UPDATED: A special election to pick an interim Prince William County supervisor to serve out the late John Jenkins' term will be moved to April 9, Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart said Tuesday.
During the supervisors' afternoon meeting Feb. 19, Stewart, R-At Large, said Prince William County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tracy Hudson has vacated a writ of election Hudson issued last week to set the special election for Neabsco District supervisor's seat on Tuesday, April 2.
Stewart further said Hudson had agreed to issue a new writ of election that would schedule the special election for Tuesday, April 9.
Stewart said Hudson had agreed to sign the writ on Thursday, Feb. 21, which would push the deadline for filing candidate paperwork back one week -- from Tuesday, Feb. 19, to Tuesday, Feb. 26.
For a several reasons, the supervisors originally asked Hudson on Feb. 12 to schedule the special election on April 2. But the date was considered problematic almost immediately because of a state law that sets a five-day timeframe for candidates to enter the race.
Because the election will be held in fewer than 60 days, candidates have only five days to declare an intent to run for the seat.
Jenkins, a Democrat, served in the Neabsco District supervisor's post for 36 years before his death on Feb. 6.
The Neabsco District Democratic Committee has said it would hold a nominating caucus this coming weekend to pick a candidate for the special election.
The group had planned a one-hour firehouse primary on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in case the candidate filing deadline was not changed. The group then had to cancel that event Monday, Feb. 18, after the state Democratic Party objected to the short timeframe for voting.
Monday, Feb. 18: Dale City Democrats planning to rush home from work in time to vote in an afternoon "firehouse primary" set for tomorrow will catch a break. The caucus has been canceled.
Local Democrats were forced to call off the Feb. 19 contest they organized over the weekend after the Democratic Party of Virginia refused to grant a waiver they needed to hold the event with fewer than seven days' notice.
The Prince William County Democratic Committee announced the event, formally an "Unassembled Caucus," on Saturday night -- just three days before it was set to take place at the local Democratic headquarters in Mapledale Plaza off Dale Boulevard in Dale City.
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker denied the waiver Monday. Shyam Raman, DPVA political director, said party leaders were opposed to the logistics of the caucus, which only allowed one hour of voting -- from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. -- on a weekday afternoon.
"The consensus was this was not the ideal way to nominate a candidate," Raman said.
Tonya James, senior vice chair of the Prince William Democratic Committee, said the group learned only late last week it would have until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, to pick a candidate for the April 2 special election, which was requested by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors last week.
Now, however, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, is pledging to give the local Democratic committee -- as well as their GOP counterparts -- a little more time.
Stewart said Monday the board will vote Tuesday to ask Judge Tracy Hudson to vacate the original writ of election, which he issued Wednesday, Feb. 13, to issue a new one that will set the special election on Tuesday, April 9.
Stewart said the board would further ask Hudson not to sign the writ until Thursday, Feb. 21. That would give the parties until Tuesday, Feb. 26 to nominate their candidates.
According to Virginia Code, candidates running in special elections occurring in fewer than 60 days must declare their candidacies within five days of when a judge issues a writ of election for the contest.
The special election is being called to elect an interim supervisor to fill the Neabsco District seat, which was officially declared open when John Jenkins, who had held the post for 36 years, passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
The Prince William Board of Supervisors had to request a writ for the special election within 15 days of Jenkins' death, also according to state code.
The supervisors voted Tuesday, Feb. 12 to ask Hudson to set the special election for Tuesday, April 2.
The date was picked, in part, to allow the interim supervisor to participate in an April 9 public hearing on next year's budget and to have input on a county bond issue the supervisors expect to vote on in June, according to Supervisors Marty Nohe, R-Coles, and Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge.
The June 11 primary further complicated their decision because the special election cannot be held less than 60 days before the primary or more than 60 after it. That left the supervisors with the option of holding the special election either before April 12 or between July 11 and Aug. 10.
Nohe said Friday it didn't make sense to him to hold the special election after the June 11 primary. That's when voters will pick candidates for all eight seats on the board to run in the Nov. 5 general election for a new four-year term.
But Nohe, Principi and Stewart all said the board did not realize the parties would only have five days to nominate a candidate under the April 2 scenario.
If Hudson agrees to the board's request for a new writ, the Prince William County Democratic Committee is now planning to hold a nominating contest sometime next weekend, on Saturday, Feb. 23 and Sunday, Feb. 24, James said.
The new timeline will allow Jenkins' widow, Ernestine Jenkins, to help select a Democratic candidate or run for the interim seat.
Or, she may decide to run, which is something she is considering, Keith Scarborough, a local Democratic leader and secretary of the Prince William Electoral Board, said Monday.
Ernestine Jenkins is away in Alabama this week for her husband's burial. She is scheduled to return on Sunday, Feb. 24. Calls to her for comment on Friday have not yet been returned.
"Whatever she ends up doing -- whether she wants to run or not -- at least she can be involved in the process," Scarborough said.
So far, only Don Shaw, who is chairman of the Prince William Democratic Committee, has publicly announced an interest in running for the seat.
On Saturday, Shaw said he would wait to have a conversation with Ernestine Jenkins "to get her blessing" before formally declaring his candidacy in the nominating process.
What happens if Hudson declines the supervisors' request to reschedule the election? Candidates -- regardless of party nomination -- will still have to file the necessary paperwork with the state department of elections by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, according to a candidate bulletin posted Monday.
Original story: Local Democrats will hold a hastily-organized “firehouse primary” Tuesday, Feb. 19 to pick their nominee for an April 2 special election to fill Supervisor John Jenkins' seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
But those plans could change even as voters cast their ballots in the contest if the supervisors make good on a promise to push the special election back one week – to Tuesday, April 9.
If all of that sounds a bit unorthodox, that’s because it is.
Why so soon?
The head-spinning turn of events stems from a vote the county board of supervisors took Tuesday, Feb. 12 to request that a special election to fill the Neabsco District supervisor’s seat take place on Tuesday, April 2.
The board’s vote came after the supervisors retreated in closed session that afternoon in part to get legal advice about their options in the wake of Jenkins’ passing on Wednesday, Feb. 6. Jenkins, a Democrat, had served 36 years as the Neabsco District supervisor. He had been missing from the dais since late October when he entered the hospital for knee-replacement surgery and then contracted pneumonia, which led to his death.
Picking a date for the special election was complicated by the fast-approaching June 11 primary, during which Democrats will pick their candidates for all eight seats on the board of supervisors -- all of which are up for re-election in November.
(An aside: The Prince William Republican Committee won’t participate in the June 11 primary to pick their candidates for the supervisors’ seats. They’ve decided instead to hold a firehouse primary on Saturday, May 4.)
According to state law, the special election cannot be held within 60 days of the state-run primary. That means it must take place either before April 12 or between July 11 and Aug. 10 (or between 30 and 45 days after the June 11 primary, as also dictated by state law).
Also, the supervisors had to request a date for the special election in time for a judge to issue a writ of election within 15 days of Jenkins’ death, which is also required by state law. That meant they had to make the call on either Feb. 12 or Feb. 19.
The board voted Tuesday, Feb. 12 to ask Prince William Circuit Court Judge Tracy Hudson to set the special election for Tuesday, April 2.
The date was selected to allow the interim Neabsco District supervisor to participate in a public hearing on the fiscal year 2020 budget scheduled for Tuesday, April 9, according to Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles.
What the supervisors did not know, however, was that the board’s decision left the county’s two political parties only five days to pick their candidates after the writ of election was issued, also according to state law.
The writ was issued Wednesday, Feb. 13, the same day as Jenkins’ memorial service. That put the deadline for candidate filings at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19.
News of the lightning-fast timeline was met with immediate pushback from both Democratic officials as well as Jenkins’ widow, Ernestine Jenkins, who told supervisors she hoped to play a role in selecting a Democratic candidate to run for her husband’s seat, according to several people familiar with discussions around the event.
That would not be possible because the Jenkins family is traveling to the Jenkins’ home state of Alabama this week for a Monday, Feb. 18 burial service.
Ernestine Jenkins also chairs the Neabsco District Democratic Committee. Calls to her for comment Friday have so far not been returned.
Stewart pledges to reschedule
The developments – which were just coming to light late last week – prompted Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, to promise the board will hold a new vote this Tuesday, Feb. 19 to ask Hudson to vacate the original writ for the special election and request a new writ for Tuesday, April 9.
“I haven’t spoken to a single person who isn’t in favor of moving it to April 9,” Stewart said Saturday.
Stewart said the board did not realize state law would require the parties to nominate their candidates in such a short timeframe.
“John Jenkins is being put into the ground on Monday,” Stewart said. “It’s just very, very disrespectful to his family” to force a primary so soon.
It was a position Nohe reiterated in an interview Friday.
“I feel like it’s disrespectful to John’s legacy to not let his family be a part of it, and especially Ernestine,” Nohe said.
Stewart also said it’s unlikely the Prince William County GOP will field candidate in the race given the strong Democratic-leanings of the Neabsco District.
“I seriously doubt it. …I mean, it’s just a very strong [Democratic] district,” Stewart said when asked if his party would name a nominee.
Still, Bill Card, chairman of the local GOP committee, said his group will meet Tuesday to discuss the race. He further said “it’s possible” the group will have candidate by the deadline set by the original writ of election.
“We’re working on it,” Card said in a text message Saturday.
Democrats schedule caucus just in case
Still, what if Stewart and the rest of the supervisors decide NOT to vote to request a new writ on Tuesday?
That possibility had Prince William Democrats scrambling over the weekend to organize a just-in-case firehouse primary in time to have a candidate before the 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19 deadline imposed by the original writ.
If the supervisors don’t vote to ask Hudson to vacate the writ by 3:30 p.m., voting will begin at the Dems’ county headquarters: 5517 Mapledale Plaza in Dale City.
Voters must bring picture IDs to prove they are registered in the Neabsco District. Ballots will be cast until 4:30 p.m. so that a candidate’s name can be sent to the office of elections by the 5 p.m. deadline, said Tonya James, the senior vice chair of the local Democratic Committee who is overseeing the caucus.
Candidates who want to run for the seat must file the necessary paperwork and a $1,000 filing fee between 2 and 3 p.m. Tuesday to qualify, James said.
Voing could stop abruptly if the committee receives word of the supervisors’ vote after 3:30 p.m., James said.
In that case, Neabsco Democrats will have to return for another nominating caucus, which will likely be held this coming weekend but over a longer time period to allow voters more time to cast their ballots, James said.
Finally: Who‘s running?
James is overseeing the caucus because Don Shaw, a Neabsco resident and chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, said he’s considering running for his party’s nomination for the seat.
But Shaw said Saturday he won’t officially declare his intent to run before he talks it over with Ernestine Jenkins.
“I will have a conversation with Ernestine Jenkins. … I want to have that conversation first because if I seek that seat, I would want to have her blessing. That’s the least I feel I can do,” Shaw said.
Whether other candidates are mulling a run in the caucus was not clear as of Sunday afternoon.
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