A year ago, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) dismissed Loudoun County developer Leonard S. "Hobie" Mitchel from the statewide transportation board, saying that he had failed to defend the administration's opposition to new taxes. Gilmore replaced him with a GOP activist, Kevin Sabo.
Yesterday, the governor reversed course.
Gilmore announced that he had reappointed Mitchel, 49, to the powerful Commonwealth Transportation Board, replacing Sabo, who resigned in light of charges that he attempted to injure his ex-girlfriend by slicing the brake lines on her car.
Lila Young, a spokeswoman for Gilmore, said yesterday that the governor had been impressed with Mitchel's work on a separate transportation advisory panel. "They've had several conversations, and it's working out very well," Young said. "They're on the same page now--whether or not they were before."
Gilmore said a year ago that he yanked Mitchel's appointment to the board because Mitchel had not championed the governor's belief that Virginia needs no tax increases to pay for road construction. Gilmore was upset that Mitchel had not spoken up at a leadership breakfast hosted annually by developer John T. "Til" Hazel Jr., who advocates tax increases to pay for roads.
Now Mitchel, a vice president of Toll Brothers Inc., will assume the same seat on the 14-member transportation board that he held earlier, pending confirmation by the General Assembly.
"I'm pretty excited about it," Mitchel said. "I'm looking forward to serving the commonwealth. It's obviously a big thing for Northern Virginia, and I plan on being very active."
Mitchel said that he wants the transportation board to cut costs and consider privatizing some operations. "Before you start talking about any taxes or other increases which taxpayers do not want to see, you've got to look at all the alternatives first," he said.
But Democrats had their own interpretation of Mitchel's reappointment to the board, which has broad authority to decide when and where roads are built.
"Maybe now that the election has come and gone, the governor's no-tax ardor has cooled," said Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party. "Why would he so unceremoniously dump him a year ago . . . and now reinstate him?"
Young said the governor had no plans to increase taxes and dismissed the criticism as "wishful thinking by the Democrats."
Sabo resigned from the board and from his post as chairman of the 11th District Republican committee, his attorney said yesterday, because he is facing a charge of attempted malicious wounding and did not want to embarrass either Gilmore or U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). Sabo was scheduled to go on trial yesterday in Arlington Circuit Court, but the case was postponed until Nov. 29. Prosecutors say Sabo cut the brake lines on Heather Lawrence's car after she broke off their relationship.
Sen. William C. Mims and Del. Richard H. Black, both Loudoun Republicans, pressed Gilmore's administration to reappoint Mitchel.
"I think Hobie was simply a marker in a game between two very powerful men," Black said. "I certainly let the governor know that with the very momentous things happening in transportation in Loudoun County and western Fairfax, that there was no person as competent as Hobie Mitchel."
Staff writer Patricia Davis contributed to this report.