Busy funnyman: Why Mark Warner loves orange cones

When Mark Warner was running for senator in 1996 against incumbent John "No Relation" Warner, the challenger jogged down the street at a small-town Virginia parade in a dress shirt and tie, stopping to shake hands with spectators along the way. When a TV reporter asked why he literally was running on a hot summer day, he answered, "I have to run harder. I'm the underdog."

It was both a demonstration of his doggedness and of his sense of humor.

Seven years later, Warner has retained both qualities, as well as a flair for improvisation. He's had to, after being elected governor and facing a $6 billion deficit a grim reality even for a successful venture capitalist.

Recently in Charlottesville, he asks the audience at the privately funded Senior Center, "Is it true you get no federal, state, or local funds? All right!" and he claps enthusiastically.

And after learning that there are more senior centers in the country than McDonald's, the Governor ad libs, "and they're healthier for you, too."

He also tells the audience that his parents don't live in the state of which he's governor. "They haven't made that choice yet," he says. And on a more serious note that underlines his interest in elderly issues, he mentions that his mother has Alzheimer's.

On May 1, the Washington Post ran an article about Warner's rising national profile. He's recruitment chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association and getting ready to head the Southern Governors' Association.

Ask him his plans for January 2006, when his one term as the 69th governor of Virginia ends, and he responds, "Who knows?" After all, he's only been in office for 16 months, not even halfway through.

Warner had never held public office before being sworn in as governor. So why leap into politics after riding the technology boom with his firm, Columbia Capital?

He traces his interest to the '60s: "I was touched by the idealism and not jaded by it."

The worst part of the governor's job, says Warner, is being overscheduled. In Charlottesville on May 13, he has four events scheduled, although two end up being canceled for a family emergency. In a two-minute interview with the The Hook that he squeezes in on the way to his car, he pulls out what looks like a thick, leather-bound prospectus. It's his schedule. For two days.

And the best perk of being guv? "Orange cones," says Warner, the kind that are used to reserve a parking space wherever he goes. No matter how broke the Commonwealth of Virginia is, its governor will never have to circle around looking for parking.

Age: 48

What do you like best about Charlottesville? Cool restaurants for a mid-size town.

What do you like least about Charlottesville? Its belief that it's the center of the universe.

Favorite hangout? Looking for a new one in Charlottesville.

Most overrated virtue? Net worth

What would people be surprised to know about you? I don't know what half the buttons on a cell phone do.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Better jump shot

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Helping start the Virginia Health Care Foundation, which has helped more than 472,000 medically underserved Virginians get health insurance

What do people find most annoying about you? Since I became governor, mysteriously, they don't say anymore. But I am aware that I move at a pretty fast pace and expect that of others.

Whom do you admire? Am I clich├ęd if I say Churchill?

Favorite book? Sounds a bit overwrought, but truthfully, War and Peace

 What subject causes you to rant? Overt hypocrisy

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The fact that the world will change more in the next decade than it did in the last century.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The fact that we might screw up how we deal with those changes and further widen the divide between those who are benefiting from new technologies and economies and those who aren't.

What do you drive? I don't. But I ride around in a Suburban that state troopers drive.

What's in your car CD player right now? Stuff my daughters listen to

What's your next journey? I get around Virginia almost every day, and I just got back from Europe for a trade mission. Or maybe you meant spiritual journey?

What do you regret? The $6 billion shortfall, for one

Favorite comfort food? Fried chicken

What's always in your refrigerator? Diet Coke, to make up for the fried chicken

Must-see TV? None

Favorite cartoon? Sponge Bob

Describe a perfect day. No unexpected crises. Time with kids.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Playing in the NBA

Who'd play you in the movie? Probably James Woods. Or Sponge Bob.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? I'd rather not say.

Most embarrassing moment? See above.

Best advice you ever got? Learn from your failures.

Favorite bumper sticker? MarknotJohn!


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