To Stay or to Go: McConnell Says It's Time to Decide

By {vbar} Lisa Rein
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell says she's thinking about calling it quits after six terms representing the Springfield district, and will decide in the next month whether to run for reelection next November.

"From week to week, I lean one way and then another," McConnell said last week.

The down-to-earth, folksy Republican is one of a minority of board members with a profession outside local government. She is founder of four private schools for preschoolers and disabled children. She also has other pursuits with her husband, a retired federal agent: a dude ranch they operate in Page County and property they manage in north Florida, where McConnell grew up.

On top of this, the 79-year-old says she's penning a book that traces the century before Jesus was born. "To Reach the Star" is the working title of the book, which has been a work in progress for a decade. "It's all outlined," she said. "Some of it is biblically correct, some of it is fiction. But I don't have time to sit down and write it."

The 10 county supervisors will be up for reelection next year. Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) is actively raising money for another campaign, and the other board members are expected to run, as well. Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he plans to decide in January, but several colleagues said they would be surprised if he didn't run, in part because he's so active on the boards of several state and national municipal government associations.

McConnell is a populist politician and a big booster of the police and fire departments. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, she's fought for homeland security money for Fairfax and policies that enhance police protection.

She loves a good fight: A few years ago she proposed that Fairfax secede from the commonwealth if the county didn't get more education and transportation aid from Richmond.

She has mellowed as a partisan, evolving from a staunch social conservative to a moderate who is beloved by the Democrats on the county board -- to the consternation of some Republicans.

"She's been so very reasonable," Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) said of her Republican colleague. "God bless Elaine, she tells it like it is. There are few if any partisan issues when it comes to Elaine."

McConnell, who has nine grandchildren, says she knows of a slew of Democrats and Republicans who are "itching to run against me." She says she has a "very active outside life" and misses playing the organ, writing poetry and writing music (she's composed songs for the children at her schools).

"Sometimes this job is so restrictive you can't leave town," she said.

But she isn't necessarily out the door. She says she's concerned that a potential successor "have integrity and be sincere" -- and says an obvious candidate with those qualities doesn't come to mind. Nor would it be easy to cut her ties to projects she's worked to get off the ground for years, such as the ongoing widening of Route 123, and the planned completion of the Fairfax County Parkway and the public safety communications center, finally on track after delays and financial problems.

"It's almost harder to get out than to get in," she said.

McConnell acknowledged that any opponent next year would be likely to make an issue of her age, questioning whether she has the stamina to serve another term. Health problems slowed her this year, including a fall outside her home that broke her leg. But she says she would use her age to her advantage as a booster for the county's growing population of retirees.

"I know I could probably be of use to older people," she said.

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