Methodical. Deliberate. And secretive. The character traits of Gov. James S. Gilmore III were on full display Tuesday as the Republican unveiled his plan to pump more than $2.5 billion into the state's road-building program.

For weeks, as Democrats seemed to be gaining ground on the transportation issue, Gilmore and his alter ego, Chief of Staff M. Boyd Marcus Jr., quietly drew the game plan for a political slam dunk designed to silence their opponents in the eight weeks before the Nov. 2 legislative elections.

Publicly, the Gilmore team had taken to sniping at Democrats with unusually harsh language, but finally Gilmore tried to sound gubernatorial, even offering an "I-feel-your-pain" speech to frustrated commuters in the Washington area. "I'm in Northern Virginia all of the time, and I sit in traffic just like everyone else," said the governor, who more often than not is whisked from appointment to appointment in a chauffeured car or corporate jet.

Just as he did in 1987, when he seized upon the car-tax repeal as the silver bullet of his statewide campaign, Gilmore relied on Marcus and two seasoned corporate types from Northern Virginia in pulling together the elements of his transportation plan for 2000 and beyond.

Sidney O. Dewberry, who has made a fortune erecting state university buildings and other public works, and Dwight C. Schar, a politically savvy developer from McLean, advised Gilmore from the wings, just as they did two years ago on the car tax.

Also available for practical advice on the political terrain in Northern Virginia was J. Kenneth Klinge, the veteran GOP operative who knows a thing or two about transportation.

All three suburbanites are comfortable with Gilmore and the Gilmore style.

"Look," Klinge said last week, with his customary air of impatience, "I've known this guy since '74. He wants things done in an orderly, logical fashion.

"The governor's commitment to Northern Virginia's transportation problems is complete."

Added Schar: "The governor approached this the way he does most big policy issues. First, he gathered all the information he needed before he made his decisions."

Gilmore aides toiled through last weekend and all day Monday to get ready for Tuesday's 20-minute address, and had strict orders--as did Klinge and other insiders--to keep mum about what the governor would propose.

The secretive strategy largely worked: Gilmore & Co. had saturation media coverage that morning, just as the boss wanted.

Democrats' Strategy Backfires

If Republicans had a take-no-prisoners approach to trying to diffuse the transportation issue, Democrats strayed into the realm of goofiness and predictions that proved in the end to be wrong.

First, Craig K. Bieber, the party's executive director, faxed the Capitol press corps a "Top 10" list of spoof ideas for where Gov. James S. Gilmore III could direct the new transportation money.

No. 2 on the list was: "Hire panhandlers to circulate in stalled traffic on the Capital Beltway." The No. 1 idea? "Reissue Confederate money!"

Then, on the eve of Gilmore's big speech, Bieber issued a news release with the headline "Gilmore Ready To Flip-Flop On Bonds," a funding mechanism long favored by Democrats but generally opposed by the administration.

"Apparently the governor's no-bond stance has fallen victim to political expediency," Bieber said.

Gilmore, though, offered no support for bonds in his radio address.

The Neglect of the North

Roll out the Northern Virginia welcome mat for Lt. Gov. John H. Hager (R) for his generosity of spirit the other day toward the nice people of the Washington suburbs.

Hager, touring rural Southwest Virginia, said that far corner of Virginia is often neglected by what he called an "elite in Northern Virginia," the Bristol Herald Courier reported.

Does that mean Hager won't accept those "elite" campaign contributions from the Beltway Bunch when he runs for governor in 2001?

A 'Last Lion' Is Honored

Within sight of the U.S. Supreme Court in a room that Lyndon Baines Johnson used as his Senate office, Virginians honored civil rights lawyer Oliver White Hill at a Capitol reception hosted by Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) last month.

Robb's Aug. 11 reception came after the White House ceremony at which Hill received the Medal of Freedom for his role in fighting for desegregation and litigating a Virginia school case that became part of the high court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Robb nominated the 92-year-old Richmond lawyer for the medal. At the reception, Robb told 200 invited elected officials, judges and civic leaders that Hill is one of the unrecognized "last lions" of the civil rights movement.

State Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) recounted Hill's appearance at a joint session of the then-all-white Virginia legislature, which briefly made opposition to integration state policy in 1956.

"He shook his fist and dared them to pass Massive Resistance," Marsh said. "Oliver dared them he would take them to court, and he beat them."

Marsh acknowledged the obvious Democratic trappings of the event, which comes as Robb gears up for a 2000 reelection battle against former governor George Allen (R).

Marsh drew knowing laughter from the partisan crowd--Robb stood under the gaze of a portrait of his father-in-law, Johnson, signer of the Voting Rights Act--when he quipped that without Hill's work, "I wouldn't be in an elected position. Very few African Americans would be in elected positions, and Senator Robb probably wouldn't be in his position."

Among the crowd were Sissy Marshall, widow of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP; Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee; and several federal and state judges.

Hill listened politely to the accolades. When the time came to speak, the indefatigable ex-litigator had a simple message--get back to work. Hill stood from his wheelchair to cheers and recited a line by poet Paul Laurence Dunbar: "When all is done, say not my day is o'er. . . . I greet the dawn and not a setting sun."

Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.