A public service career that began as participation in neighborhood youth athletics programs may come to a culmination as a state lawmaker for long-time Herndon resident Jay Donahue, who announced his intention to run on the Democratic ticket for the state legislature’s 86th district last week.
If he gets the democratic party’s nod, Donahue, 60, the first to announce his candidacy for the 2007 state delegate race, would face off against former Herndon mayor and incumbent delegate Tom Rust (R), running for his third two-year term in the Virginia General Assembly.
But Donahue’s intentions are not so much about unseating Rust, whom he calls a friend, as much as they are about accomplishing in Virginia what the Democrats did in last year’s mid-term elections — landing a majority in the state legislature.
Donahue and his fellow Democratic candidates have a large undertaking ahead of them if they hope to achieve the success the national party had last fall. The House of Delegates, made up of 100 members, is currently composed of 57 Republicans, 40 Democrats and three independents, according to the General Assembly’s Web site. The Republicans have held that majority since 2000.
Still, it’s the challenge inherent in public service that makes Donahue so excited, he said.
"We realize it will be an extraordinary commitment of time, first in getting elected and then in serving down in Richmond, but I feel we’re ready for that," Donahue said.
There is currently no other opposition to Donahue in securing the Democratic ticket in 2007, but candidates have until May to announce their intentions to run. If there are other prospective candidates, a primary election would be held to determine who will run with the Democratic flag in November.
When asked to comment on Donahue's candidacy, Rust said that he had yet to learn where he stood on the issues and was unfamiliar with how he will be as an opponent, as this is his first run at political office. Still, Rust said that he takes the challenge seriously.
"We take every campaign extremely seriously and we will run a very high profile campaign with whoever we run against," Rust said.
MUCH LIKE HIS opponent, Donahue has a long resume of community activity in the Town of Herndon. In addition to his public service career, he has been a regional sales manager for AAA auto services, a husband of 35 years to his wife, Joanne, who is a local school teacher, and a father to sons Chris, 33, of Reston, and Ryan, 30, of North Carolina. He currently lives with his wife on Crestview Drive in Herndon.
His devotion to the community, he said, began with his two sons playing sports on neighborhood teams after his family moved to Herndon in 1982.
Over time, Donahue got more involved with his fellow neighbors in the Four Seasons subdivision of Herndon, where he originally lived. In the 1980s, he successfully rallied together with them to stop the development of an office complex across the street from the neighborhood, he said.
"That was kind of my first taste of public activism, and it was a struggle that really affected a lot of different neighborhoods in Herndon," Donahue said. "Needless to say it triggered more interest in me to serve the community."
It was a desire to bring out more in the community that led Donahue to aspire to be more involved in the operation of the Herndon community, he said.
"We’ve come to know and love this town … and the potential that all these good things in Herndon have when it comes towards building a better community," Donahue said. "It’s all about quality of life, and the more I got involved, the more I realized just how much I enjoyed it."
Donahue served on the original Dulles Rail Land Use Commission in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was named as a member of Herndon’s Planning Commission in 1995, where he currently sits as the committee’s vice chair. On the planning commission, he was involved with the approval of the Herndon Municipal Center, the Herndon Police Department, upgrades to the Herndon Community Center and the comprehensive Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Project.
"I think he's a wonderful candidate, a truly first-rate human being," said former Herndon mayor and council member Carol Bruce. "He's really just in it to better the community, and he's not ego-driven at all, like so many people we see in politics today."
Donahue has also been active in the business community, serving as a board member of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce for four years.
"He is a man who is interested in politics and helping his community," said Eileen Curtis, chamber president. "He’s a very charming man … and he’s thoughtful and respectful of other people’s opinions."
DONAHUE LABELS himself as a "centrist leaning more to the left" and a life-long Democrat, who plans to focus on increasing the overall quality of life for Northern Virginians by tackling the issues that matter most to them, he said.
"We need people in Richmond who really care about the people and the transportation in this region," Donahue said. "When you leave work at five and you need to get home to help your kids with their homework or coach a ball game, and you can’t make it until 6:30? That’s a major impact on our quality of life."
A Democratic majority in the House of Delegates that will support the transportation overhaul plans of Gov. Tim Kaine (D), will be the first step towards solving this problem, according to Donahue.
"I think we need the leadership down in Richmond among our delegates to have interest in the real issues of Northern Virginia and to get behind Governor Kaine’s transportation plan and get some real work done," he said. "If we can get a [party] change in the House of Delegates I think it will go a long way towards seeing real improvement in this area."
STILL, THERE IS a long road ahead of him and his party if Donahue hopes to be representing the more than 40,000 registered voters in the 86th district.
If he receives the Democratic nomination he will be challenging Rust, who came out victorious with more than 92 percent of the vote when he ran unopposed in November 2005, according to official state election results.
But a resurgent Democratic party, fresh off victories in last year’s mid-term federal elections along with a more Democratic region — Fairfax County’s 17 state delegates consist of 13 Democrats and Democratic U.S. Senate challenger Jim Webb took the region with nearly 60 percent of the total vote — may add up to a greater shot at victory in November, said Jennifer Boysko, Donahue’s campaign manager.
"I think this is a bigger issue than taking Tom on, it’s about taking on the Republican majority in the state," Boysko said. "The bottom line is that we need to get a Democratic majority in the state if we’re going to get anything substantial passed."
"That’s really what we’re trying to do."