HOTSEAT- Politics is local: Bob Gibson meets the press
It's the morning after the election, and Bob Gibson is cruising on less than four hours sleep. The veteran political reporter for the Daily Progress had been in Richmond the night before at the George Allen headquarters. When he filed his story at 11:45pm, the race was still too close to call, even though he had an inkling challenger Jim Webb would edge ahead. He got back to Charlottesville between 2 and 3am, and was up again at 7am to file a story on the Senate race by 8am.
By 11am, he's out and about in his signature navy blazer and khakis, wearing a symbolic purple tie– but we won't speculate whether politics governed this day's accessorizing.
"I think it is a surprise for most people that Virginia is a purple state," Gibson says of the Commonwealth, which is widely considered a red state. He notes the election of two Democratic governors and now a senator.
"It's a divided state," he explains, with Dem-leaning Northern Virginia ("of which Charlottesville is a part") opposing the rural Republican down-state counties.
Gibson is eminently well-qualified to report the state's politics. He just celebrated his 30th anniversary with the Daily Progress, and has covered politics for 27 of those years. He knows virtually everybody who's anybody in state politics.
Gibson's time at UVA overlapped with two players in this year's Senate race: pundit Larry Sabato and the candidate himself, George Allen. "I didn't know George then," says Gibson, but he's covered every one of the elections since Allen lost his first race in 1979. In 1982, "George won his first race by 25 votes," he says.
And in this year's election, Gibson became part of the national story when Allen admitted his Jewish heritage. Three years earlier, Gibson had reported that fact, but the Allen camp had demanded– and won– a correction.
"It was strange being quoted in the Post," says Gibson. "I don't like being in the news– I'd rather report the news. But I felt a little vindicated."
Gibson, who grew up in Arlington, came to UVA to study government, and imagined he'd end up in state or local government, having no taste for Washington after serving there as a page.
"Yes, there were gay congressmen then," he mentions, and no, he did not receive untoward attention.
While in college, he got hooked on the news working for WUVA radio during the height of the protest era.
"It was a great training ground for news with the Vietnam war," he says, adding, "The pronunciations were hard."
After grad school at William & Mary, Gibson threw his thesis on the 1973 gubernatorial race between Henry Howell and Mills Godwin in the closet, and in February 1974 he took a job at WCHV radio back when it was a news station.
The police and courts beat he wanted at the Daily Progress opened up in August 1976. He was covering a murder trial when he met his future wife, Sarah McConnell, who was news director at WINA and now hosts the radio show With Good Reason. "We started going to lunch," he remembers.
Thirty years later, Gibson has become an institution at the Progress, which tends to turn over reporters annually, and he still keeps his hand in radio, hosting a monthly show with public radio station WVTF and appearing regularly on call-in shows on WAMU and Coy Barefoot's Charlottesville Right Now on WINA. "I enjoy radio call-in," says Gibson.
In the recent race, did Gibson vote Republican or Democrat? "Nope," he declines to answer. "I'm a reporter." He admits to voting for candidates in both parties in the past, and says, "I get accused of being partisan by both sides."
In journalism, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Why here? Charlottesville is the best place to raise children that Sarah and I could think of, and we both love living here.
What's worst about living here? The Rolling Stones and Dave don't play here every year.
Favorite hangout? The Woolen Mills anywhere, or my family farm.
Most overrated virtue? Going undefeated
People would be surprised to know: I played high school soccer on a mostly Spanish-speaking team.
What would you change about yourself? The weight put on since then.
Proudest accomplishment? A series of stories about racial disparities and sentencing in local courts.
People find most annoying about you: I rarely choose one final answer; I love ambiguity.
Whom do you admire? George Mason, C.S. Lewis
Favorite book? Rising Tide, Undaunted Courage
Subject that causes you to rant? History from the hands of liars.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Exploring the Web.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Ninety percent of political TV ads
What do you drive? A vintage Honda Accord
In your car CD player right now: A music mix from my daughters
Next journey? The Pacific Northwest with Sarah.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Telling a long-ago neighbor that his next-door neighbor hated his lawn jockey.
Regret: Telling the guy who hated the lawn jockey what I'd told his neighbor.
Favorite comfort food: Coffee ice cream
Always in your refrigerator: Ground coffee in the freezer.
Must-see TV: 60 Minutes, Redskins games, both with family.
Favorite cartoon: Wallace and Gromit, anything with a coyote and a roadrunner.
Describe a perfect day. Visit friends with Sarah after spending the day playing cards and the dictionary game with Sarah, Helen, Logan and Stella.
Walter Mitty fantasy: I would trade houses for a season with a writer in France who wanted to teach at UVA.
Who'd play you in the movie? Waldo Jaquith
Most embarrassing moment? Having to speak to a large crowd at church and completely forgetting what I wanted to say.
Best advice you ever got? From my Hokie father: "Go to UVA but always stop after three drinks."
Favorite bumper sticker? What if the Hokey Pokey Really is What It's All About?
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO