Manassas Journal Messenger | Latest twist shakes up supervisors’ race

Republican Sean T. Connaughton fired back at his Democratic challenger Rick Coplen on Wednesday by releasing a letter that shows one of Coplen’s donors, Woodb?ridge developer Ken Thompson, is backing a plan for an Innovation East that Coplen called his own vision last week.

It is the latest twist in the Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairmanship race between Connaughton, who Coplen says is a divisive leader who needs to go, and Coplen, who Connaughton says was put up against him by Democrats Neabsco Supervisor John D. Jenkins and Sheriff E. Lee Stoffregen.

Thompson is president of Ken Thompson & Associates.

He lobbied for changes in the county’s comprehensive land-use plan to allow for a plan nearly identical to the one Coplen laid forth to the media in a press conference last week.

“The main trust of the plan is to locate the new Cannons stadium on the old bus yard site — I believe it is still in public hands,” Thompson wrote to Planning Commission Chairman Hector Quintana last November. Further down, he wrote, “The clustering of mid and high rise office up from I-95 is intended to give Fortune 500 companies as well as defense and homeland security agencies great visibility from I-95.”

“Hector, I know this plan for ‘Innovation East’ is a monumental vision to some and to others including it in the ongoing comp plan update could be a difficult task at best,” Thompson wrote.

Coplen does not call for changing the county’s land-use plan. But the two plans have the same central themes: Coplen said the bus yard site could be for a baseball stadium and said he would target “national defense and homeland security research and development jobs.”

“It’s clearly not his idea. The public deserves an explanation for that,” said Kyle Robertson, campaign manager for Connaughton. “It’s an idea that comes from Ken Thompson … he certainly wouldn’t be initiating this if he didn’t have any interest in it. He is a developer.”

“Ken has told me directly he does not have a financial stake in that area,” Coplen said.

Thompson did not return calls to his office. He donated $500 to Coplen’s campaign, Coplen said. Thompson is a past supporter of Democrat Kathleen Seefeldt, who Connaughton defeated four years ago, Robertson said.

Coplen said he talked to many people in forming his plan.

“This is immediately ugly … this is a very good example of Mr. Connaughton’s approach to county government. It’s a very negative example and example of personal destruction,” Coplen said.

But when pressed for other names of people he spoke with, Coplen took awhile to answer.

“Geez, I’d have to think about that. This idea has been germinating for a number of months,” he said. Coplen said Thompson was the one who told him about the bus yard site. Woodbridge Democrat Dennis Stewart was another person he discussed it with, he said.

Asked for more names, Coplen said it would be inappropriate to list everyone who has advised him.

Coplen, 44, is portraying himself as a positive visionary who can bridge the divides between slow- and pro-growth groups better than Connaughton, 42, who Coplen paints as a “polarizing” no-growth force on the board.

Making those labels stick could be a difficult task for Coplen.

Much of Connaughton’s $98,000 war chest has come from developers, and rural preservationists have watched him join them in voting against projects to control growth. Last year conservatives used a fund-raising letter to label Connaughton as in bed with developers.

Connaughton points out that Coplen is forgetting that his own party holds a two-person minority on the board, one that consistently votes on the side of developers.

“When you look at the board, one of the people who got him in this is John Jenkins,” Connaughton said, “and by criticizing the board on growth, he’s criticizing his patron.”

In July, the Board of County Supervisors voted down KSI’s Greater South Market golf community and Coplen said at the time the swing vote, Hilda M. Barg, D-Woodbridge, gave into election year politics when she voted against it. She usually votes yes.

Coplen’s has only $2,626 in the bank as of June 30. He said he hopes to raise $100,000. He has a Sept. 4 fund-raiser put on by rural preservationist Bob Moler as well as other events. Moler just sent him a check for $150, he said.

Connaughton spent $22,390 in the period around the June 10 Republican primary that he easily won over challenger Larry Williams with 83 percent of the vote.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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