For Connolly and Mendelsohn, Conciliation
As the race for chairman heated up three years ago, the tension on the county Board of Supervisors grew red hot: then-Providence Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D) and then-Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R) tangled publicly on just about every issue.
Republican leaders had approached Mendelsohn, leader of the board's GOP minority, about taking on Connolly for the top job. Mendelsohn was skeptical of a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport, a project Connolly had cherished for years. Mendelsohn assailed his Democratic colleagues for failing to address rising real estate assessments quickly enough. Both men had a zeal for provocation and a zest -- and skill -- for debate.
Mendelsohn turned down the call to run against Connolly and did not seek reelection. But he went into high gear to campaign for Connolly's opponent, former School Board member Mychele B. Brickner (R). Mendelsohn accused Connolly of ethical lapses and ties to developers, provoking several testy exchanges between the men at board meetings in the final weeks of Mendelsohn's tenure in 2003.
How things have changed.
Mendelsohn, now a land-use lawyer with Holland & Knight, held a fundraiser for Connolly, who became the board's chairman, at his Tysons Corner law office before the Christmas holidays. It was on behalf of the political arm of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, whose political action committee held two other fundraisers at the firm in December, for Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), incoming chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee.
Mendelsohn is head of the chamber's policy committee, and the fundraisers were tied to breakfast appearances by the politicians as part of the chamber's policymaker series. The Connolly fundraiser was small, drawing about 20 executives and about $3,000 for a reelection campaign next year that has yet to attract opponents from either major party. Still, the chairman beams at the sweet victory of winning over a former opponent.
"That was then. This is now," he said this week of his Year of Bad Blood with Mendelsohn. "We certainly sparred when we were together on the board. I'd like to believe that Stu has found two years of my chairmanship convincing proof of my leadership. I'm very flattered."
Mendelsohn may surprise some fellow Republicans with his take on Connolly today: "Time heals all. Gerry's showing great leadership. Most of the eight years we were together [on the Board of Supervisors] we agreed on most things. It was only in the end that we went at it."
Mendelsohn said he appreciates the resources Connolly is devoting to redeveloping Tysons Corner and his "courage" on the controversial MetroWest project, which proposes dense development at the Vienna Metro station.
And he said Connolly "runs a good meeting" of the board, which has decidedly lost its voice of loyal opposition, despite the presence of three Republicans.
"We're a vehicle for social rapprochement!" joked William D. Lecos , the chamber's president and chief executive.
Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) explained his friend and former colleague's change of heart this way: "When you're in the private sector, you write checks in all directions." He pointed out that Mendelsohn "is not a Republican land-use attorney. He's a land-use attorney who works with people of all stripes."
Which raises the question: Will Mendelsohn be looking for favors when he appears before the supervisors with several pending land-use cases?
"Is that my motivation? No," he said. "Frankly, I hadn't even thought about that issue." He noted that his law firm held three fundraisers, two for Republicans, last month.
Mendelsohn still has partisan politics in him, though. To date he has not given Connolly a personal donation. And all of his accolades aside, Mendelsohn said he hasn't decided whether to support the chairman's reelection campaign next year. "I don't know that I want to go there."