HOTSEAT- The Brennan-ator: Nelson supe takes on Watkins Abbitt
Watkins Abbitt has reigned supreme as the 59th District's delegate to the General Assembly since 1986. So why in the world would Nelson County Supervisor Connie Brennan want to challenge him when he's picked off every opponent, including her ex-husband, Allen Hale?
"He has been ensconced for 22 years, and it's time for a change," Brennan says simply.
She lists why she thinks she can succeed when other challengers, like Hale and Hank Hagenau, failed: "They're both wonderful people, but they started their campaigns late, they had no elected experience, no money, no Democratic support, and no name recognition. I'm very well organized, and I have lots of support"– support that includes the state's top Dems, Governor Tim Kaine and former Governor Mark Warner.
Her website exudes confidence with a "countdown to victory" on the main page, ticking off the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until election day. And Brennan has assembled a war chest that shows she's ready for a rumble. The Virginia Public Access Project puts her at $189,000 to Abbitt's $171K, but she estimates that she's raised $90,000 more than the incumbent, a former Democrat who now runs as an independent.
"And except for $10,000," she says, "all my donations are from individual contributors."
Brennan is no political novice. The nurse practitioner was elected to the Nelson School Board in 1997 and fought two "seriously" contested Board of Supervisor races. "I was the first woman elected to the Board, and I wanted to show it could be done," says Brennan.
She didn't start out thinking she was going to be in politics. "My mother said, 'I don't know what happened to Connie– she was so shy,'" says Brennan. She's not shy now, and she's not afraid to speak up and out.
Religion and philosophy drew her initially, but her "eminently practical" TWA pilot father steered her toward nursing. After moving around the United States growing up, and abroad while married to Hale, a Foreign Service officer, "I moved to Nelson in 1974 because I wanted to raise my kids as part of the community, because I didn't have that," she explains.
Running for delegate has put her back on the road again, traveling the vast, rural regions of the 59th District, which includes southern Albemarle west of Scottsville, plus all of Nelson, Buckingham, Appomattox, and Cumberland (and little portions of Fluvanna and Prince Edward). Not one city is found in the entire district.
"It's mostly farm land and forest," notes Brennan, and she's spent three hours going door-to-door to visit 25 houses. Forget about cell phone coverage.
Despite the demands of a long campaign, Brennan seems energized. "I'm one of the happiest people I know," she says. "I'm doing this for the right reasons– to make lives better. That's what I've done all my life."
Why here? I fell in love with the feel of this place when I came here to study. I wanted my family to be part of a community, which was not my experience growing up, and this was It.
What's worst about living here? Dangerous roads and crazed drivers
Favorite hangout? Anywhere in Nelson County: the mountains, rivers, wineries, and any outside place
Most overrated virtue? Hmm. The most underrated would be kindness these days.
People would be surprised to know: I once wired a house, built a chimney, and still heat my home with wood (geothermal coming soon).
What would you change about yourself? I would be able to really sing and to play a musical instrument.
Proudest accomplishment? Being a founding member of a healthcare center for women, and being the first woman elected to the Nelson County Board of Supervisors.
People find most annoying about you: I've been accused of being too "nice"– I try to put a positive spin on negative things.
Whom do you admire? Mitch Van Yahres and Nancy O'Brien, locally, and Madeleine Albright and Nelson Mandela, among others
Favorite book? The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
Subject that causes you to rant? Violence against children
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The possibility of stamping out the worst diseases of mankind
Biggest 21st-century creep out? TV news, if you want to call it that.
What do you drive? For the campaign, my 1998 hail-pock-marked Taurus with 155,000 miles; otherwise, a 2000 Subaru with 152,000 miles.
In your car CD player right now: Allison Krause, Ban Caribe, BB King or the Stones
Next journey? Dreaming of Portugal in the spring.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Lots, but recently, raising the utility tax on businesses from $2 to $10, allowing my opponent to claim that I have raised taxes 400 percent! This has caused me a ton of trouble.
Regret: Regret and worry are time-consuming and lead nowhere.
Favorite comfort food: Jelly beans (the small ones), but are they food?
Always in your refrigerator: Half and half, yogurt, olives, unidentifiable stuff, and champagne
Must-see TV: If I watched TV, which I don't, it would be Jon Stewart's show.
Describe a perfect day. Up early on an October morning, clear sky, cool air, hot sun. Coffee and newspaper, then brunch with all my kids, which I would prepare. A hike in the mountains followed by a stop at a winery, then dinner with friends, not prepared by me!
Walter Mitty fantasy: To dance like Ginger Rogers or Rita Dove
Who'd play you in the movie? John Travolta or Cate Blanchette (can she dance?)
Most embarrassing moment? Many of those, but one of my favorites was saying, at the end of perhaps my first speech as a newly elected supervisor, that we should pray for war not peace (probably got me a few new supporters!)
Best advice you ever got? From my buddy, Al Weed: Just be yourself.
Favorite bumper sticker? No Farms, No Food