Connolly's Reelection Bid Doesn't Discount House Run

Chairman Gerald E. Connolly announced his reelection bid Friday at his annual St. Patrick's Day party.
Chairman Gerald E. Connolly announced his reelection bid Friday at his annual St. Patrick's Day party. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who has formally announced his candidacy for reelection, said yesterday that he will not commit to serving a full four-year term if returned to office in November.

"I don't make those kinds of long-term promises," said Connolly, 56. "I'm running for reelection as chairman."

Connolly's equivocating response to questions about his future is the latest sign that he intends to run for the U.S. House seat held by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) should it come open in 2008. Davis has said he will most likely run for the U.S. Senate should Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) decide to retire. Davis even hinted in a recent interview that he might not seek an eighth House term should Warner decide to stay.

Connolly, who served nine years as Providence District supervisor before he was elected chairman in 2003, deflected questions about a House race yesterday. But Fairfax County Democrats who know him say he has long coveted the chance to follow Davis, who served as board chairman from 1991 to 1994, to Congress.

Connolly himself is no stranger to Capitol Hill. He spent a decade as a staff aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, specializing in economics, narcotics control and the Middle East.

Even Connolly's reelection announcement, which he made Friday evening at his annual St. Patrick's Day party, came with a wink and nod toward the next race. Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who introduced Connolly to a spirited crowd of about 600 supporters at the Elks Lodge in Fairfax, said with a grin, "I'm looking forward to working with Chairman Connolly for many years in whatever capacity of government he chooses to serve."

A few minutes later, Connolly was asked about serving a full four years. "I'm running for reelection and I intend to do the best I can for the people of Fairfax County," he said. "I don't make unequivocal promises. Who knows what the future will bring?"

Connolly has only token primary opposition and no announced Republican opponent. Attorney and former Nixon administration official Gary H. Baise of McLean has been looking closely at entering the race and said he will make a decision soon.

As a candidate for reelection, Connolly will make his case to voters by depicting Fairfax government as a smooth-running, high-performing machine that has helped to deliver good schools, a low crime rate and tangible progress in areas such as affordable housing, environmental protection and policies to cluster future growth around public transit.

Critics say that county government has not done enough on Connolly's watch to relieve chronic traffic congestion and that developers wield too much influence in county affairs.

They also say developers have not been held sufficiently accountable to commitments they have made to ease traffic in the area.

Connolly has been running hard for months and is well bankrolled, with about $500,000 on hand and another estimated $250,000 he picked up Friday at a $1,000-a-plate luncheon at the Tower Club. He has said he intends to raise at least $1 million.

There would be sharp legal limits, however, on carrying over any surplus funds to a congressional campaign.

Fairfax County Republican Chairman Eric Lundberg said voters are likely to look askance at Connolly's unwillingness to commit to a full term on the board.

"I think it's important for elected officials to understand the length of their term and be committed to serving it out," Lundberg said.

"If the candidate has an agenda separate from their office, that's a serious matter that bears serious scrutiny. If you don't want to fill out your term, then don't run for office."

Davis resigned the board chairmanship in December 1994 after he defeated first-term Democratic Rep. Leslie L. Byrne as part of a mid-term Republican landslide. Lundberg said the difference is that Davis didn't enter the 1991 chairman's race with the intention of running for Congress.

The 11th District covers a large swath of central Fairfax and Prince William counties. Republican redistricting in 2001 made it less hospitable to Democrats.

But with Fairfax trending blue in recent state and federal elections, Democrats consider the 11th an increasingly opportune target. County Democrats say that if the seat opens up, Connolly might face opposition from Byrne.

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