There’s a move underway to recall Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, an effort one organizer says is aimed at “unifying” those unhappy with Stewart’s leadership across the political spectrum.
Kay Herrera, a leader of the newly-formed “Save Our PWC,” announced the group’s intentions during the board of supervisors meeting Tuesday. Herrera, who lives in the Occoquan District, said the recall was prompted by Stewart’s actions June 28 to usher through a special-use permit for a new mosque planned for Nokesville, just inside the county’s rural crescent.
Stewart, R-At Large, has been accused by two of his fellow supervisors of bending parliamentary rules during that middle-of-the-night vote to turn what was initially a 4-to-4 denial into a 5-to-3 approval of the permit, which will allow the future mosque to connect to the public-sewer line. The final vote came about 3:30 a.m. after more than eight hours of public comment.
The decision sparked protests and a lawsuit filed by residents of the rural crescent who believe the sewer connection will allow the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS, to build a bigger mosque than some area residents deem appropriate for its 14-acre site near the intersection of Vint Hill Road and Schaeffer Lane. They say the mosque should have to use a private septic system, which is required of homeowners in the area.
Herrera said her group watched Stewart’s parliamentary maneuvering that night with “growing dismay, shock and anger” and called his actions “a brazen misuse of office.” County Attorney Michelle Robl has since declared the vote legal, however, while acknowledging the board failed to follow procedural rules during their series of votes approving the permit.
“There is a rising chorus of voices asking you to simply resign,” Herrera told Stewart during citizens’ time Sept. 12. “Moreover, it’s clear that you’d prefer to be anywhere but here.”
In an interview Wednesday, Herrera said Save Our PWC is “grassroots” and “nonpartisan” organization desiring nothing more than “good governance” from local elected officials.
The group registered as a limited-liability corporation, opened Facebook and Twitter accounts and launched the hashtag #CanCoreyStewart to build support for the recall effort. Herrera said the group needs more volunteers to collect the 7,000 signatures needed to submit their petition to Prince William County Circuit Court to initiate the recall process.
Under Virginia law, elected officials can only be recalled if found guilty of drug charges or of “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of their duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in office has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”
Petitions outlining those offenses must be signed by a number of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the official’s last election. In November 2015, when Stewart was re-elected to a third term, just under 70,000 people voted, meaning Save our PWC will need to collect about 7,000 signatures.
Herrera said she hopes the recall effort will bring together Stewart’s critics from across the political spectrum. In recent months, Stewart has been under fire from local Democrats and the Prince William branch of the NAACP for his hardline rhetoric on illegal immigration, his support for Confederate statues and for his comments blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “the left” while only later condemning the views of white supremacists.
“There’s just this growing chorus of opposition to Corey Stewart. It’s coming from a number of different organizations and for a number of different reasons,” Herrera said.
Herrera said her group is only taking issue, however, with Stewart’s actions during the mosque vote and not on the “outcome” of that vote or with Stewart’s controversial positions regarding immigration or Confederate symbols. She said the group believes Stewart’s mosque-vote maneuvering is “the most egregious example” of his “lack of integrity.”
“We’re focusing everything on Corey Stewart because he’s the leader and he sets the tone,” she added. “… Our focus is entirely on his actions on that night.”
Whether the recall effort will garner support from either the Prince William Democratic Committee or the Prince William branch of the NAACP remained an open question Wednesday. Both NAACP President Cozy Bailey and Democratic Committee Chairman Harry Wiggins said their groups had just heard about the recall and needed time to learn more about Save Our PWC and its goals.
Members of the Democratic Committee were largely supportive of ADAMS’ efforts to win approval of the special-use permit for the new mosque. As such, it seems unlikely the committee would join forces with Save Our PWC, but Wiggins said the issue would be discussed during the committee’s next meeting.
Stewart, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by the recall effort.
“How concerned am I about it?” Stewart asked during a telephone interview Wednesday. “Zero.”
Stewart went on to note “no laws were broken” during the mosque vote and said the rules of procedure are merely “guidance” for the board’s decision-making process and not legally binding.
In response to past criticism about the vote, Stewart has said supervisors had no choice to approve ADAMS’ special-use permit for a public-sewer connection because the board had granted such permits to Christian churches. Not doing so for a mosque could be deemed a violation of federal nondiscrimination laws.
Stewart further said Virginia laws make recalling elected officials “a really difficult thing to do.” He said he doesn’t believe the effort will hurt his bid for the U.S. Senate because “the more people who attack me, the better.”
“When people see politicians getting attacked, it means they’re actually getting something done,” Stewart said.
Also, news coverage about the recall effort, he said, is sure to increase his name recognition among Virginia voters. Stewart is vying for the Republican nomination to run against U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in the 2018 election.
“All news coverage is good news coverage,” Stewart added. “I hope they come back [to the supervisors’ meeting] next week.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org