Heading Into Election Year, Connolly's Ambitions Influence Board's Tone

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) could use a successful reelection as a springboard if a congressional seat opens.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) could use a successful reelection as a springboard if a congressional seat opens. (By Mark Gong -- The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he "hit the roof" when he read late last month that health inspectors had barred volunteers from donating home-cooked meals to county homeless shelters.

Before the day was over, he ordered the county to release a statement in his name: "Nobody and no bureaucratic regulation will interfere with Fairfax County's ability to feed and help the homeless this winter."

The next day, he called off the kitchen crackdown.

The episode underscores Connolly's determination to avoid unflattering headlines about the county government as he prepares to ask voters for a second term in 2007.

A big reelection victory next year could position him to pursue the prize everyone in Northern Virginia politics says he covets: a shot at the congressional seat that could open in 2008 if Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) retires and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) tries to succeed him. (Warner said last week that he was "leaning in favor" of running again.)

Connolly won't make an official announcement about a second term as board chairman until his St. Patrick's Day party, but there is little doubt about his political health. He has $500,000 in the bank -- an amount he says he intends to double -- and, as yet, no primary opposition. He can point to a record of progress on several important fronts, and his control of the 10-member board is unchallenged.

But Connolly, 57, is taking no chances. He's placed the Board of Supervisors on an election-season footing, making it clear, according to board colleagues, that he wants no controversial issues brought to the table next year.

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who heads a committee that examines potential changes to the county zoning ordinance, said Connolly repeated that desire at a recent session of the panel. Frey and other board members said several politically nettlesome issues, such as the recommendations of a task force studying Tysons Corner and new regulations for adult video stores, might not come up until after next year's election.

Connolly said that isn't true, and that even if avoiding hot button matters were an objective, it would be impossible. "Events control the agenda," he said. "We're not going to hide from issues that need to be addressed."

Although no primary opponent is on the horizon, a possible Republican opponent is Gary H. Baise of Falls Church area, a lawyer active in party politics. Baise, 65, said he is "looking very seriously" at the seat after a 30-year career that included Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency posts in the Nixon administration and private practice in the District.

Most of the other six Democrats and three Republicans on the board are expected to run again, although Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) and T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said they are considering other options.

Connolly, elected chairman in 2003, will stake his case for a second four-year term on what he calls evidence of advancement. They include a reduction in gang violence, an increase in the stock of affordable housing, a commitment to education funding and road improvements he says will improve mobility in the county despite inadequate funding from Richmond.

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