HOTSEAT- Mission district: DNA dude explains his sheriff quest
Chip Harding has pounded the pavement in his 29 years as a cop. Now he's hitting the streets again, but this time, he's looking for registered voters.
A captain with the Charlottesville PD, Harding is running as the Republican candidate for the Albemarle sheriff's job– soon to be vacated by Ed Robb– against Democratic candidate Larry Claytor.
Harding started as a social worker. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in social work, he spent four years as a juvenile probation counselor until he became discouraged. "One kid was brought in three or four times, and he'd get a suspended sentence," he recounts. "He just laughed at me and said, 'See Harding? You can't do anything to me.'
"I said, 'I can do something about me,'" he says. "I'd seen the camaraderie of police officers and that most police work is social work." So in 1978, he joined the Charlottesville force.
But he's not through with kids yet. "I've got so many things I'd like to do with juveniles," he says.
Harding hasn't been exactly low-profile in the community. He goes to Richmond whenever lawmakers need a nudge or a law needs tweaking– or just to seek funding, such as for the DNA databank authorized by the General Assembly that languished until Harding came along. Now Virginia's is widely considered the best in the nation.
In his office overlooking Market Street, the memorabilia is pretty much what folks who know Harding casually would expect: photos of his family, his dog, and the fish that didn't get away. What's unexpected is a spiritual theme– "Good News Jail and Prison Ministry" posters– that his tough-cop exterior doesn't trumpet.
"When I was a freshman in college and started pursuing a business degree, I lay in bed sweating that I would be called into ministry," he says. "You know how God calls you? I was literally lying under my blanket and peeking out."
Down the road, Harding says he and his wife have talked about doing missionary work. But first, his mission is to get elected.
Why here? I was born here and never found a nicer place to live than Albemarle County.
What's worst about living here? A long drive to get to my fly-rod bone fishing in Abaco, Bahamas
Favorite hangout? On a crisp October afternoon it would be a fresh-cut cornfield with my black Lab. On a cold, snowy early morning it would be a duck blind on Back Bay with my same buddy. Most other times, the Riverside Lunch
Most overrated virtue? Patience. We have only a very short time to make the world a better place.
People would be surprised to know: I'm still a social worker at heart, and I've said a prayer for everyone I've ever arrested for them to receive the Holy Spirit into their lives. I'm on president's council for Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, and it's making a difference.
What would you change about yourself? I'd be a better listener.
Proudest accomplishment? Probably being founder and chairman of "Citizens for DNA." We successfully lobbied the General Assembly in 1998 for $9 million in funding to get 160,000 blood samples tested and listed in the DNA databank– they had been sitting in refrigerators for as long as nine years. This has moved Virginia from around two "hits" a year to almost three a day. When we received our first "cold hit" in the violent rape of a UVA student in October of 1999, I was ecstatic.
People find most annoying about you: Sometimes I push the envelope to bring about a positive change, and in doing so some folks were annoyed.
Whom do you admire? Frank Serpico, a NYPD cop who saw corruption in the police department and had the courage to fight it. Also, my pastor at First Baptist Church, the Rev. Joel Jenkins, who volunteered to spend the past year ministering to our troops on the front lines in Iraq.
Favorite book? The Bible. I just finished reading The Politics of Hope: Reviving the Dream of Democracy by Donna Zajonc. A good read– we're both tired of partisan politics standing in the way of positive change.
Subject that causes you to rant? People and groups who think they're solving social problems because their solutions make them feel good, but who don't bother to look at outcomes to see if they're truly bringing about positive change.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The use of DNA as a crime-fighting tool
Biggest 21st-century creep out? To look at this beautiful world that has been given to us and to know that despite all of our technological advances, human beings are still behaving no better than they were before the birth of Christ.
What do you drive? Around town, my wife's 2001 Volvo S60. When hunting or fly fishing, I usually have dogs and friends in my 1999 Tahoe.
In your car CD player right now: Toby Keith
Next journey? Bone fishing in the Bahamas and tarpon fly-fishing in the Everglades
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? The summer when I was 13, my mom let a family friend store about 10 pounds of fudge in our deep freezer that she had made to eat during Christmas. I started sneaking pieces out of the sealed box, and by summer's end, I had somehow managed to eat it all. When she came to get it– let's just say I spent a weekend learning how to make fudge.
Regret: I had to turn down an offer from Coach Al Groh to travel with the team to the N.C. State game October 27 as a "guest coach." I have a special play designed that allows my buddy Chris Long to score a touchdown. Sorry, Chris– my campaigning for sheriff won't allow me off that close to November.
Favorite comfort food: Riverside cheeseburger
Always in your refrigerator: Oranges
Must-see TV: American Idol and UVA football (away) games. No cops TV, please.
Favorite cartoon: Peanuts
Describe a perfect day. Awake to a nice breakfast and take a short boat ride to start wading the Bahama flats on an outgoing tide with my fly rod. Return to the lodge to be with family and friends as we compare our day of fishing while eating local seafood served with ice cold Kalic beer. The backdrop is an unbelievably colorful sunset.
Walter Mitty fantasy: I'm a member of a think tank in Washington with a strong influence on Congress and the President. We come up with great ideas that bring about world peace, clean rivers, reduce hunger, and ways to be "smart on crime" instead of just "hard on crime."
Who'd play you in the movie? I'd like Mel Gibson, but Chief Longo always calls me "Clint" (Eastwood)– sure hope I'm better looking than that.
Most embarrassing moment? It's a tie. My senior year in high school football we were driving down the field for the winning touchdown against Powhatan. I had just completed three passes in a row, bringing us inside the 10-yard line. I got excited and moved out under center too fast, causing a fumble. They recovered, and as the clock was running out the crowd started yelling, and some cussed at me so bad my girlfriend had to leave the game because she had her grandmother with her.
After college, I was a probation counselor. One of the kids I supervised was a state champion boxer. I decided to join the boxing club, and my first fight was scheduled at Henley Middle School. As I entered the ring, the crowd of 200 was chanting, "Rocky, Rocky," for their hometown favorite (this was before the Rocky movies came out). Forty-five seconds into the first round I learned that I was not a very good boxer: TKO with my nose broken in three places. The upside: I lost only one fight in my career!
Best advice you ever got? Do not try to become a professional boxer, because you lack the killer instinct.
Favorite bumper sticker? "God is not a Democrat or a Republican"