After spending much of the '90s as a sleep-deprived, frequent-flying technology guru for investment banks, Democrat James Socas says he's ready to transfer the skills he used taking companies public to the world of public policy.
With a personal fortune that clocks in between $7 million and more than $20 million, Socas, 38, is challenging Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) in the Nov. 2 election and angling to become the youngest member of Virginia's congressional delegation. He chose Thomas Jefferson's birthday to launch his campaign in the 10th District.
10th District candidate James Socas, who is challenging Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), addresses supporters at a campaign rally.
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
Born: Oct. 5, 1966, in New York.
Education: BA, history, University of Virginia; MBA, Harvard University.
Career: Senior investment banker at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette; managing director at Credit Suisse First Boston; aide, Senate banking committee.
Family: Wife, Devereux; three sons.
Campaign Theme: "It's time to prepare our families and our country for the new economy."
Before that, Socas had spent about a year -- until February -- as an aide on the Senate banking committee, where he also worked for Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). The stint left him disappointed in what he called a shortage of analytical rigor on Capitol Hill -- and hungry to run himself.
"I was surprised at how much the legislative process was like a deal," Socas said. "You have to be ruthless in understanding how much leverage you have. That's something I did for a living."
Politicians have long adopted the language of business, employing such terms as metrics and synergy and promising they'll serve as CEO. But Socas has taken that a step further with his full-bodied embrace of the comparison between legislating and the at times brutal and hardhearted realm of investment banking. A word Socas comes around to frequently is "ruthless."
Socas points to his role as banker on the best performing U.S. initial public offering in 2000 to illustrate the way he would approach congressional business. The database software company Embarcadero Technologies of San Francisco beat out Krispy Kreme for the top honor.
"To do well, you have to be extraordinarily rigorous. You have to know your stuff. You have to know the details and the numbers," Socas says. "It's a pretty ruthless, high-stakes business."
Socas accuses 12-term incumbent Wolf, 65, of losing sight of the transportation issues that Socas says must top any 10th-District priority list. Wolf, who says he has been involved in every key transportation initiative in the region, dismisses that, arguing that Socas has little grasp of local history or issues.
"He doesn't understand the area," Wolf said, noting that Socas moved to Virginia last year from San Francisco. "He's a millionaire who moved from California who's literally making an effort to buy a congressional seat here."
Socas responds that people can't buy their way into Congress and calls such talk a diversionary tactic. In fact, he said, his business experience tells him money is not always a blessing. "The guys who had the most money stunk it up," he said.
Socas's stint as a congressional aide sharpened his concerns about soaring budget deficits and what he said is a lack of attention to helping U.S. workers prepare for global competition. The banking committee, he said, was also a revealing perch from which to view "the corrupting influence of money" in politics.
There was, for instance, the time a large multinational bank came calling with a proposal to change the tax code.
"It applied to one company, and it was their company," Socas said. "It's the way the game is played right now."
He would not reveal the company, saying he did not want to embarrass its leadership. The bill wasn't passed. Socas said he also was distressed to see tax policy decisions based on what he considered to be minimal information -- often a single sheet of paper listing only years and dollar amounts, not what the projections were based on.