Political newcomer Kerensa Sumers is the first Democrat to enter the race for Gainesville
Kerensa Sumers, 39, of Manassas, has announced her bid to represent the Gainesville District on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in the wake of former supervisor Pete Candland’s resignation. She is the first and only Democrat so far to officially throw her hat in the ring.
After working for nearly nine years for the Prince William County Department of Community Services as a services coordinator linking disabled residents and their families with support services, Sumers left that job earlier this month to work in a similar capacity for Loudoun County.
“You can’t really run for county government if you work for the county,” she said, noting that she has been preparing to run for office.
Sumers, who has a master’s degree in public policy and public administration from Liberty University, said: “Having worked for the county government, I could see certain flaws” in Prince William County government. Among them, she listed a “lack of transparency,” especially with regard to pay and job descriptions, as problems that lead to “a lot of turnover” that “negatively affects everybody.”
Advocating for collective bargaining in the county is a top priority for Sumers, who said she has been helping to organize a union among the county’s public sector employees. Collective bargaining is good for both employees and Prince William as a whole because it “impacts our economic growth as a county,” she said.
If elected Gainesville supervisor, Sumers said she would like to focus on the community’s needs, such as building a community center with children’s activities and also a pool on the western side of the county. The county’s SplashDown Waterpark and the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, which is open to county residents, are both located outside Manassas, but the county has no other public, outdoor pools in the Gainesville or Brentsville districts.
Sumers said she would also like to tackle the issue of the unhoused in the county and install community gardens. She said she thinks more outreach should be done to families who are dealing with mental illness and substance abuse and need to access services locally.
“The gateway drug is not marijuana. The gateway drug is trauma,” she said.
If elected, Sumers said she would work to bring “affordable, sustainable housing” to the county by partnering with sustainable builders, carefully looking at zoning classifications and prioritizing maintaining “green spaces.”
Sumers says she believes a “good portion” of the rural crescent should be maintained “because we’re going to run out of green space very quickly if we continue to just keep developing, developing, and developing and thinking that somehow everything’s going to magically work out, because it’s not.”
But Sumers said she isn’t against allowing connections to the public sewer lines into the rural area. The key, she said, is to employ smart growth philosophies in the rural crescent, which she defines as growth that’s “focused” and “person-centered, not profit-centered.”
“Smart growth to me isn’t just putting in a bunch of data centers and hoping that helps out everything financially,” she added “It’s actually investing more in smaller businesses.”
The two Republican candidates who have entered the race, Alyson Satterwhite and Bob Weir, have been campaigning on rolling back the supervisors’ move last week to eliminate rural crescent development rules as part of the “Pathway to 2040” comprehensive plan update. Prior to that vote, development in the rural area had been limited to one home per 10 acres and zoning rules mostly prohibited connections to the public sewer line. Those measures, adopted in 1998, aimed to limit residential sprawl.
Sumers, however, said she believes some change to those limits is necessary. “You can’t go back in time. It’s never going to happen,” she said.
“What we have to do is stop destroying things and find better ways to expand and to do it with intelligence, taking in scientific research, and asking those people who are experts on how we can expand safely” and with minimal “damage to our environment,” Sumers said.
Sumers says she’s an environmentalist who values clean water and air. She said she wouldn’t have voted to open the rural crescent to data centers without first seeing the results of a study of the developments’ impact on water quality in the Occoquan Reservoir, which was championed by Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, and several western Prince William County residents.
Regarding Satterwhite and Weir’s positions, however, Sumers said it’s unclear what changes they support for the county.
“Both of my opponents seem to know exactly what they’re against, but they offer very little in the way of what they’re for,” Sumers said, adding: “And they definitely aren’t trying to find solutions. You can’t govern on obstructionism.”
Although Prince William County has been trending more Democratic in recent elections, the Gainesville District is still a tough place for a Democrat to run and win. The district has not had a Democratic supervisor for at least 20 years and it elected the county’s only Republican-endorsed school board member, Jen Wall, in 2019.
Sumers grew up in Hume, a village in Fauquier County where many members of her family had been enslaved. Sumers said her family’s history has been traced back hundreds of years to colonial Virginia and said her ancestors on her mother’s side were freed from slavery during the Revolutionary War. Her family is featured in a display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, she said.
She said she thinks the county shouldn’t allow historic land to be developed for sprawling data centers, specifically referring to the controversial Prince William Digital Gateway project, which sits on land adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield. She said that historic lands should be preserved, not bulldozed.
A resident of Manassas for about a decade, Sumers has lived in the Stonington Community with her family for the last five years. Sumers has a 4-year-old son who will attend Sinclair Elementary in the fall.
“I don’t want my son to look at me and say, ‘Hey mom, why didn’t you fight harder to make sure our environment is good? Why is my asthma still so bad?’ Those are the things that I worry about,” she said.
A special election for the vacant Gainesville District seat on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will likely be held on a Tuesday in February but the exact date has not yet been set.