Connolly Delivers Rhymes and Reasons at Chamber Lunch

Developer Joseph E. Robert Jr., shown at the annual Fight Night benefit for his children's charity last year, advises men to attend alone so they can network.
Developer Joseph E. Robert Jr., shown at the annual Fight Night benefit for his children's charity last year, advises men to attend alone so they can network. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 22, 2005

Business leaders peppered Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) with questions about transportation funding, high-density development and affordable housing -- otherwise known as the county's public policy greatest hits soundtrack -- when he spoke last week at a breakfast meeting of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

Responding to a question about the dearth of housing priced for teachers, firefighters and other moderate earners in the county workforce, Connolly broke into rhyme, of the nursery variety: "The little old lady who lived in a shoe, who had so many kids she didn't know what to do, is not going to live in a million dollar condo," he said, referring to pricey residential development on the drawing board for the Tysons Corner area.

Yet Connolly enthusiastically supports building more condos in Tysons to create more of a balance between residential and commercial development in the bustling -- and congested -- suburban business district. He noted that only 17,000 people live in Tysons Corner, which has more acreage than downtown Boston.

The chairman also weighed in on two other controversial proposals in the Vienna area: a high-density mixed-use development near Hunter Mill Road and the MetroWest project at the Vienna Metro station.

A summary of his remarks: Hunter Mill, thumbs down; MetroWest, thumbs up.

"There are as many boardings at the Vienna Metro as there are in Ballston and Clarendon, yet you cannot buy a cup of coffee at the Vienna Metro. There is absolutely nothing there," Connolly said.

On transportation, the chairman urged business leaders not to see roads and other transportation projects as strictly a local responsibility, which he characterized as a "recipe for disaster."

Connolly said that business leaders can expect another bond referendum in 2007 to help pay for schools, roads and other needs in expectation of even greater population growth.

"We didn't build it, and they came anyway," Connolly said.

Not Exclusive, Just Practical

First he regaled the crowd with tales of his early years: dropping out of college, selling encyclopedias and having his first marriage dissolve as he built his highly successful commercial real estate and asset management firm based in Tysons Corner, J.E. Robert Cos. Then Joseph E. Robert Jr. shared stories of visiting guerrilla leaders in the Colombian jungle with former America Online chief James V. Kimsey. In between, Robert explained to those at a Potomac Officers Club lunch last Thursday why bringing a date is not encouraged at Fight Night, his annual charity event benefiting Children's National Medical Center, the Alexandria Boxing Club and other youth-oriented organizations in the area.

"We have never said men only," Robert said. But he added that bringing a wife or significant other might obligate attendees to entertain their companions instead of working the room, and if they chose to network instead, they were inviting a cold shoulder later that night at home.

For the record, businesswomen are welcome, too -- they just might want to leave their husbands home.

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