Greg Werkheiser traces his passion for public service to the generosity of a benefactor whose financial aid helped him attend college and charted his course for the future.
Werkheiser is challenging incumbent Del. David Albo (R-42) for his seat in the Virginia General Assembly, with the goal of using his experiences with non-partisan, youth-focused citizen education groups to bolster his effectiveness.
"My real passion is bringing people of different ideologies to the table to solve our problems, not divide them," said Werkheiser, an attorney who attended the College of William and Mary through several donations from a businessman in his hometown in Pennsylvania. Those donations, said Werkheiser, came with only a few stipulations: do well in college, leave William and Mary a better college when he left and put himself in a position to do the same for others.
To Werkheiser, that meant attending law school after college, and becoming an activist against cuts to Virginia's public higher education system in the mid-1990s.
"The lessons I learned during those fights led me to conclude that young people were too distant from their government in Virginia," said Werkheiser, describing the creation of the Virginia Citizenship Institute, a non-profit that educates teenagers about public service.
IN CHALLENGING Albo, who has occupied the 42nd District seat since 1993, Werkheiser said he believes his vision for representing Fairfax County in Richmond is superior that of his opponent's.
"We might agree on what the challenges are, but we would disagree about whether he’s been ahead of them or behind them," said Werkheiser. "Leadership is about anticipating problems before they get here, about being responsible and honest with people."
Albo, he said, has violated the trust of his constituents on several occasions through his tenure in Richmond, most recently by proposing a "repeat offender" traffic bill that would levy fines against those who commit infractions, such as against DWI and speeding.
Werkheiser said this is a conflict of interest, since Albo's law firm, Albo & Oblon, L.L.P., gets many of its clients from those who break traffic laws.
"My message to (students) has always been that public service can be honorable. When a delegate engages in something that’s not only bad legislation but a clear conflict of interest, that sends the wrong message," said Werkheiser.
Another issue that Werkheiser said would be a priority would be "continuing a pattern of trying to restore public trust in state budgeting."
"Mr. Albo voted in lockstep with Gov. Gilmore who left the state in an extremely precarious position," he said. "The state is now ranked as one of the best managed states in the country and the leadership that resulted in that was directly and frequently attacked by Mr. Albo."
Werkheiser said he would stand with Gov. Mark Warner (D) on fiscal matters, believing Warner's policies have been responsible for a trend of a healthy economy in the state
"Once we have a healthy economy, and once people trust the state government with their tax dollars we can make investments in the institutions that grow our quality of life and our economy," he said.
AMONG WERKHEISER'S priorities are those issues that he believes are crucial to Fairfax County — "property taxes, gangs, transportation, sustaining our quality of education, these only reach the level of concern by the incumbent when they become crises," he said.
Werkheiser's leadership positions include vice chairman of The Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia; a member of the executive board for Virginia 21, a non-profit organization that helps involve college students in the political process; and chairman of the Virginia Commission for National Community Service. He served as speechwriter for Gov. Warner's 1996 United States Senate campaign.
Those experiences, said Werkheiser, have enabled him to understand the importance of anticipating problems.
"What offends me most and convinces me I can offer better leadership is not only my own experiences, but the failure to get ahead of problems," he said.
Werkheiser and his wife Marion live in Springfield. He is currently unopposed in the Democratic primary, and had raised $124,216 as of the March 31 filing deadline.