HOTSEAT- Neff-scape: From delegating to delegate?
The first thing that's odd about Cynthia Neff's candidacy against four-term incumbent Rob Bell? There's no "Vote Cynthia Neff" sign in her yard.
The second? Her first run for office is for the General Assembly.
The third? Did we mention four-term incumbent Rob Bell?
Neff has a two-word answer to why she thinks she can unseat the Republican who's either run unopposed or handily trounced challengers in the 58th District: "Tom Perriello."
That would refer, of course, to the political novice who took on long-time 5th Congressional District incumbent Virgil Goode in 2008 and won.
A former high-level IBM exec who had 100 managers reporting to her at one point, Neff traveled all over the world. So why use her retirement to run for public office?
"Because I can," declares Neff. While serving in Virginia's legislature is ostensibly a part-time job, it takes a lot of time, and that, she contends, is why so many people running for office are lawyers.
"They treat the General Assembly like a court case– and ask for more continuances," she complains. "The 2009 session fundamentally got nothing accomplished."
Seeing the business of government through her business-background goggles, she calls it a "do-nothing" affair. "It irritated me," she says. And the feisty Dem rails about tough-on-crime votes to cut drug court funding when the program appears to be a fiscal success.
Almost as soon as she moved here in 2006 and bought a three-acre spread on Pritchett Lane in northern Albemarle, Neff got a taste of local issues like rural v. growth areas.
"My realtor didn't bother to say that North Pointe [development] was moving in across the street," recalls Neff. "I've got cows across the street."
She wasn't satisfied with a call to her county supervisor. One thing led to another, and she ended up running Marcia Joseph's ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Republican Ken Boyd for his seat on the Board of Supervisors in 2007.
Neff has also volunteered at a host of nonprofits: Legal Aid Justice Center, Piedmont CASA as a court-appointed special advocate for children, and the AIDS/HIV Services Group board of directors, of which she's the chair.
"I've always been engaged," says Neff, particularly, she says, with the most vulnerable segments of society.
With a father in the Army, Neff grew up all over. She didn't run for student body president in high school, but she was a candy striper and in high school, organized a rally for Biafra. "I wasn't rich," she explains. "I always had to work."
Neff likes going door to door in the conservative district that comprises Greene and parts of Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Orange. She's also taken to another political staple: the meet and greet.
Worst is raising money, particularly in Virginia, which has state and local elections in the off years. ""It's hard for people in Virginia not to get donor fatigue," she acknowledges. And that's all the bigger a problem for her when her opponent has raised nearly $600K.
The businesswoman predicts that as goes the governor's race, so will her own race follow.
"I think Creigh Deeds is a popular candidate," she says. "This is his district, and that will give me a leg up."
Age: I'm going to turn 58 in September to celebrate my run for the House of Delegates in the 58th District.
Why here? What more could you want– engaged community, bucolic countryside, amazing vistas, wineries, art, music and food?
What's worst about living here? It's still a long way from many friends and family.
Favorite hangout? C'Ville Coffee and Calvino Café
Most overrated virtue? Piety
People would be surprised to know: I think most people would be surprised to find out that I'm actually shy.
What would you change about yourself? At the risk of being shallow, I'd be incredibly buff as the results of tremendous discipline in diet and exercise.
Proudest accomplishment? I guess I'd have to say either being part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters and watching the little girl I invested 14 years in graduate from Berkeley or watching all the young professional women I've mentored over the years become leaders.
People find most annoying about you: Me, annoying? Well, my brother does accuse me of being bossy.
Whom do you admire? Dr. Tom Dooley for inspiring me when I was a teenager to try and make a difference in the world and Barack Obama for working hard and tackling the big issues facing all of us.
Favorite book? So many books, so little time. Just finished The Garden of Last Days, Still Alice, and Predictably Irrational.
Subject that causes you to rant? Rob Bell's voting record.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Connectivity. It's hard not to be amazed when your best friend from first grade finds you on Facebook or you can watch close-up the Iran protests real-time on Twitter.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Poverty. It's soul-wrenching to realize the number of people still living in poverty on our planet and that we can't figure out a way to feed, clothe, and house everyone. Basic Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
What do you drive? A John Deere lawn tractor. (I swear you can actually hear the grass grow here.)
In your car CD player right now: Lizz Wright's The Orchard and an audio book called The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich.
Next journey? Running for office is my life at the moment so not focused on too many journeys beyond the border of the 58th District– though I recently took a trip to Richmond to meet with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Me, in trouble?
Regret: That I never learned to play an instrument. I would love to be able to sit down at a piano and lose myself.
Favorite comfort food: Wine, bread, cheese and peanut butter. Oh yeah, and ice cream!
Always in your refrigerator: Wine, bread, cheese and peanut butter. Oh yeah, and ice cream!
Must-see TV: The Daily Show– the world can be a ridiculous place and it's a comfort to laugh out loud about it once in awhile.
Describe a perfect day. Nature, art, music, animals and loved ones. Oh yeah, and ice cream!
Walter Mitty fantasy: Nobel Prize winning physicist by day and legendary jazz singer by night.
Who'd play you in the movie? I'm a huge fan of Harvey Fierstein who played Edna in Hairspray on Broadway. I'd be curious to see what he could do with the part.
Most embarrassing moment? Getting caught when I was six taking a pen from a next-door neighbor's house and having to apologize and make amends. The memory has lasted and to this day I am a lunatic about honesty.
Best advice you ever got? A crotchety old colleague once told me when I was young to "quit worrying about what others are doing and saying and focus on building your own skills and making a contribution." Turns out he was right.
Favorite bumper sticker? Cynthia Neff for Delegate