Five hundred Northern Virginia Democrats who woke up happy last Nov. 6 gathered last night to pay their new heads of state -- and themselves -- a little tribute.
"There is no better training for dealing with 40 unruly members of the Virginia Senate than a party of 500 Northern Virginia Democrats," said Arlington County Board Chairman John Milliken, who acted as master of ceremonies, in welcoming incoming governor Gerald L. Baliles, lieutenant governor Douglas Wilder and attorney general Mary Sue Terry.
Democrats have had their ups and their downs in Virginia since it became a two-party state (once there was only one party, and his name was Harry Byrd), so they can perhaps be pardoned for publicly patting themselves on the back for their recent election victory, and coincidentally fattening their flattened coffers. They had hoped to raise about $12,000 as well as have fun last night in a ballroom at the Pentagon Quality Inn.
"This time we finally got it together," said one party stalwart, raising her glass of wine. This time the party captured not only the top three offices, but elected the first black and the first woman ever to hold statewide office. Wilder recalled how when people told him he had "100-to-one odds -- those odds were an elevation. I felt I was really making it by that time. Coming from what they were: No Conceivable Chance and utter damnation to the ticket."
The party was as restrained and unflamboyant as the ticket; this is not a group for diving into the Tidal Basin or dancing on the tabletops. It was more like a family reunion, which in many ways is exactly what it was, as people who had shared long and underpaid hours of grass roots campaign work refreshed their friendships and hashed over new gossip. Current, former and future office holders from Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and the farther reaches of the 8th and 10th congressional districts, along with those who raise the money and program the computerized mailing lists, mingled under paper snowflakes while a band encouraged some to dance and others to talk louder.
Outgoing Gov. Charles S. Robb, who started the ailing party on its path back to vigor, seemed to enjoy his turn at the microphone more than he did when he dove into Virginia politics eight years ago. He exhorted the faithful to keep up the good work and noted how glad he and wife Lynda would be to move back to their home in McLean. Robb, who cannot succeed himself, will be working for the Hunton and Williams law firm here and in Northern Virginia.
"Some people are calling this an inaugural warm-up," said cochairman Eve Wilson. "But it's really just a party for us. We needed it."