In the cubbyhole-size office of Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, the walls are bare. He has no pictures on his desk, no diploma on his wall. Beverages are served to guests in small Styrofoam cups.
But for Fitch -- descendant of globetrotting missionaries, former U.S. trade attache, current member of an advisory council to President Bush and founder of the world-famous Jamaican bobsled team -- humble manners belie oversize ambitions.
Fitch, the mayor of this town of 7,000 for the past six years, has said he is considering a run for another office, the Virginia governor's, and tongues are already wagging.
"It would certainly be an uphill struggle," said Town Council member Stephen L. Athey, "but if there's a guy that can pull it off, he can pull it off."
To pull it off, Fitch would need a boatload of cash -- about $1.5 million just for the Republican primary, he's been told -- and would need to be convinced that Virginia voters were willing to accept a small-town mayor for the state's highest office. Fitch, 56, said he has set a tentative deadline of the end of this month to decide whether to run.
"You have to look at it in practical terms," Fitch said. "It's a very formidable challenge."
Fitch carries himself casually, not at all like many professional politicians down in Richmond. He wears slacks and short-sleeve shirts; he drops in for a $4 sandwich at a diner around the corner from the town office. But colleagues say that despite the casual appearance, Fitch is a fierce competitor not wont to shy from a challenge. ("He hates to lose," Athey said.)
Perhaps most notable of the challenges he has met, or at least the one that is mentioned most often, is Fitch's undertaking at the 1988 Olympics, in which he helped develop a team of Jamaicans for an adventure whose premise was later adopted for the Disney movie "Cool Runnings."
Fitch said he founded the team on a whim and cautioned those who might draw parallels between the bobsledders and his potential candidacy for governor. "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" he tells overeager supporters. "This is very different."
In the Olympics, Fitch said, he just wanted to be competitive, to go out there and beat a few teams. In a gubernatorial race, he would be playing to win. And he will get involved only if he thinks he has a shot at it. Otherwise, he sees no point in trying.
"This business -- politics, campaigning and such -- is a business that is governed by some long-standing and successful practices, which is that you win if you have the support of the party leaders," he said.
Having traveled the world as a trade attache for the U.S. Commerce Department and more recently as an international business consultant, Fitch is no country bumpkin. But in a race for governor, he would likely face more seasoned politicians: Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) in the primary, or Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in the general election.
Still, Fitch has developed a reputation for quantum leaps of achievement. He ran for Warrenton mayor as an outsider, just months after he moved to the town from elsewhere in Fauquier County. At the time, six of the seven council members supported his opponent, John "Sparky" Lewis.
"I ruffled feathers when I first announced," Fitch recalled. "When I got into office, these feathers were still ruffled."
The mayor said he entered politics because he was frustrated by high taxes and what he saw as poor planning. Others were equally frustrated by the "cowboy" who they thought wanted to "turn over all the good things that were being done" in the town, Fitch said.
"It was kind of rough sledding" at first, he added.
Since his election, Fitch has welcomed onto the council new members who are more aligned with his views -- that government spending and taxes can be slashed, that growth can be fostered in a way that will preserve the quality of life in a community.
When Fitch took office, the tax rate was 17 cents for each $100 of assessed value. Today, it is 3 cents for each $100 of assessed value, among the lowest rates in the state, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, which compiles such statistics.
Meanwhile, the mayor has set out to do what he said he would six years ago: give the town government "a good tummy tuck" by cutting spending. An economic development office, which cost $150,000 to run and had yet to bring in any business, was simply eliminated.
One of the council's newer members, Birge Watkins, said Fitch "will dive into a budget and won't resurface until he gets all the answers he wants."
"I think he's got the capability to be a very good governor," Watkins said. "The challenge of course is getting there."
Watkins added that the mayor does his homework on most issues. That homework is evident in Fitch's musings over a possible candidacy. He knows the facts and figures of state government, knows which state roads are trouble spots for congestion, knows about how many votes he'd need to win the primary.
On that last point, he's been told by Republican strategists that he would need the support of about 200,000 people. He was reelected Warrenton mayor in 2002 with 695 votes.