Longest-Serving Supervisor Opts Not to Seek Reelection
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Elaine N. McConnell was running a school for learning-disabled children in 1983 when Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. "Jack" Herrity (R) was looking for a candidate to knock off the Republican incumbent in the Springfield District, whom he had clashed with repeatedly.
Six terms and 24 years later, McConnell (R) has closed the circle. She announced Sunday that she will not seek reelection this fall and is endorsing Herrity's son, Pat, as her successor.
"I'm in office today because of Jack Herrity," said McConnell, 79, the county's longest-serving board member.
McConnell's retirement comes as the county's 2007 election season gathers momentum. Last week, Republican Gary H. Baise, a lawyer and former Nixon administration official, filed papers to run for board chairman against incumbent Gerald E. Connolly (D). Baise says Connolly and the board have failed to provide adequately for the county's transportation needs.
Herrity will run in the June Republican primary against Stan Reid, a software consultant who challenged McConnell unsuccessfully in 2003.
McConnell's departure creates at least a second open seat on the 10-member board. Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) announced in January that he will not run again. Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he has not decided whether to seek reelection.
Charles W. Hall, a community activist and former Washington Post editor, announced yesterday that he will challenge Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) in the June primary. Hall, a co-founder of Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth (FairGrowth), said the board has failed to heed community concerns about traffic and school crowding.
McConnell came to the board as a staunchly conservative Republican who once called for the removal of the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, from county libraries.
But as Fairfax's politics moderated, so did her views. Connolly dubbed her "a bleeding-heart conservative" for her interest in the county's disadvantaged. Over the years, she evolved into an outspoken populist with a mischievous streak, once proposing that Fairfax secede from the commonwealth unless Richmond lawmakers provided more transportation funding.
Although she remained a loyal Republican and the board's strongest pro-business voice, she said she also came to realize that partisanship doesn't mean as much when trying to deliver the basic services of local government. She excoriated Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly for killing her proposal for a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation and education needs in the county.
Earlier this year, Reid called her a "RINO," a Republican in name only.
McConnell, who lost a 1995 special election for chairman to Democrat Katherine K. Hanley, scoffs at such criticism. "I didn't leave them," she said of state Republicans. "They left me."
At yesterday's board meeting, fellow supervisors paid tribute to McConnell as a tireless fighter for transportation, praising her work to help establish Virginia Railway Express and several major road projects. "You have made a true difference," Hyland said.
Kauffman moved that she be nominated "the first governor of the state of Northern Virginia."
McConnell plans to devote more time to her school, Accotink Academy, which has grown into a group of schools offering programs for children with learning issues.