said he knows that he faces an uphill climb if he is to be elected. Though she is running as a Democrat, for example, Umstattd has touted a belief in fiscal conservatism.

Political observers, however, have said recently that Estrada is waging a good campaign, and the candidate noted that he's raised more money than Umstattd in this election season: $41,471 to date, according to state campaign finance records, compared with the mayor's $30,628.

""It's been a lot of hard work,"" he said Monday.

Sterling District

Like Supervisor Buona in the Ashburn District, Koran T. Saines already had to score one win this year just to get to the Nov. 3 ballot.

Buona defeated nomination challenger Joe Scalione at a GOP convention May 2, and Saines that same day bested two other Democrats, Tony Barney and Bahri ""Barry"" Aliriza, for his party's nod.

That victory pushed Saines to a matchup against Sterling District incumbent Eugene A. Delgaudio, a Republican.

Delgaudio is arguably Loudoun board's archconservative and almost certainly its most controversial member.

He has been denounced for anti-gay political stances and faced an effort last year to remove him from office over alleged ethical violations that resulted in formal sanctions by the board.

Delgaudio withstood those criticisms, though, and is seeking a fifth term.

Saines counters that electing a new supervisor is appropriate.

""People are just ready for some change,"" he said.

To win, the challenger may need a strong turnout from Sterling's Hispanic community, a demographic group that other candidates haven't successfully attracted.

And Saines said, ""We have been reaching out to them.""

The Democrat also has had to weather Republicans' calls for him to exit the race based on drunken-driving convictions in 2003 and in 2007.

Those calls came first last month and have continued. Last week, Delgaudio took a shot at Saines in an email newsletter announcing to constituents and supporters that the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office would hold a weekend sobriety checkpoint.

""I strongly condemn irresponsible behavior, and I forgive people who have corrected their behavior,"" the Republican wrote. ""But I cannot condone candidates in either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or any party who don't know when to stop partying.""

Saines remains undeterred, though.

""I'm not letting my past determine my future,"" the challenger said.

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