Al Weed: Green Beret in farmer's clothing
Al Weed ran away to be a farmer when he was in the seventh grade, and that story is posted prominently on his website. "It could have been an extreme reaction to living in New York," he says. "I hated New York."
It makes sense for Weed to tout his agricultural leanings in his challenge of Fifth District Congressman Virgil Goode– a lawyer– who has the populist hook down pat. In fact, in Weed's campaign literature, his thumbnail sketch says "farmer, soldier, statesman."
So why, at age 61, make a run for political office against a four-term incumbent in the House of Representatives?
"I'm angry at some of the things happening in this country," says Weed. "2004 is the most crucial election. I couldn't see sitting on my hands."
And more practically, he's paid most of the mortgage on his Afton farm– Mountain Cove Vineyards– and just retired from the U.S. Army Reserves after serving 42 years in the military.
Weed calls his landing in Nelson County "pure serendipity." He'd been looking at farms in Southside Virginia– the district he hopes to represent– and was heading back to Washington through Nelson County, which he immediately liked. Better yet, Nelson was one of three counties Virginia Tech recommended for wine growing. He bought the first farm he looked at, and in 1973, Mountain Cove Vineyards, now the state's oldest continuously operating vineyard, was born.
That, in turn, led to Weed's civic involvement, including membership in the Virginia Winery Association. "I had no problem getting involved," he says. And in Nelson County, "If you spoke up twice in a meeting, you were elected president."
Weed will put his Yale BA and Princeton master's degree in public affairs to work as he tries to figure out solutions to Fifth District woes, such as Southside's staggering unemployment. "As much as I like to think I'm well informed and well read, I never thought how broad the issues are that a congressman deals with," he says.
Meredith Richards, the last Democrat who challenged Goode, carried only 36 percent of the vote. Weed is confident he'll do better, but he acknowledges that taking on an incumbent is tough.
"I used to think how wonderful it would be to have a job traveling all over Virginia," he says. "Now I'm traveling all over Virginia looking for a job."
Age: 62 in May
What brought you here? My wife and I wanted to raise our children on a farm, and we wanted to plant vines and make wine.
What's worst about living here? A very limited range of talk radio
Favorite hangout? Rapunzel's in Lovingston
Most overrated virtue? Frankness
What would people be surprised to know about you? That as the Command Sergeant Major for Special Operations Command Europe, I was the senior non-com on the site of the crash of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown over the Easter weekend in 1996. I was the person who identified his body in the wreckage.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Reduce my tendency to procrastinate
What accomplishment are you proudest of? Being one of the founders of Virginia's farm winery industry
What do people find most annoying about you? Self-confidence that sometimes seems like arrogance. Shyness that appears to be aloofness.
Whom do you admire? Francis Fife for his intense civic energy; Doug Wilder for political courage; and [death penalty opponent] Henry Heller for fighting for a cause he believes in despite the odds.
Favorite book? John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath
What subject causes you to rant? George W. Bush
What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The possibility that we might wake up and work as a nation together to solve our real problems: a failing health care system, dependency on foreign oil, and a political structure that leaves too many people on the outside
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The possibility that we won't solve those problems
What do you drive? A modified 1977 Checker cab, a 1979 Dodge pickup, and a 2000 Saturn
What's in your car CD/tape player right now? The Greatest Hits of Simon & Garfunkel
What's your next journey? Washington, D.C.
What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? When my daughter was born, I had been overseas for some weeks and flew home just after the birth. My reserve unit was parachute-jumping that day and, when my wife groggily asserted that she was just fine, I took off to make some jumps. I'm paying still.
What do you regret? Missing my daughter's college graduation in 1996 because I was deployed in NATO's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia
Favorite comfort food? It goes in cycles: Right now I'm hooked on Altoids sour candies. I eat more raw carrots than the average guy, I suspect.
What's always in your refrigerator? Yogurt
Must-see TV? UVA basketball and football
Favorite cartoon? Doonesbury
Describe a perfect day. An early morning run, breakfast with my family, and an entire day of work on the farm with nothing breaking down. Dinner with close friends– lots of politics– and cigars and brandy on the porch afterwards
Walter Mitty fantasy? I've actually done most of the things I've wanted to, with the exception of consistently making award-winning wine.
Who'd play you in the movie? Chevy Chase?
Most embarrassing moment? Recently, distributing a frank, private memo to my entire e-mail list because I didn't take the time to re-read it carefully. I offended some close friends and broke the trust of the memo's author.
Best advice you ever got? From Emily Couric: "Think of asking for campaign donations as an opportunity for the donor to invest in something that really matters. It gets easier every time."
Favorite bumper sticker? "It's not Farmland without Farmers"
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO