HOTSEAT- Extreme politics: County government, Catalano style
"My political science degree didn't prepare me for this," says Steve Catalano. "This" is being chairman of the Greene County Board of Supervisors and trying to get a handle on a population boom that makes Albemarle County look like it's standing still.
Catalano calls himself a microcosm of Greene County. He likes farming but found agriculture a tough way to make a living. He's college educated, but he drives a truck hauling grain for his own business. He's been an elected official since 1999– but says he's not a political chairman.
"I practice extreme politics," says Catalano. "I don't beat around the bush. I'm not scared to admit I'm wrong. How many politicians do that?"
In a county known for supervisors who are both colorful and independent, Catalano is a maverick determined to leave Greene in better shape than he found it. "I don't like the game of politics," he says. "I like the public service."
He knows he can't stop growth, which ticks along at an ten-year rate of about four percent, nearly double Albemarle's rate, but he's determined to slow the rampant development that's taken place since the '80s. An "ostrich sticking his head in the sand" is how he describes previous supervisor boards' approach to dealing with growth without the infrastructure to support it.
He touts the county's new water-sewer lines that were paid for by developers, and he says he's tackled the county's huge debt. "I'm not a tightwad," he protests. "I'm fiscally responsible."
Catalano wants Greene to move from good ole boy county to a place where everyone is treated equally, whether it's a supervisor's mother or someone who just came in from Chicago. Most of all, he wants to see Greene offer jobs and services that make it self-sufficient, rather than merely a bedroom community for Albemarle.
"Sometimes people think I'm a little autocratic, but I'm not," he says. "I get consensus. I just move fast."
His passion for public service is not without its cost. "It's a huge burden on my family and business," he admits. And with meetings at least three nights a week, "It's hard to get up at 1am" to drive a 42-ton grain truck.
On a typical day, he deals with 25 phone calls relating to county business, a burden exacerbated by the loss of the county administrator, Julius Morris, who recently resigned and was found guilty July 25 of changing site plans on property he owns.
When Catalano gets home, he takes constituents' calls. Sometimes, at the end of the week, he's not quite sure how he made it there. And when he tries to go out for dinner on a Friday night, at least two or three residents approach him with problems that just can't wait. "It can be aggravating," he explains, "but that comes with the job."
He's tried dining in Madison; he's tried Albemarle. In his search for a quiet meal, "Now I head to Harrisonburg," he says. But Catalano is not a man to back away from his job. As he puts it, "You don't drop the fire hose when the fire gets hot."
Why here? My parents moved to Greene County in 1978.
What's worst about living here? The region's sprawl is outpacing its ability to provide services and infrastructure.
Favorite hangout? Volunteer firehouses
Most overrated virtue? Patience
People would be surprised to know: I like to cook.
What would you change about yourself? I'd be more spontaneous.
Proudest accomplishment? My last reelection by a landslide in a five-man race. I spent a total of $136 on my campaign: no signs or stickers, just good ole fashion grassroots campaigning.
People find most annoying about you: Stubborn as a mule... according to my wife
Whom do you admire? Historically: FDR and Lincoln. Present time: Colin Powell and John McCain
Favorite book? A Painted House by John Grisham
Subject that causes you to rant? The failure of all levels of government to meet the needs of the silent majority
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Satellite radio
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Identity theft
What do you drive? Ford F350 4X4 pickup
In your car CD player right now: Allison Kraus and Union Station
Next journey? DC
Most trouble you've gotten in? I probably shouldn't answer this one.
Regret: Not getting to know or spend time with my in-laws before they passed away
Favorite comfort food: Vanilla ice cream
Always in your refrigerator: Coors Light
Must-see TV: Modern Marvels
Favorite cartoon: Bugs Bunny
Describe a perfect day. One without the cell phone
Walter Mitty fantasy: Driving on the Autobahn with no traffic in a Porsche 911 turbo
Who'd play you in the movie? Harrison Ford
Most embarrassing moment? I had a car wreck when I was in college, ended up in the ER, and was x-rayed by two female classmates from high school who admired my "king of love" boxer shorts.
Best advice you ever got? "You have a political future if you can learn to keep your mouth shut." This advice was given to me when I was 21 by a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Favorite bumper sticker? "I'm not paranoid! Which one of my enemies told you that?"
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO