The move allows the pro-growth two-term incumbent to avoid a direct primary race against a slow-growth Republican challenger.
Wilbourn, 57, made the announcement two hours after he missed a 5 p.m. deadline to file papers with Prince William County that were necessary to run in the June 10 Republican primary against challenger John T. Stirrup.
Four years ago the competition was split, too. Wilbourn narrowly squeaked out an 11-vote margin of victory over slow-growther Martha Hendley in a three-way Republican primary.
He’ll face Stirrup and Democrat Gary C. Friedman in November.
Wilbourn said he could no longer stay in a party that required him to pledge support for candidates who undermined his and others’ efforts to better the county with economic development.
“I will not pledge to support those who put their personal agendas before the public’s interests,” he said. “My pledge is to continue to represent the county’s best interests and my district’s best interests, not a political interest.”
Wilbourn’s announcement was not well received by Republicans.
Prince William Republican Committee Chairman Bruce Baxter said Wilbourn went back on his word because he was the one who picked the primary process.
“He wasn’t going to win. Stirrup was going to clean his clock,” Baxter said. “People are tired of roads for developers. They want roads for commuters.”
Stirrup said he was not surprised Wilbourn backed out of the primary.
“The committee — there are so many caustic folks in there,” Wilbourn said. “I think some of them think it’s national politics but it’s not. It’s local politics, and local solutions take consensus building,” he said.
What the board needs are supervisors willing to work as a team, and that is what he and four other supervisors have done with economic development, he said.
Supervisor Hilda M. Barg, D-Woodbridge, was the only county supervisor at the announcement.
“This is not about party — this is about quality of life for people of Prince William County,” she said.
Wilbourn cited supervisors Mary K. Hill, R-Coles, L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, and John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco, as well as Barg for their teamwork.
Gainesville politics are controversial. There is a petition drive to get Wilbourn to resign. What critics call sprawl and overdevelopment, Wilbourn points to as responsible economic growth that has rescued the county budget from huge deficits in the 1990s and dropped the real estate tax rate to $1.37.
In 1995, when he first ran, he said the school system could not afford minor repairs let alone expansion, affordable housing was stifling the county’s real estate market, and county staff was frozen.
Now Prince William has a rate of $1.16, it has a George Mason University campus, and an overhauled economic development authority he pushed for with results to show now: ATCC and Eli Lilly in the Innovation tech park and another 137 viable businesses.
Three major commercial rezonings in Gainesville and Haymarket in the last year will net Gainesville more than $10 million in road improvements.
“That’s no accident. That’s due to good leadership,” he said.
Wilbourn’s supporters were asked to sign another set of petitions for him to run as an independent.
Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.