Dr. Babur Lateef won the special election for chairman of the Prince William County School Board last week, garnering more than 47 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
Alyson Satterwhite, one of his two opponents, held a press conference the day after Nov. 6 election, however, calling for the Virginia Department of Elections to investigate a political action committee named “Republicans for Stanley Bender” that she and other local Republicans called “illegal” and said likely cost Satterwhite key GOP votes.
Still, there’s no indication the PAC -- or any investigation into possible wrongdoing -- will affect the outcome of the race, which Satterwhite conceded to Lateef on Thursday, Nov. 8.
In a Facebook post, Satterwhite said she called Lateefto congratulate him: “We had a good conversation,” she wrote.
Lateef posted his own announcement shortly thereafter, calling his win an “overwhelming validation by the people of Prince William County to affirm a person who shares their values.”
Lateef is an ophthalmologist with four children in enrolled in Prince William County schools. He was endorsed by the local Democratic committee and has served as interim school board chairman since March, when the school board appointed him to the post after former school board chairman Ryan Sawyers resigned.
“Alyson Satterwhite called to congratulate me and we had a great conversation about the work we’ve done so far together and the direction of the school board,” Lateef wrote. “She has played and will continue to play a vital role … I would like to congratulate her on a hard fought campaign.”
PAC an ‘assault on the integrity of the vote’
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, Satterwhite held a press conference in front of the school division’s Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center with two Republican members of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. They called for an investigation into the controversial PAC, which was apparently formed by Harry Wiggins, a former chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee.
Satterwhite said the placement of the PAC’s red signs at polling places declaring “Republicans for Stanley Bender,” was an 11th-hour ploy to confuse GOP voters and “an assault of the integrity of the vote.”
Satterwhite has been a Gainesville District school board representative since 2012 and was endorsed in the chairman’s race by the Prince William County Republican Committee.
The school board is officially non-partisan, but candidates can and often run with political party endorsements. There’s no indication of party ties next to the candidates’ names on the ballot, which is why party volunteers hand out sample ballots outside the polls to inform voters about their party’s picks for various elected posts, including seats on the school board.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, read a statement during the press conference on Satterhwhite’s behalf: “On October 24, Mr. Harry Wiggins, who is a three-time recent chairman of the Prince William Democratic Committee, created a political action committee with the intent to mislead voters. It was named ‘Republicans for Stanley Bender.’ Virginia has a lot of requirements to create a PAC,” she said, “and additional requirements when you use the name of another candidate for the creation of your PAC.”
Lawson said the PAC’s application was not filed 21 days before the election, as required, and not did supply evidence that the candidate – Bender – was aware his name was being used as part of the PAC’s name, as is also required by Virginia elections law.
Bender confirmed on Friday he was never contacted by Wiggins – or anyone else – in connection with the PAC and never gave permission for his name to be used.
The group questioned how Bender, who ran as an independent and raised no money for his campaign, managed to win 14,704 votes or about 9.63 percent of the total ballots cast.
Lateef won 72,476 votes, or 47.46 percent, while Satterwhite garnered 63,785 votes, or 41.77 percent.
The PAC’s “statement of organization,” which the Virginia Department of Elections emailed to Prince William County Republican Committee Chairman Bill Card on Election Day, lists Wiggins as the PAC’s treasurer.
Wiggins has so far not returned calls for comment.
Lawson went on to accuse Wiggins of previous attempts to mislead voters and said he had called Republican elected officials disparaging names.
Both Lateef and Prince William County Democratic Committee Chairman Don Shaw distanced themselves from the PAC and Wiggins soon after the red “Republicans for Stanley Bender” signs surfaced at several polling places on Election Day.
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, Lateef issued a statement, saying: “My campaign does not condone those actions and we strongly condemn them, period.”
Shaw said he reached out to state elections officials for more information.
“After hearing the allegations that Harry Wiggins established the PAC, I reached out to the Department of Elections in Richmond for more information, [and] received confirmation from them that Harry Wiggins was responsible for establishing the PAC,” Shaw said in an emailed statement.
“Mr. Wiggins’ actions were not sanctioned by the Prince William County Democratic Committee and do not represent our values,” Shaw added. “Whether it is dirty tricks and deception, fake robocalls, not providing enough voting machines at the polling places, or other actions intended to suppress or confuse the vote, those actions go against everything we stand for.”
Lateef’s win means he will finish Sawyer’s term as chairman, which expires Dec. 31, 2019. All eight seats on the Prince William County School Board, including the chairman’s post, are up for re-election in November 2019.
Reach Karen Chaffraix at email@example.com