With Exploratory Panel, Connolly Courts Future

Fairfax board chief Gerald Connolly is weighing a run for a House seat in Northern Virginia's 11th District.
Fairfax board chief Gerald Connolly is weighing a run for a House seat in Northern Virginia's 11th District. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

Gerald E. Connolly was a model of consistency in his campaign for reelection as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. He consistently declined to commit to serving a full four years if he won.

"I don't make unequivocal promises," he said at his annual St. Patrick's Day party in March. "Who knows what the future will bring?"

Connolly (D) was less than 24 hours into his second term when the future arrived. He said Tuesday that he would announce yesterday the formation of an exploratory committee to consider a run for the U.S. House seat in Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District. The GOP incumbent, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, has not said whether he will run again. Former representative Leslie L. Byrne and Doug Denneny, a neighborhood activist and former naval officer, have officially entered the race for the Democratic nomination.

The committee is a legal instrument that allows Connolly to raise money for a political race but without the disclosure requirements that accompany a formal candidacy. He has about $100,000 left over from his county campaign but is barred by federal election law from transferring it to a House run.

James Walkinshaw, who managed Connolly's campaign for the chairmanship, said yesterday that there are no plans for fundraising events and that Connolly will solicit donors one-on-one or by e-mail. Connolly did not return a phone message yesterday.

If he becomes a candidate, Connolly will be required to disclose the donations.

The formation of the exploratory committee means that while the nine other members of the reconstituted Fairfax board will approach their first scheduled meeting Monday with elections or reelections behind them, Connolly -- for the time being, at least -- will have embarked on the second half of what is potentially a two-year campaign.

Some wonder whether the chairman, who keeps a busy official schedule in addition to working part time as a regional vice president for Science Applications International Corp., the defense and intelligence contractor, can continue to multitask without losing effectiveness. It has been done before: Davis was two years into his first term as Fairfax board chairman in 1993 when he launched a campaign that unseated Byrne.

"We'll have to wait and see," said Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield), one of three new board members who took office this week. "Running a race does take a lot of time. It's going to be a challenge for Gerry, and he's been through it before and he knows what's in store."

Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock) said she wasn't concerned about Connolly becoming distracted. "Gerry has tremendous energy and intelligence and concentration," she said.

The prospect of Connolly in a congressional race could introduce partisan tensions in an elected body that has operated with little political rancor in recent years.

"I hope everybody keeps their head," Bulova said. Herrity and Bulova are frequently mentioned as contenders to succeed Connolly.

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