The April 9 special election for the Neabsco supervisor’s seat was a watershed moment for Prince William County. For the first time in the county board’s 150-year history, an African-American resident was elected to fill one of its eight seats. That distinction went to Victor Angry, 50, a retired Army National Guardsman who was also the first black soldier to be promoted to the post of command sergeant major.
The fact that it took so long to elect a supervisor of color in Virginia’s largest minority-majority county took some by surprise. Prince William County has been minority-majority since 2010, and black residents have long served on the school board, the Manassas City Council and the Dumfries Town Council.
But there are reasons why it took so long. For one thing, too many local residents don’t know about local elections or are even aware the county has a board of supervisors. That’s likely the regrettable result of Virginia’s stubborn insistence to hold local elections on so-called “off-off years” when no federal nor statewide races are on the ballot.
As such, the contests draw little attention and favor incumbents. That’s reflected in the low voter turnout, which hasn’t cracked 30 percent in recent years.
There’s also the fact that two of the county’s most diverse districts – Neabsco and Potomac – have been represented by two popular incumbents for decades. Few candidates had been willing or eager to challenge either Neabsco District Supervisor John Jenkins (D) nor Potomac District Supervisor Maureen Caddigan (R), as both are well-known and well-liked by their constituents.
The community mourned the death of Jenkins, whom some called “the people’s supervisor,” in a February funeral that drew hundreds. During his 36-year tenure, Jenkins helped develop the Prince William County we enjoy today, to include its 95 schools, extensive road network, and commuter parking lots, numerous parks and recreation trails and even the Potomac Mills mall, which remains an economic engine for the entire region.
Local leaders who make such a dramatic impacts inspire others to follow in their footsteps, in part because there remain so many problems left to solve. Five candidates, including four Democrats and one Republican, stepped up in short order to run for Jenkins’ seat.
Because the special election came only seven months before a general election, Angry will face his first re-election challenge in just a few weeks. In the June 11 Democratic primary, he’s up against Patrick Jones and Aracely Panameno, two candidates he beat in the Feb. 24 firehouse primary held ahead of the watershed April 9 contest.
Which brings us to the “waterfall moment” deluging the county in 2019.
Angry, Jones and Panameno are just three of the 25 candidates vying for the county board’s eight seats. It’s the largest and by far the most diverse group of hopefuls in recent memory. The field includes 13 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents and is comprised of 10 African-Americans, one Hispanic and nine women. They range in age from 25 to 70. All six incumbents running for re-election will face opponents, which is also unusual.
The fact that so many local residents are willing to interrupt their lives to serve our community in such a demanding way is encouraging. That our elected officials are sure to finally reflect our community’s rich diversity is truly an achievement.