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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gerry Connolly and His Big Developer High Rollers

Both critics and supporters of Gerry Connolly acknowledge that he gets much of his financial support from real estate developers and the construction industry. An article, by Bill Turque, in today’s Washington Post analyzes Connolly’s ties to big developers and construction companies. According to the article:
“Connolly (D), who is running for a second term, is the top fundraiser on the local level in Northern Virginia, the reports show. He has amassed $311,700 from developers and builders, which is 38.5 percent of the $808,293 he has raised since the beginning of 2004, according to an analysis conducted for The Washington Post by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.”
Among Connolly’s top donors are the Lerner Corp and WestGroup. But the issue isn’t simply who gives to his campaign but why they give and what they get for their donations. Nobody is so na├»ve as to believe large corporations, developers, trial lawyers, or any interest group gives simply out of a disinterested sense of civic responsibility. Or as Connolly’s opponent Gary Baise, a Washington corporate lawyer whose specialty is environmental litigation put it:
“ ‘The analysis I want to see is how close the dates of these contributions are to votes the board took on applications [for rezoning].’ Baise said he had no specific examples of campaign contributions that directly followed favorable votes.”
I suspect that if you examine the record you won’t find quid pro quo. You’re probably not going to read about any juicy scandals where somebody gave Connolly’s campaign a huge contribution and a week later the Board of Supervisors voted in favor of their development. In fact, Connolly stated bluntly in the article, “I don’t operate that way.”

And he doesn’t.

My guess is that Connolly is genuinely pro-business and pro-development He hasn’t sold out to the highest bidder. The highest bidders are contributing because they want to see somebody win who already supports business and growth. In other words, Connolly gets their donations because he is already on their side, not because he’s in their pocket.

And you know what? If Fairfax weren’t business friendly, see how fast residents would complain about the loss of jobs and services those businesses provide. If Fairfax's vibrant economy came to a screeching halt, watch how quickly Connolly and other supervisors would no longer be in office. In that worst case scenario, nobody in the county would be well served.

The question isn’t whether Gerry Connolly, or any other supervisor, is pro growth. It’s what kind of growth they support. So far, Connolly has been a leader in the fight for smart growth. He has been the number one cheerleader for building the tunnel rather than above ground Metro station to Tysons. In addition, he has proactively supported mixed-use building developments clustered near already existing Metro stations, like the Dunn Loring project, to alleviate suburban sprawl and roadway congestion.

Besides all that, as this Washington Post article from March shows, Connolly signed on to the Sierra Club’s “Cool County” project to green Fairfax County. Among some of the initiatives are the use of ethanol- burning buses, tax breaks for hybrid cars, encouraging new neighborhoods with more trees and green spaces, and vegetation on public buildings, including schools and firehouses, to reduce carbon dioxide levels. In addition, Fairfax County gets 5% of its electricity from alternative energy sources like solar and wind power and already uses 90 hybrid vehicles.

If pro-business Gerry Connolly can get his developer friends interested in projects that provide green spaces and that invest in alternative energy he will have accomplished more than some of the purists who constantly vilify developers and keep winning the small skirmishes while losing the war against global warming.

In truth, I am not Connolly’s biggest fan. But I’m also not his worst critic. On balance, when it comes to land use and greening Fairfax, he’s on the right side and if he can convince his developer buddies to support smart growth because its good for public relations and for business, well, there are worse reasons for supporting environmentally friendly projects that do something to alleviate global warming.

3 comments:

Ken Cuccinelli said...

AIAWo,

"My guess is that Connolly is genuinely pro-business and pro-development He hasn’t sold out to the highest bidder. The highest bidders are contributing because they want to see somebody win who already supports business and growth. In other words, Connolly gets their donations because he is already on their side, not because he’s in their pocket."

Generalizing beyond Connolly, this is one of the most overlooked explanations for donations in the media. Some politicians are swayable by donations, some go get donations from people that already support the politician's positions on issues. There's a BIG difference b/n the two.

Great observation.

BTW, my Mom mentioned that she's looking forward to seeing you at "her" polling place in November!

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thanks for your insight as an elected official Ken. I've long suspected that in some cases contributions are coming in because those giving aren't trying to buy influence so much as they are attempting to reward those already on their side.

And I look forward to seeing your mom again in November, and you too :)

DWSchnare said...

Actually AIAW, Gerry Connolly doesn't deserve a green reputation. Take a look at www.thehardlook.com to see that Gerry is using green eyewash on his cool counties proposal. He is setting up expectations that, even if we had unlimited funds, we could not achieve.

What Gerry is doing is promising a community inside a garden. What we will get from his high-density development is more traffic congestion, more illegals, more homeless, poorer air quality and more degraded streams and all at our expense.

He's a smart guy who has sold his soul for power. Were that he was a statesman, alas. His penchant for springing board actions on both his opponents and his supporters on the board, along with his misbehaviour in committing the county to action under regional authorities without consent of the board, makes him no better than Tom Davis was when he tried those tactics in days past.

A pity, that.