Either of the two candidates seeking to replace Parrish — Democratic council member Michelle Davis-Younger and Republican council member Theresa Coates Ellis — would become the first woman to hold the Manassas mayor’s seat.
With the local turnout expected to far exceed the 13,290 ballots cast in 2016 — when Parrish ran unopposed — Davis-Younger has a chance to become the city’s first African American mayor, given the changing demographics in Manassas and the strong anti-Trump sentiments in the region.
While the two candidate are roughly equal in the amount of money raised by their campaigns — $21,000 for Davis-Younger and $20,000 for Coates Ellis — half of the Republican’s funds came from herself and her husband, George Ellis.
“One of the things I want to do is to make sure that we are putting our arms around the entire community of Manassas,” said Davis-Younger, referring to the once all-White city’s increasing diversity, where Latinos now make up 36 percent of the population and African Americans represent 14 percent.
Tucked within the borders of Prince William County, Manassas has embodied many of the changes occurring in Northern Virginia.
The city of stately colonial-style homes and modest brick ramblers has undergone rapid development in recent years, with its crown jewel being the historic Old Town section of restaurants and retail stores built around a local Virginia Railway Express commuter rail station.
Manassas is home to several high-tech employers, including Micron Technology, Inc, which recently launched a $3 billion expansion of its semiconductor manufacturing plant that is expected to create 1,100 high-skilled jobs by 2030.
But the city is also home to heavy traffic along the Route 28 highway corridor and some expanding pockets of poverty where relations with local police are sometimes tense.
Davis-Younger, 51, said she hopes to strike a balance between the different sides of Manassas.
A human resources consultant, she was elected to the city council in 2018, when Democrats gained a 4-3 majority on the board.
After the summer’s protests in Manassas, Davis-Younger helped create an equity and inclusion task force that was charged with finding ways to bring more fairness into city policies.
Among her goals as mayor is to use the Micron plant expansion as leverage to bring in more employers and to spur economic development in the lower-income Georgetown South neighborhood, Davis-Younger said.
“All the focus has been on Old Town,” she said. “We need to expand that and move it out further into those areas so that they are more desirable for people to move into.”
Coates Ellis, 59, was also first elected to the council in 2018.
A public relations and marketing consultant who used to work in health care management, she says she will bring a sharper focus to economic development in the city.
As a council member, Coates Ellis said, she also pushed for the equity and inclusion task force and pushed the city to include Spanish in its information about the coronavirus pandemic.
Coates Ellis wants to “redefine” the role of mayor into one that is more vocal on social media about constituent services and marketing the city.
“You have to be out there in the community to connect,” she said. “The mayor position has to be the communicator for the city.”
Coates Ellis’s greatest advantage may be the endorsement she received from Parrish — a well-known local political figure whose father Harry J. Parrish served as the city’s first mayor before going on to a long career in the state House of Delegates. Former Del. Parrish (R-Manassas) died in 2006.
The current Mayor Parrish bemoaned the fact that the contest between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden will overshadow local elections in the region. Besides the mayor’s race, the three city council seats are up for election.
In that environment, the qualities of a local candidate will be lost to voters who may not even know who those candidates are, Parrish said.
“They just walk in the door and they vote ‘D’ or ‘R’ ” he said. “I think that’s a shame.”
Elsewhere in the region, local elections also are taking place in Manassas Park, Dumfries, Herndon, Falls Church and Leesburg.
Arlington County Democrat Libby Garvey, 69, is seeking a third term on the county board against independent Audrey Clement, 71, who has run in eight previous county elections without winning. Garvey is currently the board chair, an unelected position that rotates among the board’s five members.
Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.
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