For Connolly, a Regimen of Public Appearances

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007

It is 8:30 a.m. on the last Saturday in February, and Gerry Connolly has finally taken down his Christmas tree.

The late date for this domestic chore says more about the nature of Connolly's Saturdays than it does about his passion for the holidays. The Democratic chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who is expected to announce his candidacy for re-election on the eve of St. Patrick's Day, is a personal appearance machine, attending, by his own estimate, about 500 events around the county each year.

Each is an opportunity to shake hands, tout the board's achievements and call out anyone who isn't doing right by Fairfax. That usually means Republican members of the General Assembly.

His Saturday schedules are especially swollen with commitments. So, while his wife Catherine M. Smith ("Smitty," to family and friends) vacuums up pine needles, Connolly is off on another 12-hour-plus odyssey through some of the 400 square miles of communities he represents.

9:10 a.m., South Run Park, Springfield. Groundbreaking for installation of two synthetic turf fields. A small band of extremely cold park officials and youth sports supporters wait, along with nine shovels stuck into a ceremonial pile of dirt. Connolly has a thick portfolio of gently self-deprecating and, he insists, true stories that he uses to open his speeches. In this one, opponents tore down nearly all of his campaign signs during the 2003 election, except those showing him running as a team with school board candidate Ilryong Moon.

"Moon Connolly," read the remaining yard signs.

10:40 a.m., Riverbend Park Nature Center, Great Falls.

Annual board of directors retreat for the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. An enormous stuffed bobcat gazes from overhead as Connolly opens a talk about the importance of buying land for parks by telling another gently self-deprecating story. Years ago, when he was Providence District supervisor, a woman called him at 6 a.m. to report a deer in her driveway.

"Did you call animal control?" Connolly recalls asking groggily.

"Oh, no," she said. "I wouldn't want to bother them so early in the morning."

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