Recalling a Leader Who Loved the Political Life

By Lisa Rein
Thursday, February 9, 2006

Some leave politics and opt for a quiet life out of the limelight. Jack Herrity did the opposite.

The former Republican county board chairman, who died of heart failure last week at 74, ran his last successful campaign in 1983. But until his death, even from his bed at Inova Fairfax Hospital, he always seemed to be running for something.

Reporters covering the county government got used to seeing the number of Herrity's consulting firm, the Solutions Group, pop up on their telephone consoles. The complaints rolled quickly off his tongue: Metrorail to Dulles International Airport would be nothing more than a money pit, he would say. MetroWest, the dense development planned at the Vienna Metro station, would bring too many cars to the area, he complained. Development money was tainting county political campaigns, he argued. That one would cause some Fairfax Democrats to roll their eyes, since Herrity, in his heyday as Board of Supervisors chairman for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s, took in his share of money from developers.

He had forged a friendship in recent years with Audrey Moore, the slow-growth Democrat who defeated him in 1987, and they spoke every two or three months.

"Jack was an Irishman," Moore said last week. "He loved politics. He wanted to get back into it in the worst way."

Herrity's five children and 20 grandchildren lived not far from his home in Vienna, and he had married for a third time in November. He was in close touch with his family, and that would have been more than enough to occupy many older people.

Yet Herrity couldn't hang up his hat. He would show up almost every night at one civic gathering or another. He was making allies among the newest neighborhood activists on the political scene, members of Fairgrowth, who are fighting much of the infill development in Fairfax.

"There comes a time when you move on and enjoy old age," said Northern Virginia developer John T. "Til" Hazel, who built many commercial and residential properties on Herrity's watch. "That wasn't Jack."

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who worked as an aide to Herrity for five years, said a lot of what motivated Herrity in recent years boiled down to pure politics. He wanted back in.

"Jack always understood what motivated people," Frey said. "He was smart enough to tap into groups that are organized." When hundreds of residents showed up at a community meeting Fairgrowth organized last spring, "he figured it was a good angle to get Gerry," Frey said, referring to Herrity's plan to challenge Democrat Gerald E. Connolly for board chairman next year.

Yet there was something poignant about a former politician, ousted from office when his policies were no longer palatable to voters, who kept making a run at reelection. He tried twice again for board chairman, and for governor and GOP committee chairman. He was gearing up for 2007. He recently complained to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) that he wasn't getting his calls to the county's movers and shakers returned.

At Herrity's funeral Saturday, some remarked privately that they were surprised not to see a larger turnout. Five hundred mourners filed into St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, but several rows of pews roped off for local public officials were empty. As large a figure as he was in shaping the modern face of Virginia's largest county, Herrity had been out of power for two decades. Many of his contemporaries had passed from the scene.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company