Manassas Journal Messenger | Neabsco candidates focus on growth, transportation

Prince William County Supervisor John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco, must defeat two challengers if he is to keep the seat he has held for 21 years.

Republican challenger Scott Hirons, 31, defines himself as a “smart, controlled growth” candidate.

“Smart growth,” he said, “is making decisions that will be a benefit for the people, decisions that people want to be made and it’s not driven by developer greed or the need to earn a quick buck.”

Independent candidate Keith Kessler, 53, says lack of affordable housing and inadequate public transportation are the biggest issues facing the county.

Kessler said the county’s housing problems will only get worse.

“In Prince William County we’re going to have a shortage of supply in years to come,” the Woodbridge resident said.

“Somehow we’re going to have to come up with some kind of plan to make it affordable.” Kessler said.

Kessler, who has pledged to work for free if elected, said local government must think in broader terms if the area’s transportation problems are to be solved.

“We’ve got to start thinking more futuristic with our modes of transportation. I’m not talking about building 20 million more miles of highway. I’m talking about a monorail system that can run in all kinds of weather,” he said.

Kessler, a Woodbridge resident of 10 years, said one of his main gripes is politicians who make promises and don’t keep them.

Jenkins, 64 of Dale City, is running on his record which includes raising money for the Dale City Sports Clubs and responding promptly to constituent complaints.

Jenkins said he will stick to the plan that gotten him elected to his previous six terms on the board.

If it’s a public building and it’s in the county, and it got there after 1982, then his name is somehow attached to it, Jenkins said.

If re-elected, Jenkins said he will continue in the same vein.

His priorities will remain public safety, transportation, education, economic development and human services.

“When I first became your supervisor,” Jenkins said in his announcement speech in March, “I pledged that my first priority would be service to my constituents. That is still my pledge.”

Jenkins, who retired as a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army, also served two terms as vice chairman of the board of supervisors and two terms as chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

He is currently vice chairman if the Virginia Railway Express and a commissioner on the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.

Hirons, a 1994 graduate of George Mason University, was honorably discharged as a corporal from the U.S. marine Corps Reserve in 1998.

A 1989 graduate of Gar-Field High School, Hirons was previously president of the Cardinal Crest Home Owners Association for four years and the vice chair of the Prince William Area Young Republicans between 2001 and 2002.

Hirons’ campaign got off to a shaky start when the State Board of Elections refused to certify his petition for candidacy.

Hirons, also of Dale City, needed the signatures from 125 registered voters from the Neabsco District.

At the time, Bruce Baxter, the Prince William County Republican Committee Chairman said Hirons’ petition was “just short.”

The Prince William Republican committee, nevertheless, nominated Hirons, an information technology consultant, as the Republican candidate in a “Firehouse Primary”

“It would be advertised in the paper under legal notices,” Baxter explained at the time. “It’ll be announced and anybody who is a registered voter … Republicans I hope … can come to a location in the Neabsco District and they will have a chance to vote for a nominee,”

Hirons has been on the offensive against Jenkins ever since.

“This county has become a place where growth is out of control, in which developers, not the people are in charge,” said Hirons when he announced his candidacy in March.

In a press conference this summer, Hirons accused Jenkins of being reckless with the Rural Crescent, 80,000 acres stretching from Quantico Marine Base to the Loudoun County line.

Rural Crescent zoning allows for 10-acre farms. It was created in the 1998 comprehensive plan as A-1 agricultural, zoned land.

Hirons also said Jenkins failed to get proffers adequate to offset the building in the county.

Developers offer proffers such as roads, landscaping, schools, or swimming pools to offset the impact their development may have on an area.

“The incumbent Neabsco District supervisor seems to feel that, ‘Well sure let’s take bites out of it for projects that will pad the county’s books,’ ” Hirons said of his perception of Jenkins’ attitude toward the Rural Crescent.

Jenkins said he never voted for any development that exceeded the restrictions imposed by the comprehensive plan.

“I was part of the process that became the foundation of the comprehensive plan that has been reviewed and updated every five years with significant citizen participation,” Jenkins said.

As for proffers, Jenkins reminded Hirons that he is but one Democratic vote on the board that is largely Republican.

“I don’t know where he’s been, but you know the board requires that proffers be made for infrastructure improvements on any rezoning that’s done,” Jenkins said.

“That’s a board thing. That’s not a John Jenkins thing … any one supervisor can’t make those decisions,” he said.

Jenkins also attracted criticism early in the campaign for questioning Kessler’s ability to do the job from a wheelchair.

Kessler, a quadriplegic, who founded the Disabled Action Committee, an advocacy group for the disabled, said the notion was preposterous.

“I was surprised he was foolish enough to say something that silly,” said Kessler,

“If he would remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in a wheelchair. Maybe I can’t hold the scissors, but I can go the ribbon cutting,” Kessler said in August.

Jenkins stood by his comments.

“All I said was Mr. Kessler was physically disabled and I don’t see how he could physically perform the long hours of the board meetings,” Jenkins said. “It’s a demanding job and I question whether he has the physical stamina to stand up to the long hours.”

Kessler first injured his spinal cord playing football when he was a teenager in 1967.

“I wasn’t supposed to walk then,” Kessler said of his injury that finally put him in a wheelchair in 1985.

“Over the years the scar tissue built up, compressed the cord again and I walked after that, but then my health insurance ran out. You lay around in bed and it’s ‘use it or lose it,’ ” he said.

Nevertheless, he gets around and said he was up to the job. He has one full-time and several part-time aides who stay with him as long as necessary.

He was at the Dale City 4th of July Parade. He distributes campaign flyers every night and goes out to eat several time a week. He recently went on a vacation to Canada where he maintained 15-hour days, he said.

Kessler has been self employed, but has also worked for various types of businesses from manufacturing to auto repair.

“Jenkins doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Kessler said at the time. “Being disabled doesn’t mean you’re dead.”

Another of Hirons’ points of contention with Jenkins is the now infamous, 2001 Board of County Supervisors walk out when Jenkins, Hilda M. Barg, D-Dumfries, and Edgar S. Wilbourn III, I-Gainesville, left a board meeting to protest the disposition of carry-over funds.

Jenkins and two other board members wanted to hire two new deputies while the others wanted to hire three new police officers.

Jenkins said the walk-out was a political maneuver, nothing more. Hirons has called for Jenkins to repay the county a month’s wages for the lost meeting.

But both insist that public safety is their uppermost concern.

“Public safety is always an important issue to me,” Hirons said. “It should never fall victim to politics. Unfortunately, it has done just that.”

“There’s been a battle brewing between the police department and the sheriff’s office and the incumbent has been right in the middle throwing punches,” Hirons said.

Jenkins differed.

“I’ve supported the police department to the fullest extent. My record on public safety speaks for itself. I’ve had police association endorsements in the past , the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) endorsements in the past,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the board members who walked out used the action in much the same way the U.S. Senate would use a filibuster, and scolded Hirons for raising the issue.

“It just shows his ignorance of parliamentary procedure and that speaks for itself,” Jenkins said.

Kessler said he doesn’t care which law enforcement agency responds to his emergency.

“When we’re in trouble and we’ve got somebody coming out to the door, I don’t care if they’re wearing a brown uniform or a blue uniform. I want help,” Kessler said.

The Neabsco District’s easternmost border is Neabsco Mills Road between U.S. 1 and Dale Boulevard.

It is bordered, on the west by Delaney Road and on the south by Cardinal Drive and Neabsco Creek including the Dale City Recreation center and the Enterprise voting precinct.

Smoketown Road and the Prince William Parkway comprise the northernmost border of the district which includes the Minnieville, Godwin Civic, Center and Bel Air precincts and the Northern Virginia Community College.

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