A year ago, Gary W. Brooks, of Vienna, was putting together L. Douglas Wilder's Northern Virginia campaign schedule and driving the Democratic gubernatorial candidate on many of his stops because, she said, "I knew most of the back roads."
Today, she is finding her way around less familiar territory on Capitol Hill as Gov. Wilder's special assistant for transportation, the first such lobbyist for the state in Washington.
Brooks's elevation from campaign aide to a $46,285-a-year post in Wilder's administration says something not only about the rewards of political work, but about the emphasis Wilder is putting on the new federal highway program that Congress will enact next year.
"The major transportation decision to be made during Wilder's term is not going to be made by Wilder," said Brooks, 51, whose first name is a family name. "It's going to be made by Congress."
Since 1956, the federal highway program has focused on building the 42,795-mile interstate system. With that nearly complete, Congress next year will come up with a new program that takes into account the changes that have occurred in the nation's transportation system, such as traffic congestion in suburban areas, including Northern Virginia.
When the new program is drawn up, Wilder wants to make sure that Virginia gets its fair share of the money. He said the amount of federal money Virginia currently receives, $200 million to $300 million a year, is inadequate for a state with an estimated $38 billion in transportation needs over the next 20 years, including $10 billion in Northern Virginia.
Wilder has raised the stakes on the new federal program in part because he can't do much on his own to improve the situation in Virginia.
He is leading a campaign this fall for voter support of the use of transportation "pledge bonds" -- bonds sold by the state and local governments committing a specific source of revenue to repay them -- but the bonds will add only limited amounts of money for road and transit projects.
Moreover, the state's budget crisis closes off the possibility of increased state spending on transportation, and Wilder is cultivating an image of a fiscal conservative who won't raise taxes.
That's why he created the lobbyist position on Capitol Hill and charged Brooks, she said, with this simple mission: "He expects Virginia to end up with more federal dollars for transportation than has been forthcoming in the past."
Furthermore, Brooks said, Wilder wants the state to persuade Congress to make the new highway program more flexible. Currently, states are restricted to spending money from various categories of aid, which penalizes a state like Virginia, which essentially has completed its interstate system.
In turning to Brooks, Wilder picked a native Washingtonian who grew up on Route 7 between Baileys Crossroads and Seven Corners in the Falls Church area. Brooks now lives off Lawyers Road in Vienna; she and her husband have three children.
Her mother, Anne Wilkins, was a Fairfax County supervisor from 1952 to 1963, which partially explains Brooks's interest in Democratic politics.
Before she got involved in Wilder's campaign, Brooks was a Fairfax land broker and a member of Gov. Gerald L. Baliles' citizens committee charting a course for Northern Virginia's future transportation needs.
Actually, Brooks's job is more of an advocate or information contact for the state than that of a pure lobbyist. Wilder, Transportation Secretary John G. Milliken, and others will do the heavy lifting with members of Congress.
"Gary's job is to make sure they have the right information to carry our banner," Milliken said.
The banner was carried in May when Brooks and others prepared information attempting to show federal officials that four highway projects, including the $237 million completion of rush-hour carpool lanes on Interstate 95 outside the Capital Beltway, should be financed with money earmarked for completion of an interstate highway instead of money tagged for repair of a highway.
The difference in the accounts was significant, because it meant that the state would get more than $300 million in new money.
Brooks took the information to four key Virginia lawmakers: Sens. Charles S. Robb (D) and John W. Warner (R) and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R) and L.F. Payne Jr. (D). They were asked to call Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner and Federal Highway Administration chief Thomas D. Larson. The state prevailed.
"No one had ever got those people together like that before," Brooks said.
Though the emphasis will be on highway money next year, Brooks also is a strong advocate of mass transit. For example, she would like to see a proposal for a high-speed rail line between New York and Washington extended to Richmond down Interstate 95.
Brooks did not accept her assignment with any illusions. Though the state wants more federal dollars, Virginia already gets back from the federal highway trust fund most of what it contributes in gasoline tax receipts. Also, there will be 49 other states competing, including large ones such as California, Texas and Florida that have more political clout.
"It's going to be very difficult," Brooks said. "The real problem is that the whole pie needs to be bigger for the whole country."