As we get older, the tactics of day to day life in politics are forgotten. One that pivoted on a friendship yet has had such profound ramifications for Prince William County should be remembered.
In 1971 Selwyn Smith was elected to the State Senate representing all of Prince William County (Manassas and MP were not yet independent cities). As a former Town attorney and-I believe-Commonwealth’s attorney, and loyal campaigner for candidates of the old Byrd Machine, he was already wired into the General Assembly and became an accolyte and fast friend of Senator Ed Wiley of Richmond (who later became the father-in-law of the Kathryn Wiley who had interesting contact with Wm. J. Clinton). Wiley was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Because of Selwyn’s clout and his friendship with Ed Wiley, he was able to secure funding to widen Va. 234 between Manassas and Rte. 1. This was on the books, near the top of the highway schedule-and desparately needed in a county that was among the fastest growing in the country.
PWCo was growing fast in those days, and despite the efforts of the Board Chair (elected by the board from among their membership) Chuck Colgan, a group of four called the “Four Horsemen” voted for every spending project that came down the line. Their wild spending found much disfavor in Western PWCo, so much so that it helped drive Manassas and Manassas Park to seek and then receive city status, a developement that did not add to the clout of the western reps on the board-which included Colgan.
PWm was completely in the 8th district, and was represented by Stan Parris, who won the seat in 1972 with a plurality in a three way race. Herb Harris, member of the Fairfax BOS got the democratic nod in 1974, and was endorsed by all elected democratic officials in the district…except Selwyn. Senator Smith was personal friends with Stan Parris, and refused to campaign against him. Truth be told Selwyn was more sympatico politically with the conservative Parris than the much more liberal Harris.
Harris crushed Parris in 1974 in the “Watergate elections”, and set about consolidating control of the area by purging dissident elements He knew he could not control Selwyn, so a primary opponent was needed. Chuck Colgan stepped into the ring, probably eager to get off the County Board but stay in politics.
Selwyn lost the primary, Colgan went to the Senate, and Harris got his purge. Harris held the seat until 1980, when he lost it back to Parris in the Reagan election, then lost again in a 1982 rubber match.
Here is where it gets interesting…the first of the Arab oil embargoes had already kicked in-older readers will remember the odd/even gas rationing, and between that and the Kepone clean-up in Hopewell state funds were limited. The GA was looking for places to cut or reassign funds. Ed Wiley decided there was no pressing reason to widen Va. 234 way up in Godless Northern Virginia, and saw no reason why the man who beat his friend should get the political benefit of the widening. So Ed Wiley moved the improvement down the schedule, where it languished for another decade or two.
Some might question this, and ask for proof of Selwyn’s clout…all I can offer is that upon being defeated the Democrat Selwyn Smith was appointed Virginia Director of Public Safety by Democrat turned GOP Governor Mills Godwin, then reappointed by GOP governor John Dalton. When a circuit court seat came open in Prince William in the late seventies, the General Assembly ignored the recommendations of the PWCo Bar Association and chose Selwyn to hold the seat…a combination of events unlikely to occur to someone without clout in Richmond.
That is the story-or at least the way it was always told at the old People’s Barbershop in Old Town Manassas.