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McConnell's Imperial Send-Off

It was a farewell fit for a departing secretary of state, much less a retiring Fairfax County supervisor. Monday night's salute to Elaine N. McConnell at the Springfield Hilton consumed three-and-a-half hours, a dozen testimonials, two church hymns (written by the guest of honor) and a "This Is Your Life" PowerPoint presentation that began with her Spanish immigrant grandfather.
The hundreds of friends, constituents and colleagues who packed the hotel ballroom for the six-term Republican's send-off dinner heard a formidable collection of guest speakers from the top tier of the county's business and political class, including Secretary of the Commonwealth (and former Fairfax Board Chairwoman) Katherine K. Hanley (D); incumbent Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D); County Executive Anthony H. Griffin; former county executive Jay Hamilton Lambert; developers Milton V. Peterson and John T. "Til" Hazel, and go-to real estate attorneys Francis A. McDermott and Michael Horwatt.

McConnell, 79, who will retire on Dec. 31, was hailed as a civic treasure and tenacious advocate who rose above partisanship and parochialism to help clear the path for Virginia Railway Express, the Springfield Mixing Bowl and other major county assets.
Griffin presented her with a radar gun, a symbol of her dogged advocacy on the part of police and fire personnel. He wryly described her as "my best phone pal," noting that he spoke to her "more than any other supervisor, including the chairman."
Others said McConnell's office door was open to anyone with a concern. "She believed in us all having a voice," said the Rev. JoAnn McCoy, a friend of 25 years.
Not everyone felt that way. She fought unsuccessfully in the early nineties to ban the Washington Blade, the gay weekly, from being distributed in the county's public libraries because, she and other opponents said, it could lure children into homesexuality.
McConnell's social views moderated somewhat over the years, but she remained one of the business community's staunchest allies on the board, as demonstrated by the presence of Hazel and Peterson, two iconic figures in Northern Virginia land development. McDermott, who served as emcee for the evening, awarded her with a gift of Baccarat crystal on behalf of the business leaders who sponsored the dinner.
The reunion of power players from the big land use battles of the '70s and '80s caused some old resentments to re-surface. Hazel could scarcely disguise his contempt for the Board of Supervisors, with whom he waged a series of high-stakes legal fights over development rights.
Marveling at the hundreds of board sessions McConnell attended over her 24 years in office, he said: "She ought to get an award for just being able to stomach that," he said.
Lambert and McDermott, who tangled in the 198os over the protection of the Occoquan watershed from dense development, took some pokes at each other for auld lang syne. After Lambert finished his remarks -- recounting how he liked to call McConnell "Babe" during his days as county executive -- McDermott said, "Jay started in the sewers," an apparent reference to Lambert's roots in the public works department as part of a 30-year county career.
From his table Lambert replied: "That's where I met you."

By Bill Turque  |  December 19, 2007; 1:09 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Fairfax County Board of Supervisors  
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