Mark seeks third Council term, this time as a Democrat

This is an InsideNOVA article from August 26:

After serving two terms on the Manassas City Council as a Republican, Mark Wolfe is running for a third term as a Democrat.

Wolfe, 59, made the switch quietly earlier this spring, when he told Manassas GOP Committee Chairwoman Sharon Ashurst in a private meeting that he would not seek re-election as a Republican.

But to those who know him best, the decision was hardly surprising, Wolfe said.

 “The overwhelming response I’ve gotten is, ‘It’s about time,’” Wolfe said during a recent interview. “Some people are mad at me, but the vast, vast majority are supportive. It’s a non-issue.”

In explaining the switch, Wolfe said his own views haven’t changed. He still considers himself a fiscal conservative who is more liberal on social issues, much like the Republican presidents he said he most admires: Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Instead, it’s the Republican Party that has changed, Wolfe says, by becoming more conservative and less tolerant of change, attributes he says are reflected in its current leadership.

“A party that has leaders like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz doesn’t reflect who I am,” Wolfe said.

When it comes to the GOP’s presidential nominee, Wolfe’s views are especially strong.

Remaining in the Republican Party would have meant having his name appear on the same GOP ballot as Trump, “and I find that repugnant,” he said.

Wolfe is one of four incumbents fighting to keep his seat on the seven-member city council in the upcoming Nov. 8 election. It’s the first time Manassas voters will pick candidates for their city council and school board on the same day they vote for U.S. president.

Until 2012, Manassas elections were always held in May. But that changed as a result of the November 2012 presidential election, when 61 percent of Manassas voters supported a ballot referendum to move local elections to November. The city’s first November elections were held two years ago, in November 2014.

Voter turnout in that race, at about 35 percent, was more than three times what it was in May 2012. Turnout is expected to be even higher this fall, as about 70 percent of Manassas voters typically cast ballots in presidential-election years.

Higher turnout could mean a political sea change in Manassas, where the city council has long been dominated by Republicans. The council currently only has one Democrat, Ken Elston, who was elected in 2014.

During the last two presidential elections, 2008 and 2012, more than 55 percent of Manassas voters chose President Barack Obama over his Republican challengers.

Wolfe and his fellow Democratic candidates – City of Manassas School Board member Pam Sebesky and retired Didlake, Inc., CEO Rex Parr – are hoping city voters will continue to trend blue this fall.

But the three face a popular slate of Republicans, which includes two incumbents: Vice Mayor Jonathan Way and Ian Lovejoy. Theresa Coates Ellis, a mother of seven and a longtime community volunteer, rounds out the GOP ticket.

Incumbent Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II, also a Republican, is running unopposed.

Wolfe, Parr and Sebesky are running under a shared slogan: “Build a Better Manassas.” Their platform emphasizes continued investment in the city’s school division with the specific goal of expanding pre-kindergarten slots for 3- and 4-year-olds.

They’re also campaigning to move forward with plans to build a new police station, to be located somewhere in the southern part of the 10-square-mile city, and to fund improvements planned for Jennie Dean Park.

Those projects were part of the discussion during the city’s May budget negotiations, during which the council cast 10 failed votes before finally agreeing on a tax rate for fiscal year 2017, which began July 1.

During the debate, Wolfe and City Councilwoman Sheryl Bass, also a Republican, repeatedly voted with Elston for a slightly higher tax rate, while Way, Lovejoy and fellow Republican Marc Aveni pushed to keep the tax rate lower.

The two sides agreed on the city’s overall budget but were at odds about how much additional money they should raise for future capital improvements, such as the new police station.

Manassas is always competing with the rest of Northern Virginia for both new residents and new businesses, Wolfe said. That’s why he, Parr and Sebesky are pushing to keep moving the city forward.

“We’ve always got to be thinking about what we can do to make the quality of life better, the economy better, the schools better, so that the community works for businesses and for residents,” Wolfe said. “I think we’ve made huge strides. It’s just not time to stop.”