Longtime Adversaries Reach Notes Of Harmony

Rivals for decades, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), left, and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) said they agreed on a number of topics during a recent meeting.
Rivals for decades, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), left, and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) said they agreed on a number of topics during a recent meeting. (Tracy A Woodward/twp - Twp)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007

It wasn't your usual meeting of the Mantua Citizens' Association, a central Fairfax County neighborhood group that, even its president concedes, hasn't had many attention-grabbing items on its agenda recently.

Standing shoulder to shoulder and answering questions at Mantua Elementary School one night last week were the two alpha dogs of Fairfax politics, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, the county's top Republican, and county Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), the dominant Democrat. Each smart, ambitious and constantly wary of what the other is up to, they are beginning their third decade as partisan adversaries.

Their joint appearances are almost always obligatory, ceremonial occasions. Yet there they were, at the invitation of the neighborhood group, not debating but making serious nice -- agreeing on a variety of topics, including immigration policy and the impact of military base realignment, and describing what a close, productive relationship they have.

"People hate the bickering and the posturing. I don't think you'll find that with us," said Davis, who likes to depict Connolly as beholden to the county's development community. He mentored and helped to finance Connolly's 2003 election opponent, Mychele B. Brickner.

Connolly, who openly covets Davis's congressional seat and has accused him of selling his soul for special interest money on Capitol Hill, said of transportation issues: "I don't think there's any daylight between Tom's position and mine."

Each has reasons for trying to change the adversarial tone of their relationship. For Davis, they fall into the category of holding enemies closer than friends. He is a Republican in an increasingly Democratic county that makes up two-thirds of his 11th Congressional District, and his reelection percentages dwindled from 82.9 percent in 2002 to 55.4 percent in 2006.

With Davis's aspirations to be the next U.S. senator from Virginia, warmer relations with Fairfax's leading Democrat are in his interest. It's also worth noting that in visiting Mantua Elementary School, site of the political play date Jan. 17, Davis ventured almost literally into Connolly's back yard. Mantua is the neighborhood where Connolly lives with his wife and teenage daughter and where his career in local politics first gained traction.

Davis is also concerned about the fortunes of his wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), whose 34th District includes Fairfax City, Vienna and western and central portions of the county.

He infuriated Connolly in 2005 when he intervened in the debate over plans for a massive residential development next to the Vienna Metro station. Although he said traffic was his major concern, some county board members said he sought, unsuccessfully, to roll back the number of planned condominium apartments and townhouses because he feared they would be filled with Democrats.

Because Devolites Davis is at risk -- she is one of the Northern Virginia Republicans targeted by Democrats, who hope to retake control of the state Senate in November -- Davis could be looking to depress Democratic turnout in the 34th. One way would be to stay out of the 2007 chairman's race, lessening the chances that Connolly would have strong opposition.

Only one possible GOP competitor in the chairman's race has surfaced so far, Gary H. Baise, a lawyer who has long been active in party politics but is untested as a candidate.

For Connolly, a thaw might yield similar benefits. Having Davis less involved with his opposition -- if there is any -- would be a plus. At the same time, cordial relations with the moderate Republican strengthen his bipartisan appeal.

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