Correction to This Article
In the Aug. 1 Magazine, which was printed in advance, a profile of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) says that he put $55,500 into a restricted account because the political donation had come from a director of the United States Navy Veterans Association, a charity now under investigation in Virginia. Although that investigation is ongoing, Cuccinelli announced on July 28 that he would give those funds to veterans charities across the state.
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Va. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli: The rise of the confounding conservative

At 42, Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli stands as one of the most high-profile, active attorneys general in the state's history.

Cuccinelli's boyhood geography was defined by a stretch of Kirby Road in Fairfax, just over the border from Arlington, in a middle-class neighborhood where he spent his days playing pickup sports and roaming the woods. The address was McLean, but given the chance, Cuccinelli would qualify those elite-sounding roots: "I'm from the wrong side of the tracks in McLean."

The family had moved from a town near Edison, N.J., where his parents owned a heating and cooling business, when Cuccinelli was about 2. His father, a chemical engineer, took a job with the American Gas Association. During the transition, their health insurance briefly lapsed, and Cuccinelli's mother became seriously ill. Once sick, she couldn't get insurance. She recovered after months of hospital treatments, but the expense was a heavy burden, he says.

Wouldn't the health-care reform law he now opposes solve such problems?

"My parents would not then, nor now, take the help offered by the federal health-care bill at a cost of giving up their freedom or forcing other Americans to give up theirs, just so that my family would have been spared the financial hardship," Cuccinelli says.

The oldest of three brothers, Cuccinelli was competitive, a bit bossy, as hard on himself as anyone. "When he was doing projects at school, everything had to be just perfect," says his brother Kevin, a doctor in rural Colorado. "He would get frustrated because, guess what, he's human."

The family did not yet have a fixed political identity. Cuccinelli's mother dabbled in Democratic precinct politics. But the parents passed down their strong Catholic faith. They sent their sons to Gonzaga College High School for the Jesuit education, but also because they thought Fairfax County was not the "real world," Ken Cuccinelli says. Gonzaga was more diverse than his neighborhood suburban schools, he recalls, and was located on North Capitol Street, with a homeless shelter attached. Gonzaga is where, Cuccinelli says, he became the person he is.

"I actually consciously thought about, Where am I? Where do I want to be? How do I want to get there? What are the important things?" he says. "Faith was at the top, and at Gonzaga you'd expect that. But what does that mean in the real world? And we'd talk about it at Gonzaga." Every student took a course in social justice, where he was taught theories of putting compassion into action. Cuccinelli tutored middle school students from the D.C. public schools.

Another side of his personality, the performer and occasionally corny crusader, also took shape at Gonzaga. The students would gather in a quadrangle for pep rallies. High on a third-floor fire escape, banging a big drum and leading the cheers, was Gonzaga's mascot, the Eagle, who on game day wore a fiercely beaked and feathered purple and white body suit. Cuccinelli was the Eagle.

"That's a big deal," says Joseph Dempsey, the former dean of students. "They're not going to put a shrinking violet in there. They're going to pick someone who will put on that stupid costume and go at it 100 miles an hour for the whole football game."

Going on to study mechanical engineering at U-Va., Cuccinelli was a bit of an E-school grind, but he found time to memorize the lyrics to "Rapper's Delight," Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hip-hop masterpiece, which he and buddies would perform at the slightest excuse. He was elected to the student Judiciary Committee, the prestigious arbiter in campus disciplinary matters, which helped him set his sights on law school (George Mason University). His work on Judiciary and as a residential adviser deepened his attention to the problem of sexual assault.

During his final year at U-Va., he landed an internship in the office of Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the last Democrat he would ever vote for -- because he liked Wilder's fiscal toughness -- and he also got engaged to Alice Monteiro "Teiro" Davis, then a senior at James Madison University. They had met as teenagers when the attractive stranger moved a few doors down from the Cuccinellis. She attended Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington. He took her to the Gonzaga prom. They broke up during the first few years of college, until Cuccinelli sought her out again.

When he proposed marriage, he was so oblique, she didn't understand. He had to ask twice.

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