by Nick Miroff, The Washington Post

26 October 2006, p. B1

“Sharon E. Pandak worked the one-two combo between a rack of shopping carts and the automatic doors of a Giant supermarket in Woodbridge on a wet, dreary afternoon last week, greeting locals with her right hand and giving out campaign fliers with the other. She zeroed in on an older gentleman unloading groceries and shuffled over to make her pitch for the top job in Virginia’s second-largest county.

“The man sized up the literature, then the candidate.

” ‘You’re in Corey Stewart territory,’ he said to her flatly, as if she were trespassing.

“True, the supermarket lay squarely in the Occoquan district of Corey A. Stewart, her Republican opponent in the Nov. 7 special election for chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. But Pandak and her husband, Robert M. Ross, Fairfax County’s attorney, also live in Occoquan.

” ‘I’m in my territory,’ Pandak said. ‘I live nearby.’

“Pandak acknowledges that a lack of recognition is the biggest hurdle for her, even though she was an attorney for Prince William for more than 25 years.

“Pandak is not flashy, glib or most of the things that can make a candidate shine in a short campaign. She has built her candidacy on her long resume, highlighting managerial expertise and prudence vs. her opponent’s anti-growth, single-issue fervency.

“Unwilling to concede the growth issue to Stewart, she has emphasized ‘smart growth’ policies that create higher-density development around improved public transportation. She has also proposed a $25 million bond to create open space and says her positions reflect a more mature, sensible approach to governing.

” ‘We can’t wave a magic wand and say we want to stop all development,’ she said. ‘It’s not going to happen.’

“Pandak, 53, is pressed for time. The campaign, her first, didn’t get off the ground until a few weeks ago, and she began it reluctantly. Being chairman ‘wasn’t my wildest dream,’ she said, and her decision to run was made after ‘some people’ — she declines to say who — approached her about stewarding the remaining 13 months of Republican Sean T. Connaughton’s four-year term as chairman. Connaughton resigned last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

” ‘I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my experience and the connections I have,’ Pandak said. ‘I looked at options that voters had for the chairmanship, and that’s what convinced me to run.’

“In that regard, Pandak is also running as the anti-Stewart candidate. She has sought to depict herself as much more of a consensus-builder than her opponent, with working relationships at every level of state government.

“After serving as Prince William attorney from 1989 to 2004 and receiving the county’s highest job performance rating, Pandak abruptly resigned to prepare for a run for state attorney general. But Pandak never filed for candidacy because she worried that she couldn’t raise the necessary campaign funds. She returned to private practice, mainly counseling area governments on land-use issues.

“Pandak cites memberships in prominent legal and political organizations as other examples of her experience. She has been president of the Prince William County Bar Association and Legal Services of Northern Virginia, and taught at the University of Virginia’s Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership, receiving accolades along the way.

“The daughter of a high school basketball coach, Pandak grew up in Staunton, Va. She attended college and law school at William and Mary and said the reason she joined the chairman’s race mirrors her decision to become a lawyer — ‘to benefit the public.’

“Her work has drawn praise from supporters.

” ‘Sharon behaves like someone who thinks about governing as opposed to just campaigning,’ said Miles Friedman, chairman of the Prince William Economic Development Council. ‘She impressed me as county attorney in that she understands key issues and economic development — everything from land use to attracting good-sized companies and the needs of small business.’

“More important, said former county supervisors chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D), Pandak can build consensus and has ‘an intimate knowledge of local government.’

” ‘There won’t be a learning curve,’ Seefeldt said. ‘She comes with a storehouse of knowledge and leadership skills.’

“But Pandak’s ties to Seefeldt are also being turned against her by critics who see the 1990s as a time of runaway development and as the origin of the fast-growing county’s traffic and crowding problems.

” ‘It’s been very difficult for Sharon to convince people of her bona fides on the growth issue because she’s so tied to the Seefeldt legacy,’ said Gary C. Friedman, whom Pandak defeated for the Democratic nomination.

” ‘Sharon has credibility problems on the most important issue facing the county,’ he said, echoing the familiar Stewart charge that Pandak is ‘cozy’ with developers.

“Stewart has also charged that Pandak would allow changes to zoning laws that protect the Rural Crescent, 80,000 acres where density is limited to one house per 10 acres, which was created under Seefeldt. ‘Sharon was the architect of that plan, and to think she wouldn’t protect it is plain silly,’ Seefeldt said, calling the issue ‘a political smoke screen.’

” ‘The growth management issue is more complicated than protecting something that’s already protected,’ Seefeldt said.”