Rep. Gerald Connolly (D)
Virginia 11th District
When author and Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau coined the term ‘‘edge city’’ to describe the autonomous urban centers developing on the rims of some of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, his prime example was Tysons Corner, Va. Rising on a hill west of Washington, D.C., Tysons Corner was a back-country intersection 50 years ago. By the late 1980s, it was the largest concentration of office space to be found anywhere between Washington and Atlanta, with a modern skyline and busy multi-lane avenues that served as arteries to the Capital Beltway. Fairfax County, which includes Tysons Corner, had been a typical postwar suburb. It had only 99,000 people in 1950, far fewer than Washington’s 802,000, and less than the 197,000 people who lived in closer-in Arlington and Alexandria. But in the years that followed, the trickle moving into Fairfax became a gusher. In 2000, it had 991,000 people, nearly twice D.C.’s. 572,000 and three times the 318,000 population of Arlington and Alexandria. They were mostly affluent people. Fairfax County in 2000 had the highest median household income of any county over 250,000 population, with dazzlingly high percentages of residents with college degrees and two or more cars.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In the last decade, Fairfax County has changed. Just as Tysons Corner made it a major commercial center, so it has taken on other characteristics traditionally associated with a central city. Population growth has been slow since 2000; the county passed the 1 million mark in 2002 and stopped for the most part. Meanwhile, suburban Loudoun County vaulted ahead of Fairfax in median household income, and Prince William County has been growing at a fast clip, attracting the young families that Fairfax once did. Some communities have remained unchanged, like Clifton, which still resembles a quaint old Virginia village. But much has changed. Immigrants—Koreans and Vietnamese, Ethiopians and Afghans, Salvadorans and Mexicans–have put their stamp what once were mostly white, heavily Protestant neighborhoods.
The recession hit Fairfax with less force than much of America. Unemployment rose in 2008, but remained well below national levels. The federal government still provides a solid base for the local economy and the Federal Transportation Administration in August 2008 approved the nearly $5.2 billion extension of the Washington-area Metrorail system from Tysons Corner to Dulles Airport. Unlike Loudoun and Prince William counties, Fairfax has declined to pass ordinances denying services to illegal immigrants, but as construction and service jobs vanish, there is evidence of immigrant outflow from the area.
The 11th Congressional District of Virginia consists of much of Fairfax County and most of Prince William County. It straddles the Capital Beltway and includes Tysons Corner. Inside the Beltway is Annandale; beyond are Vienna, Fairfax, much of Springfield, Burke, Clifton, Centreville and part of Mount Vernon. In Prince William County, it includes Woodbridge and Dale City, areas with large Latino immigrant populations, and stretches west to Haymarket. This is a cosmopolitan district: it is 11% African-American, 14% Hispanic, and 14% Asian. Demographic change has produced political change. Immigrants have been voting more Democratic than the people they have replaced, and among non-immigrants, liberal attitudes on cultural issues moved voters against President George W. Bush and his Republicans and toward Democrats like Gov. Tim Kaine and Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner. In recent presidential contests, the district voted 52%-45% for Bush in 2000 but only 50%-49% for him in 2004 and 57%-42% for Democratic nominee Barack Obama in 2008. The seat also fell into Democratic hands in the congressional election that year.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: March 30, 1950, Boston, MA .
Education: Maryknoll Col., B.A. 1971; Harvard U., M.A. 1979.
Family: Married (Cathy); 1 child.
Elected office: Fairfax Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 1995-2008, Chmn., 2004-08.
Professional Career: Non-profit executive; U.S. Senate aide; Defense contractor.
The new congressman from the 11th district is Gerald Connolly, a Democrat elected in 2008 to the open seat left by retiring Republican Rep. Tom Davis. Connolly grew up in the Boston area. He considered joining the priesthood, and studied for six years at a Catholic seminary. But his interest in public policy led him to Washington, D.C., after college, where in the 1970s he managed the American Freedom from Hunger Fund and the U.S. Committee on Refugees. He got a master’s degree from Harvard and worked for a decade on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he specialized in Middle Eastern affairs and foreign aid. In 1989, he left Capitol Hill to run the Washington office of Stanford Research Institute International, and then became vice president of the San Diego-based defense contractor SAIC. In 1995, Connolly won a seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, whose former chairman, Davis, had been elected to the 11th District seat in 1994. In 2003, Connolly was elected board chairman, putting him in charge of a large local government at a time of rapid growth. Transportation was a major preoccupation, and his biggest project was the Metrorail extension from Tysons Corner to Dulles. Connolly was attacked for backing an above-ground line rather than a more expensive tunnel.
|Gerald Connolly (D)||196,598||(55%)||($1,974,640)|
|Keith Fimian (R)||154,758||(43%)||($2,010,087)|
|Joseph Oddo (Green)||7,271||(2%)|
|Gerald Connolly (D)||14,233||(58%)|
|Leslie Byrne (D)||8,196||(33%)|
|Douglas Denneny (D)||1,508||(6%)|
In these battles, Connolly worked with Davis, who paid close attention to local issues as well as playing a major national role as the chairman of National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2000 and 2002 election seasons. But Davis, an expert on political demographics, could see that Northern Virginia was changing, a lesson that was driven home when his wife, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, was defeated for re-election to the state Senate in November 2007. In January 2008, Davis announced he would not seek re-election. Connolly was obviously a prime candidate for the office. Also getting into the primary however was former U.S. Rep. Leslie Byrne, who was defeated in the 11th District in 1994 by Davis. She had the backing of the national women’s fundraising group EMILY’s List, but Connolly outpaced her in fundraising, in part because of his support from defense contractors. Both ran as solid liberals. Byrne said Connolly’s contributions from defense contractors cast doubt on his opposition to the Iraq war. Byrne was endorsed by Democratic Sen. Webb, but Connolly was endorsed by Byrne’s 2005 running mate when she ran for lieutenant governor, Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. In a low turnout June primary—only 24,000 people voted—Connolly won by a solid 58%-33%.
The Republican nominee was Keith Fimian, a businessman and newcomer to Northern Virginia politics who self-financed much of his campaign. Democrats attacked Fimian as a conservative on cultural issues, in contrast to Davis’ moderate record, and Fimian got little help from national Republicans. Connolly won by a solid 55%-43%. Connolly’s victory, and that of 8th District incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, means that most of Northern Virginia is now represented by Boston natives with thick Massachusetts accents.