During a debate Thursday among Loudoun’s candidates for County Chairman At Large, where all three broadly agreed on making growth and transportation top priorities, the three sought to distinguish themselves on their specific plans, their records, and how much or how little voters could trust their opponents.
Incumbent Democrat Phyllis J. Randall, Republican John Whitbeck and Independent candidate Bob Ohneiser sparred at a debate hosted by the Coalition of Loudoun Towns and moderated by Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk, Loudoun Times-Mirror reporter Nathaniel Cline and Loudoun Now editor Norman K. Styer.
Each candidate presented ideas for how they would go about tackling traffic, transit, housing costs, and mental health issues and drug addiction in Loudoun. Whitbeck pointed to the series of proposals he has rolled out during his campaign—such as imitating a program from Fairfax County to add a position to the County Attorney’s office focused on pro bono legal work, or increasing the size of the newly reestablished drug court program—while Randall pointed to what has been accomplished during her term leading the board, including restarting and expanding the drug court after it had been shut down in 2012, which she pushed.
Whitbeck and Randall also sparred over a handful of votes and proposals she had made during her term. Whitbeck attacked Randall for her vote to move about a square mile of land from the county’s Rural Policy Area to the Transition Policy Area during the county’s comprehensive plan review.
“When we go to the polls and choose our leaders, we are asked to put our trust in them, and one of the things we are going to be asked to do on the next board is deal with the Transition Policy Area … which candidates on the stage can you trust to keep their word, when it’s already been broken?”
But Randall defended that change, saying it was made in response to overwhelming support from the residents living in the area, providing them with access to public water and sewer. She said her work on the plan helped strengthen protections for rural Loudoun.
“There was never any protective language in the comprehensive plan to protect the rural west, which is why you had all the encroachment you had,” Randall said. “I actually made a motion and put protective language in the comprehensive plan for the first time.”
Responding to a question from the Leesburg mayor, Whitbeck said he supported the board’s controversial decision to allow Loudoun Water to expand service into the Leesburg Joint Land Management Area, but criticized the way in which the Republican supervisors took that action without prior coordination with town leaders. The vote resulted in a lawsuit from the Town of Leesburg. He also criticized Randall for initially not taking a position on the issue.
“I would not have abstained on that vote,” Whitbeck said. “I would have put myself in front of the voters and voted no.”
Randall said abstained on the first vote as a strategic measure—noting that, under the board’s rules of order, that would allow her to bring the issue back up for reconsideration, unlike being on the losing side of the vote. On a second motion, she voted against allowing Loudoun Water to be the primary utility providing in that area.
“I also cannot control how my Republican colleagues vote, and I’m not there to control how they vote,” Randall said. “I’m there to represent the people, and I did with that vote.”
Randall, meanwhile, slammed Whitbeck for his history of associating with hard-right Republicans during his time as Republican Party of Virginia chairman, campaigning for President Donald J. Trump and Prince William County Chairman and former U.S. Senate candidate Senate Corey Stewart.
Ohneiser attacked both party candidates, accusing Whitbeck of unavoidable conflicts of interest through his law firm and Randall of being focused on spectacle over results. Ohneiser, who has done no fundraising and little campaigning, presented himself as a nonpartisan alternative to the Democratic and Republican-endorsed candidates. He pointed to his professional experience—eight years of service on the School Board and his many years of involvement in community organizations like the Lucketts Ruritans and the Good Shepard Alliance.
“I’m a retired attorney that has no conflicts, I’m completely capable after working for 45 years in the six-figure category, I understand how to run meetings, I’m an extremely analytical [person] and I know how to get along with both parties,” Ohneiser said. “I don’t need 50 signs out there. People know my name. I know how to run a meeting.”
He began the debate with an original poem urging Loudouners to vote for the independent candidate.
All three will be on the ballot in this November’s general election. A full video of the debate may be viewed at loudoundebates.com.