<bt> John “Jack” Herrity liked to point out that even though he’ll be 70 this month, his has the heart of a 60-year-old woman.
The former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman, who was a 1994 recipient of a heart transplant, also admitted to having “fire in his belly.”
“If you’re going to ask people to contribute money to a campaign and you don’t have fire in your belly, you’re a damn hypocrite,” said Herrity.
The Republican is contemplating a campaign that would pit him against incumbent chairman Katherine M. Hanley (D) in the 2003 election.
“If the money is there and the further polling that we’re going to do looks good, I’m going to take on Mrs. Hanley,” said Herrity. “This is not personal. It’s about people issues and transportation. It’s not about taking anyone on personally.”
Owner of Jack Herrity and Associates, a pension and insurance planning firm, Herrity has been member of the Northern Virginia Community Foundation, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Committee on Transplant Awareness.
In 1999, Gov. James Gilmore (R) appointed Herrity to the George Mason University Board of Visitors. He also serves on the university’s Faculty and Academic Standards and the Finance and Resource Development Committees.
“When I was chairman, we had a board that wanted to do things,” said Herrity. As the Springfield district supervisor from 1972 to 1976 and the board chairman from 1976 to 1988, he was involved in the developmental stages of the Fairfax Parkway, I-66 inside the Beltway and the Dulles Access Road.
“We also did Rt. 28, which was quite novel and innovative,” said Herrity. “The developers paid 75 percent of the cost by tax district. I guess the message is that there was a lot of leadership by a lot of people by both parties. We don’t have that today. It’s just not there. They stand for nothing and sit on everything.”
Herrity said that he recently began polling for a potential run for the chairman’s seat. So far, he has been encouraged by the response.
“Transportation is the major issue along with education and economic development,” said Herrity. “We have to do something about that. People may not expand here or come here. According to the Council of Governments, home to work trips are up 23 percent since 1990. There’s a theory out there that highways are maternity wards for cars. But we haven’t built any maternity wards and the cars keep coming.
“The cars will come whether you build the damn things or not. It’s probably true that if you build a highway in a certain place, more cars will come there. But in the macro sense, it’s just not true.”
“There are leaders in this county who live and die by that and we’re dying because of that,” said Herrity. “Which is one of the reasons that I decided to do some polling to find out if people still liked me enough for me to form a committee and see if we can raise enough money to make it worthwhile to do this thing.”
<bt>In gauging her possible opponent next year, Hanley said it remains to be seen whether Herrity would challenge her as an independent, as Arthur G. Purves did in 1999. That year, the Republican Party declined to name a nominee.
"We’ll wait and see who is the nominee of the Republican Party," Hanley said. "We don’t know that yet."
“Jack has indicated an interest to several party activists,” said Joe Underwood, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Party.
Despite Herrity’s interest, Underwood said that the 2003 election wasn’t even on the radar screen yet. “They won’t even be able to file their candidacies with the local board of elections until January or February 2003,” he said.
However, Underwood admitted that Fairfax Republicans have been canvassing possible chairman candidates for about eight or nine months.
“We have been interviewing several people who would be very good chairman candidates,” he said. “Which ones are going to step up to bat? At this point, it’s unclear because we’re not at that stage.”
As for facing an opponent who might focus on the single issue of transportation, Hanley said she was unconcerned. "No Gridlock," was unlikely to carry the campaign force of "No Car Tax," she said.
"We’ve learned that slogans don’t solve problems. Most constituents are a lot more astute."
Hanley pointed out that transportation woes are complex. The issues include a national debate about whether building roads relieves or compounds congestion and the cost-effectiveness of mass transit. The passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990 placed restrictions on building roads in areas that don’t meet certain standards.
"I think Jack might have missed that," Hanley said, alluding to a list of new regulations and government action, including the 2020 plan, that she thinks Herrity might not be fully familiar with.
<bt>“My reaction is that he will raise taxes the same as Kate Hanley will,” said Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. “When he was chairman, he raised taxes almost as much as Kate Hanley did. The only way to control county taxes and spending is to reduce wasteful school and welfare spending. That is the issue.”
Purves doubted whether a campaign focusing on transportation alone would alleviate much of the county’s spending.
“The county spends almost no money on transportation,” said Purves. “Three percent of the county budget is spent on transportation. It all comes through Richmond. It’s welfare and schools that drive up the taxes and there’s been no Republican who has been willing to take a stand against those two pots.”
Herrity discussed his possible campaign with Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield).
“He was certainly a good chairman when he was in,” said McConnell “I imagine that people remember what his term was like. He’s very serious about doing this.”
McConnell remembered Herrity’s efforts with then vice-chairman Martha Pennino (Hunter Mill-D) in bringing new commercial development to Fairfax. “Jack was a good leader during the time that the county needed some leadership,” she said. “He was here when the county was at its peak of growing."
Even though Fairfax County has grown considerably since 1988, McConnell thought that Herrity still had the skills to be chairman.
“He had a lot of experience when the county was at its peak of growing, so I don’t think that would be problem,” she said. “That would be up to the people whether or not they think he’s a good candidate.”