HOTSEAT- New age faith: Why Tom Perriello takes on Goode
Tom Perriello has been to some of the worst hellholes on earth: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur. "I was part of a team trying to force [Liberian dictator] Charles Taylor to leave office without firing a shot," explains Perriello of his Liberian stint.
Maybe that's why taking on firmly ensconced six-term Congressman Virgil Goode for the 5th District doesn't seem that intimidating to the young Democrat. How could the U.S. House of Representatives be worse than genocide in Darfur?
Perriello calls himself a "justice entrepreneur," and says he "looks at political solutions to military conflicts." He's helped found a nonprofit that stresses faith-based solutions to children's health care, and supports a higher minimum wage, environmental stewardship, and responsible solutions in Iraq.
The Charlottesville native, son of pediatrician Vito Perriello, got his sense of social justice at a young age attending local Catholic churches. "I felt called by my faith wherever I saw great human suffering," he says.
After attending St. Anne's-Belfield and getting a law degree from Yale, Perriello could have taken a more privileged path. Instead, he headed to the civil wars in West Africa– and sees nothing unusual about his call to service.
"My Generation X has the highest level of community service– and the lowest voting record," he explains. "We're starting to see politics as a community service, a way to help people on a grander scale."
And frustration fueled his shift into U.S. politics. "I was sick of going to Afghanistan and coming up with political solutions, and coming back and finding politicians here don't care."
Idealism aside, many have gone up against Goode and failed. What makes a political novice (not counting his election to high-school class president) think he can take on Goode when more experienced candidates like Al Weed and Meredith Richards have tried and failed?
"People understand this is a year for change," says Perriello. "It's a good year for a young candidate."
Indeed, with Hillary and Barack drawing record turnouts, Perriello says he's seen a huge amount of grassroots effort, especially trying to bring new voters in who haven't been interested in politics before. Add to that popular former Governor Mark Warner on the Democratic ticket, and Perriello hopes to capture some of that call for change.
And thanks to support from the national Democratic Party, Perriello outraised Goode in the fourth quarter last year nearly three to one, although Goode still sits on the larger war chest. The challenger claims that two-thirds of his donors have voted for Goode– although Goode points out that a lot of Perriello's money comes from out of state.
Perriello says this race is about more than party. "People want better ideas," he insists. "People want solutions." And that's where he thinks his nonprofit background will make a difference. "People from nonprofits find real solutions with little resources," he says. And he's the only 5th District candidate with a Facebook page.
Perriello represents a different, more progressive type of "faith-based" candidacy than the more typical image evoked of conservative Christians who supported George Bush or Mike Huckabee. "Faith is not just something you do on Sundays," he says. "Initially I started out with the burden of Catholic guilt, but in truth, it's been so rewarding. I feel so alive and engaged."
The challenger tools around the huge 5th District, which stretches from Albemarle to the economically ravaged Southside Virginia, in his white pickup truck. "You feel like you drive through two Americas," he says. "People are eager to work to support their families, and the jobs aren't there."
The people he hopes to represent aren't ideologues, according to Perriello. "They're more interested in right and wrong than right and left," and that's pretty much become his campaign slogan.
After this story ran, Perriello's campaign contacted the Hook to clarify that the support from the Democratic National Party has not included money, and that his mention that two-thirds of his donors had voted for Goode refers to one fundraising event only, not all donors.
Why here? Born and raised
What's worst about living here? Too far from Danville
Favorite hangout [besides your house]? My campaign office...oh wait, that is my house.
Most overrated virtue? Moderation
People would be surprised to know: I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most brilliant shows ever written.
What would you change about yourself? Finding a short way to describe what I've been doing overseas.
Proudest accomplishment? Helping to force Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power.
People find most annoying about you: You mean cocktail parties aren't the best time to talk about genocide and human rights abuses?
Whom do you admire? William Wilberforce, who abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.
Favorite book? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Subject that causes you to rant? Our culture of instant gratification... and having to wait for stuff.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The promise of creating stem cells from skin cells.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? The sport of watching celebrity lives unravel.
What do you drive? A 2005 Ford Ranger
In your car CD player right now: The campaign trail inspiration mix my sister made me for Christmas– everything from Ray Charles and Alicia Keyes to the White Stripes to Toby Keith and Willie Nelson.
Next journey? Now, every day is quite literally a journey to the next town in the 5th district.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? The time I [censored by campaign communications director]
Favorite comfort food: Hot fudge sundaes
Always in your refrigerator: Budweiser, Diet Dr. Pepper, and butter
Must-see TV: SportsCenter
Describe a perfect day. Playing with my nieces and nephews
Walter Mitty fantasy: Becoming Jason Bourne
Who'd play you in the movie? Matt Damon (see above)
Most embarrassing moment? First photo shoot of the campaign
Best advice you ever got? "Make sure running for office is your vocation, not your temptation."
Favorite bumper sticker? Perriello for Congress, of course