When Lucy Denney left her job at the CIA 24 years ago, the skills she had acquired as an intelligence analyst didn't fade away. Just last week she demonstrated -- once again -- they're as well-honed as ever.
Denney was the campaign manager for Mary Margaret Whipple in her upset victory in the race for the Arlington County Board. And "intelligence work," she said, was a big factor in making it come to pass.
Denney used the same formula that has given her a batting average of almost .700 in the many battles she has waged as a volunteer campaign manager and coordinator for Arlington County Democrats, candidates like former representative Joseph L. Fisher.
Her computer-like memory of neighborhoods, finely tuned organizational capabilities and bands of loyal volunteers are so impressive that board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler, a Republican-backed independent who lost to Whipple, said Denney's precinct organization was largely responsible for his defeat.
Denney, a native of Shreveport, La., arrived in Washington in 1954 to work as an analyst for the CIA, but quit to raise two children. She moved to Arlington because she didn't want to live in a city where citizens could not vote in some races.
Denney got into politics when a neighbor asked her to do precinct work. Now, she can tick off the precincts of Arlington as easily as most people recite their own address and phone number.
"Give her an address anywhere in the county and she can tell you what precinct it's in and what the ZIP code is," said Democrat John G. Milliken, who was elected to the County Board two years ago with some help from Denney. "She can also tell you if it's a single-family home or a condo," said board member Ellen M. Bozman, who had Denney as a campaign manager in her three races as a Democratic-backed independent.
Last week in the cluttered Democratic campaign offices on Wilson Boulevard, Denney provided a glimpse of how she operates. She works from a master list that shows who is responsible for each detail of the campaign. With 44 mostly professional volunteers scheduling 600 volunteer workers, the list is indispensable. It covers voter registration, contributions, policy, news releases, mailings and the all-important precinct operation.
In the Whipple campaign, Denney saw that 130,000 pieces of literature were sent out, some county-wide and some designed especially for groups concerned with such issues as economic development, condominium conversions, schools, social services cuts or the elderly.
In addition, there were the annual fund-raisers, including a book fair and auction, and a garden party at Fisher's home.
On Election Day, volunteers for Whipple and other Democrats canvassed the polls to find out which citizens likely to favor the ticket had not voted. They offered to take these potential supporters to the voting booth. Volunteers were still making calls 15 minutes before the polls closed.
"Her strength is her tremendous ability to ask volunteers to do anything and they'll do it," said Bozman. Added Milliken, "She inspires great loyalty and gives so much of herself. She wouldn't ask anybody to do anything she wouldn't do or hasn't done 14 times herself."
Though Denney has licked more envelopes and rung more doorbells than she can count, her success with volunteers stems in part from her ability to keep most people happy most of the time, a lesson she may have learned while earning her master's degree in American diplomatic history at Stanford University.
"I found her so supportive," Whipple said. "When I needed encouragement, she was there to encourage me. She kept everybody working happily together and always showed a concern for the individual."
Besides managing the campaigns of Whipple and Bozman -- and dabbling in Milliken's 1980 bid for the County Board -- Denney has worked for County Board candidates Jay Ricks, Joe Wholey, Everard Munsey and John Purdy.
She says the candidates' philosophies must be compatible with hers or she will not work for them. "I couldn't be a hired gun," she said.
And she intends to remain behind the scenes: "I don't want to run for office. I've been asked and decided no. I like something that begins and ends in a way, like a campaign."
But she is always ready for a new beginning. Even as she and her volunteers were closing campaign headquarters last week, Denney was thinking ahead to reopening in a few months. "We'll be working on next year's races soon," she said.
It is that kind of tenacious spirit that has built Denney's reputation. Said Bozman, "I know some people who say, 'Some day I want to be a Lucy Denney.' "