Sunday, October 28, 2012

An Open Letter to Gerry Connolly

Subject: Observations by an independent mind

Dear Gerry:

My goals as a candidate in this year's election in11th Congressional District are to bring issue-oriented civility to the race and get voters "inside the ropes" to see the candidate's point of view. As a first-time candidate, it's been exciting and a real eye-opener for me.

I can't say that I know you any better than when I started campaigning 15 months ago, but the campaign certainly confirmed the impressions from your constituents and colleagues – some of whom knew you from your first days as Fairfax County Supervisor in 1995. Though I voted for you in 2010, I wasn't seeing enough in your professional growth to warrant sending you back for a third term. That's why I chose to run.

One of my first interactions with you occurred while collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot. We shook hands at ViVa Vienna in May. Later that day your chief of staff stopped by my booth, signed my petition, and said that you'd sign as well because you supported participation in the political process; you didn't return. When we met a few weeks later at Celebrate Fairfax, I asked for your petition signature and you responded, "I don't think I can." When I reminded you that all registered voters of the 11th District were eligible to sign, you responded, "I think I already did," and walked on without breaking stride.

At a summertime meeting of the Braddock District Council, you used the phrase, "In my District, where you live." Was that a slip or something more telling?  Did you mean to say, "In our District that I'm honored to represent"?

At a luncheon hosted by the Greater Merrifield Business Association and Falls Church Chamber of Commerce when asked about redistricting, you blamed those Republicans in Richmond – even though you benefited from the gerrymandering that made the District more Democratic.

At the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, you claimed to be everywhere! NAACP meetings, Urban League meetings, etc. But to what effect? At the Korean Coalition for Political Participation candidate forum, you claimed victory over "big box" dry cleaners – to the detriment of consumers through higher prices. You can't be everything to everyone. When you carve out niches, you fail to serve the whole.

And what's with the fingers? Whether making a point or blaming someone else for our problems (which you do a lot), you have those index fingers out, firing, ready to assign blame ... as long as it's not you.

BTW – What have you done the last 4 years? I honestly can't say whether it's good or bad because I haven't heard from you. OK, I don't mean personally heard from you. But have voters heard from you? We're one of the most affluent regions in the nation. Where have you been? We get the freshman/sophomore Congressman thing. But as animated as you are in person, perhaps you could be a little more animated and visible on the national stage – that's the stage for a Congressman.

I have a few suggestions for you:
  • Show some humility – In the consulting business, when the client looks good your business grows; when things go wrong, you take the blame and take one for the team. Taking credit solely for success may be a great political formula, but that mentality built the gridlock we have today. Let's figure out what's not working, worry less about scoring political points and returning for another term in office, succeed as Team America.
  • Stop and listen – When was the last time you sat down and chatted with your constituents? Not a speech, not a fundraiser, not a "distinguished panel". You have a remarkable memory for people, names, places, and families. Slow down, stop talking, stop campaigning, listen to what we're saying.
  • Take a vow of propriety – It's interesting to hear members of your party rail against the influence of big money in political campaigns. Yet they play the same game, and you don't seem to be an exception. Play a different game: accept contributions only from individual voters and only those voters who reside in the 11th District. It's refreshing, it's cleansing, it'll bring you closer to your constituents.
My guess is that you'll never read this letter; a staffer will probably do it for you. I hope I'm wrong. As a community, we are as diverse as any in the nation and we're among the most affluent.  We have a tremendous chance to lead from the center, to break the gridlock for the benefit of all.  You've been a politician for so long that perhaps you've forgotten how to be hungry and idealistic.  That's a pity, because that's what we need right now.

Sincerely, Mark