Ste­wart’s sup­port­ers ques­tion his tac­tics

Va. Se­nate hope­ful’s race has some vot­ers long­ing for his hy­per­local agenda

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY AN­TO­NIO OLIVO

Jim Napoli of­ten cringes at the way Vir­ginia Repub­li­can Corey A. Ste­wart’s Se­nate cam­paign has gone — his bom­bas­tic Twit­ter posts, his un­wa­ver­ing fealty to Pres­i­dent Trump and the sug­ges­tions he has ties to white su­prem­a­cists.

“I think he’s bet­ter than that,” said Napoli, pres­i­dent of a home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion in Prince Wil­liam County. “He could have run on the strength of his lead­er­ship in Prince Wil­liam County and what he’s done here.”

Vot­ers like Napoli have elected Ste­wart four times as chair of the county’s board of su­per­vi­sors, even as the in­creas­ingly blue North­ern Vir­ginia com­mu­nity has sup­ported Democrats in re­cent statewide elec­tions, giv­ing Tim Kaine (D) 58 per­cent of its vote in the 2012 Se­nate race.

While doubt­ful of Ste­wart’s chances for suc­cess against Kaine in Novem­ber, Napoli plans to vote for the Repub­li­can for rea­sons that have lit­tle to do with his Se­nate cam­paign prom­ises to fight il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, pre­serve Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments or gen­er­ally carry out Trump’s agenda.

It was Ste­wart who cham­pi­oned a $300 mil­lion county

trans­porta­tion bond is­suance ap­proved by vot­ers in 2006 that is still pay­ing for im­prove­ments along Route 1 and other traf­fic­choked roads in the fast-grow­ing county of 456,000 res­i­dents.

Ste­wart was also be­hind dozens of new base­ball fields, soc­cer pitches and swim­ming pools in Prince Wil­liam, many paid by de­vel­op­ers through prof­fer ar­range­ments.

And while to some his lan­guage on the cam­paign trail has at times bor­dered on xeno­pho­bia, Ste­wart was in­stru­men­tal in the ap­proval of a new mosque last year that was op­posed by hun­dreds of res­i­dents in a ru­ral por­tion of western Prince Wil­liam.

As Ste­wart grap­ples with con­tro­versy and trails Kaine by as many as 20 points in most polls, some lo­cal sup­port­ers won­der: Where has that other Corey Ste­wart been?

“The image that peo­ple in Prince Wil­liam County have of Corey Ste­wart is much dif­fer­ent than the one you’ve seen emerg­ing with the Se­nate race,” said Su­per­vi­sor Pete K. Cand­land (R-Gainesville), a fre­quent ally of Ste­wart’s on the Repub­li­can-con­trolled county board.

“He’s re­ally tar­geted all those things that fam­i­lies are con­cerned about: traf­fic, parks, cap­i­tal im­prove­ments, qual­ity-of-life things, and he’s been able to get the money to build those things,” Cand­land said. “That Corey Ste­wart is dif­fer­ent than what peo­ple out­side the county know.”

Ste­wart has some­times high­lighted his record in Prince Wil­liam while cam­paign­ing, usu­ally fo­cus­ing on the fact that the county’s real es­tate tax rate — $1.125 per $100 of as­sessed value — is among the low­est in North­ern Vir­ginia while of­fi­cials deal with traf­fic con­ges­tion and crowded schools.

More of­ten, he will re­turn to the lo­cal frus­tra­tions over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion that thrust him into the na­tional spot­light in 2006.

Back then, the county was pas­sion­ately divided over a res­o­lu­tion that, ini­tially, di­rected po­lice to check the sta­tus of any­one sus­pected of be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally, a fight Ste­wart cham­pi­oned on his way to win­ning that year’s spe­cial elec­tion to re­place re­tir­ing board chair Sean Con­naughton. The county pol­icy was later amended to ap­ply to any­one ar­rested by po­lice.

Ste­wart said talk­ing about crimes com­mit­ted by un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and the preser­va­tion of Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments res­onates most with con­ser­va­tive vot­ers who helped him win the GOP Se­nate nom­i­na­tion in June. High­light­ing those prob­lems also gets him the most press, he said.

“I could talk about roads and schools and the econ­omy all day long,” Ste­wart said. But, he added, “when I think about ‘What am I go­ing to cam­paign on?’ a lot of it de­pends on ‘What does the press pick up on?’ ”

Kris­ten Per­per, 50, said she’s not par­tic­u­larly pas­sion­ate about those more di­vi­sive is­sues, though she agrees with Ste­wart’s po­si­tions.

What won her over was the time in 2015 when Ste­wart showed up to her lo­cal park in Nokesville to throw out the first pitch on open­ing day for Lit­tle League base­ball af­ter he helped se­cure $875,000 in im­prove­ments that in­cluded new sta­dium lights.

Per­per said she ap­proached Ste­wart with sto­ries of how, with­out lights in their park, the teams would have to travel to other parks as far as 30 miles away for games sched­uled to last past sun­set. Af­ter home games in the fall ran late, par­ents of­ten scram­bled for flash­lights to find bats, balls and other equip­ment, she said.

“He to­tally got it,” Per­per said, call­ing his pitcher’s-mound ap­pear­ance “re­ally im­por­tant” to the com­mu­nity. “He’s some­body who, when he gets an idea in his head, he’ll go all in if he be­lieves in it.”

Nathan Mow­ery, 28, said he was im­pressed with how Ste­wart han­dled a con­tro­ver­sial vote over a pro­posed mosque in Gainesville last year.

The project drew op­po­si­tion from res­i­dents wor­ried about the ex­tra mosque traf­fic on al­ready clogged lo­cal roads — and ig­nited Is­lam­o­pho­bia among oth­ers.

Ste­wart might have gained easy po­lit­i­cal points by join­ing the op­po­si­tion — in­clud­ing the two Repub­li­can su­per­vi­sors rep­re­sent­ing the area — given that the mosque plan re­quired a spe­cialuse per­mit to con­nect to the lo­cal sewer lines.

In­stead, dur­ing an emo­tional board meet­ing that lasted un­til 3:30 a.m., Ste­wart re­minded his col­leagues that — since the board had pre­vi­ously ap­proved sim­i­lar spe­cial-use per­mits for churches — the county could be sued for re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion if it re­jected the mosque.

“This is not a nor­mal land-use hear­ing,” he told his fel­low su­per­vi­sors. “We are lim­ited here by the fed­eral law.”

Af­ter the sewer-line per­mit was still re­jected in a 4-to-4 tie, Ste­wart backed a mo­tion to re­con­sider the vote. He then sug­gested that Su­per­vi­sor John D. Jenk­ins (D-Ne­ab­sco) vote yes — with op­po­nents in the au­di­ence yelling “Don’t tell him how to vote!” — and the project was ap­proved 5 to 3.

The ma­neu­ver gen­er­ated a short-lived re­call cam­paign tar­get­ing Ste­wart and a law­suit against the mosque project that also went nowhere.

For Mow­ery and other Mus­lims who plan to pray at the mosque, it cre­ated good­will in the com­mu­nity that re­cently al­lowed Ste­wart some lee­way when, ac­cord­ing to Ste­wart, a cam­paign con­trac­tor with ac­cess to his Twit­ter ac­count tweeted an anti-Mus­lim remark.

“There are poli­cies he has that I don’t al­ways agree with, but when it comes to ac­tu­ally count­ing the times that Corey Ste­wart has stood up for the Mus­lim com­mu­nity and the times Tim Kaine has, I would ac­tu­ally count Corey Ste­wart as a more prom­i­nent sup­porter,” Mow­ery said, adding that he is still un­sure how he will vote in Novem­ber.

Napoli also watched Ste­wart work the levers of county gov­ern­ment on be­half of his com­mu­nity, the Som­er­set Cross­ing de­vel­op­ment of 524 homes near Gainesville.

Dur­ing a fight over where Do­min­ion would build trans­mis­sion lines to ac­com­mo­date a new dat­a­cen­ter com­plex in the area, Ste­wart’s of­fice blocked Do­min­ion from us­ing 55 acres of wet­lands owned by the Som­er­set de­vel­op­ment, by ar­rang­ing for the county to ac­quire the prop­erty as open space — pro­tect­ing it from fed­eral em­i­nent-do­main pro­ceed­ings Do­min­ion would have to use.

Do­min­ion won state ap­proval ear­lier this year to par­tially bury its lines be­neath In­ter­state 66 af­ter Ste­wart and lo­cal home­own­ers also fought against pro­posed routes through other com­mu­ni­ties.

“It wouldn’t have hap­pened with­out Corey and his team,” Napoli said.

Still, Ste­wart has plenty of de­trac­tors in Prince Wil­liam.

Elena Schloss­berg — who as head of the Coali­tion to Pro­tect Prince Wil­liam County worked with Ste­wart in the Do­min­ion fight — called him “an ac­tor” on the cam­paign trail who will adopt what­ever pol­icy po­si­tions he thinks will get him elected.

“When he is on the county board, he finds him­self in a po­si­tion where he ac­tu­ally has to be rea­son­able,” Schloss­berg said.

Dur­ing a re­cent board meet­ing, Ste­wart sat through pre­sen­ta­tions, jok­ing with the pre­sen­ters and, in be­tween, try­ing to ca­jole a few of his col­leagues into back­ing an­other trans­porta­tion bond is­suance.

One county con­trac­tor shared the re­sults of a new res­i­dents sur­vey that showed 56 per­cent of re­spon­dents re­ported be­ing “ex­tremely sat­is­fied” with county ser­vices.

Ste­wart won some laugh­ter af­ter dead­pan­ning: “I couldn’t hear you. Can you say that again?”

Mean­while, his sup­port­ers and crit­ics were hav­ing it out on Twit­ter over a few posts he had writ­ten just be­fore the meet­ing.

One fea­tured a stock photo of shirt­less Latino gang mem­bers look­ing men­ac­ingly into the dis­tance. An­other high­lighted a con­ser­va­tive web­site’s ar­ti­cle about il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, show­ing mi­grants climb­ing a border fence.

“This WILL end, af­ter we #FireTimKaine on Novem­ber 6,” Ste­wart wrote, gen­er­at­ing 1,100 likes.

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