Issues such as the death penalty and Prince William County’s cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement separate the two candidates vying to be commonwealth’s attorney for the county and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
At a forum Sept. 11, Democratic nominee Amy Ashworth said her experience as a lawyer for 24 years, including 11 years in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office handling special victims cases, will help her advocate for justice as the county’s top prosecutor.
Republican nominee Mike May said he is running again for the position because he has the necessary legal and political experience. May has been a trial lawyer for 15 years in Virginia and served as Occoquan District supervisor from 2007 to 2016. He lost a race for commonwealth’s attorney in 2015 to incumbent Paul Ebert, who announced earlier this year that he would retire after serving since 1968.
About 150 people attended the forum hosted by the Prince William Committee of 100 and the League of Women Voters of the Prince William Area. The event also included candidates for Prince William County School Board chair.
The county’s commonwealth’s attorneys office has a $6.6 million budget and 50 employees.
Bob Allen, who moderated the forum between May and Ashworth, said Ebert has put more people on death row than any other prosecutor in Virginia, mostly due to his long tenure.
Ashworth said she would uphold the law if it requires a death sentence, but said it’s a costly, permanent action that can be unfairly applied to poor people and people of color.
May said a death sentence should be sought sparingly. “But some crimes do need it to protect the safety of the community,” he said.
Ashworth argued the death penalty doesn’t deter crime.
“You're still going to use it,” May said.
The county checks the immigration status of people who are arrested and holds detainees indefinitely if requested by ICE. May supports the program and was on the Board of County Supervisors when members approved the 287 (g) program in 2007.
“I think the program makes sense,” he said at the forum.
Ashworth said as a prosecutor when the program began, she saw that the impact on the community was negative. “We created a class of immigrants who were afraid to report crimes.”
She said one woman confided in her that her daughter was sexually abused, but the mother was afraid to report the crime because she didn’t want to be deported due to her immigration status.
Ashworth said the county has spent $2.5 million on the program and it “does nothing to ensure your safety.”
May said he didn’t hear Ashworth express any concerns when the program was approved.
School Board Chair Babur Lateef and one of his opponents, School Board member Alyson Satterwhite, who represents the Gainesville District, also spoke at the forum. The third candidate, Stanley Bender, a retired Woodbridge resident, did not attend.
Lateef won a special election to lead the board last November, defeating both Satterwhite and Bender. The three candidates will be back on the ballot this November, seeking a full, four-year term overseeing the second-largest school division in Virginia.
Lateef, a local ophthalmologist, said he is committed to improving student success, ensuring safety, and improving facilities and teacher salaries.
“Public schools worked for me; I want them to work for everybody,” Lateef said.
Earlier this year, the school board voted unanimously to increase teacher pay by 4.8% for fiscal year 2020, which started July 1. The increase was the largest raise in a decade.
Satterwhite, a two-term board member and the wife of a retired military officer, said she would put students first by asking the state to test students fewer times each year, and would also focus on class size, school safety and academic achievement. She said the board chair needs to be an advocate and a voice for the community.
“I will be your voice to ensure we have transparency,” she said.
Lateef said the school division’s graduation rate and other factors mean the division has been using local funding well. In 2018-19, about 92% of students graduated on-time, according to the school division.
Despite this, he said residents should elect county supervisors who are committed to school needs. He added the division needs more local funding.
“We’re working hard on getting more funding for next year,” he said. “The best time to invest in education is all the time and especially during a looming recession.”
Last November, Lateef received 47.7% of the votes, compared to Satterwhite’s 41.4% and Bender’s 9.6%. About 54% of 284,096 registered county voters cast a ballot in the special election last November.
A quote from Mike May has been corrected to note that, not only will he continue to apply the death penalty, he expects that his opponent will, as well.