Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple retiring from Virginia Senate

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 10:59 PM

RICHMOND - Virginia Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, a 15-year veteran from Arlington County who chairs her chamber's Democratic caucus, announced Friday that she will not run for reelection in November.

A former member of the Arlington School Board and the Arlington County Board, who served as a representative on the Metro board, Whipple, 70, has been known as a staunch advocate of public transit and the environment.

She told colleagues in the Senate on Friday that she had decided a year of milestones, which included her 50th wedding anniversary and her 35th year in public service, should be capped by her exit from elected office.

"I won't pretend this is an easy decision, but I am confident it's the right one," she said. "The Senate is known, for the most part, for the respect and civility that reigns here. And it has been happily a place where good ideas are well received, no matter who proposes them."

All 140 seats of the Virginia General Assembly are up for election in November. The annual legislative session is in its closing days, a time when lawmakers traditionally announce their retirements.

Also Friday, Del. Albert C. Pollard Jr. (D-Northumberland) announced he will step down at the end of the year, delivering a farewell address decrying the rise of partisanship and the influence of lobbyists in the General Assembly.

The announcement by Whipple comes after one from another leading Northern Virginian, Sen. Patricia S. Ticer (D-Alexandria), who said last week that she will not run again. Whipple and Ticer's departures could leave the Senate with only six women, a fact that Whipple, the first woman to lead a party caucus, said was a concern.

"I certainly encourage young women to go into politics and public service," she said. "We need that perspective, and we need all different kinds of people to make our democracy work."

A longtime supporter of abortion rights, Whipple said it was difficult to announce her decision a day after the Senate agreed, over her objections, to regulate abortion clinics as hospitals - a vote she had told colleagues made her "heartsick."

But she said she was proud of her legislative achievements, including sponsoring a key non-tidal wetland protection program and helping to establish a fund to encourage farmers to use environmentally friendly agricultural techniques.

She received extensive praise from colleagues on the floor, particularly fellow women, who lauded Whipple as a trailblazer who guided Senate Democrats with quiet, persistent power.

"This is very, very hard, because it leaves a hole in my heart and a hole in the Senate," a tearful Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said.

Elected in 1995, Whipple served when Democrats were in the minority in the Senate and then celebrated as she helped her party regain the chamber in 2007. As caucus chairman, she played a major role in recruiting and electing candidates. Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax) likened disciplining the chamber's Democrats to herding cats - "wild cats."

Dels. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington) and Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) both said Friday that they might run for Whipple's seat, depending how the district is drawn in the legislature's April redistricting process. Other possible candidates include former lieutenant governor candidate Mike Signer and Arlington County Board member Barbara A. Favola (D).

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