"The bottoms of my feet are like hamburger meat," Ira Lechner said in a hoarse voice. "But I was only chased by two dogs in the entire state of Virginia."
Three hundred miles, 18 days, four pairs of shoes and countless newspaper, radio and television stories later, state Del. Lechner of Arlington yesterday completed a walk from the state's North Carolina border to the Alexandria waterfront.
Undertaken partly to publicize the issue of mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders and partly to drum up support for his campaign for lieutenant governor, Lechner's walk was deemed a great success by the candidate and his supporters.
"There's never been a walking candidate who lost," he said, referring to such well-known trekkers as former Gov. Dan Walker of Illinois and Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.). When informed that this chaim might be somewhat over-inflated - (remember Walter G. Finch? he set out on a 1,000-mile hike to win the Democratic senatorial nomination in Maryland three years ago and lost to Barbara Mikulski, who in turn lost to Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) - Lechner amended his statement to, "Well, let's say 99 per cent haven't lost."
Accompanied by a roughly seven-person contingent of support personnel, Lechner finished the first 160-mile leg of his walk in January before the General Assembly session. During the session his bill requiring mandatory sentences for those convicted of felonies for second, third and fourth times was killed in committee even though it had 55 cosponsors.
Lechner attributes the defeat to an overabundance of defense lawyers on the committee, but takes solace in a watered-down mandatory sentence law that was passed on the last day of the session as an amendment to another bill. The version that passed requires that specific sentences be added to whatever sentence is imposed by the judge; Lechner's bill would have mandated specific total sentences for various types of felonies.
"There's no question that the walk helped make mandatory sentencing an issue," he said. "The (bill that passed) is a start, but it's clear that people want it and are going to demand of every candidate running for office this year what their position on it is." Along his route, Lechner interviewed victims of crime on radio and television, and was covered by almost all the local newspapers in the state.
He is particularly pleased that a group of children waiting for a school bus that he passed the other day in Stafford County identified him as "the walking man."
"People loved the walk. They're so glad to see a politician not wearing a tie and not ridding in a Cadillac," said Lechner, who yesterday was wearing while jeans, a cotton shirt and a beige sweater with a green Lechner bumper sticker stuck on its back.
At least half the time he walked alone, he said, which forced him to do "what a lot more politicians should - think." He averaged between five and six hours and 25 to 30 miles a day, with stops to make speeches and greet shopkeepers and other citizens.
The total cost of the journey will be about $1,000, he said, most of it spent on gas. "We usually stayed with friends and we ate junk food," he explained.