It’s a race

We have yet to see the first dogwood bloom or cherry blossom of spring, yet the political season in Prince William County has already shifted into overdrive.

Races for all eight seats on the Board of County Supervisors have drawn what seems to be a record number of candidates, and now this. Sheriff Lee Stoffregen, a two-term incumbent, who has a vested interest in the outcome of many supervisor races, finds himself being challenged by the county’s regional jail superintendent. Col. Glen Hill announced Friday night that he is running for sheriff. His announcement came the same night Stoffregen went public with his re-election plans.

If the November elections represent a referendum on Prince William County’s land use and growth policies, then the sheriff’s race will certainly plot out the future role of that office as well.

Since his election in 1996, Stoffregen has beefed up the size of his department using more deputies for law enforcement duties such as traffic enforcement. The department’s primary duties are to guard the courthouse and transport prisoners, leading some to criticize the expanded role of Stoffregen’s deputies.

These efforts exploited a rift on the board of supervisors between allies of Republican Chairman Sean Connaughton and Stoffregen loyalist John Jenkins. The split reached a peak in 2001 when Jenkins and two other supervisors stormed out of a budget meeting over the funding of additional sheriff’s deputies.

While some of his initiatives have been controversial, the sheriff has worked hard to build strong support in the community. Stoffregen has since said he will work to unseat those supervisors who do not support his efforts by supporting candidates who do. The sheriff’s words carry significant weight considering his massive campaign fund, which is closing in on $300,000.

Hill, a former Manassas police officer and jail superintendent since 1992, says he’s not a politician and wants to limit the department’s law enforcement activities to those coordinated closely with the county police department.

It’s too early to gauge how much Hill’s candidacy will affect Stoffregen’s vow to help loyal supervisor candidates gain control of the board. Hill’s experience and backing from Prince William Republicans makes him a formidable challenger. There’s no doubt that Stoffregen’s broader political ambitions of influencing the outcome of county supervisor races would have been easier had he been unopposed for re-election.

One thing is for certain. The Stoffregen-Hill race for sheriff just adds fuel to an already volatile election year. Every local race seems to be intertwined with all the others. It’s just more proof that we’re in for a busy and spirited campaign season.

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