McCrystal ball: Long shot eyes election surprise

Tom McCrystal has discovered he likes knocking on strangers' doors. Sure, it was a little hard the first few times the moderate Republican approached a Democrat's house.

"I remember walking up a driveway with 'I hate Bush' and 'I hate Bush more than that' signs," recalls McCrystal. "The couple who lived there wanted to talk about transportation."

And that's why he thinks he has a chance in the heavily Democratic 57th District to take Delegate Mitch Van Yahres' seat from the designated Dem, former mayor David Toscano.

"When I'm in Democratic areas, once I get past the R-word, people care about what touches their lives," McCrystal says.

He predicts some surprises in the district that includes all of liberal-leaning Charlottesville and part of not-quite-so-liberal Albemarle County. "The district is not what people think it is," he says. "In terms of voters, 45 percent are in the county. And the district is less partisan than people think."

McCrystal was in the first graduating class at Western Albemarle High in 1978. Now chief technology officer for a tech-oriented design firm called Creative Perspectives, he admits he wasn't the best student. He went to Piedmont Virginia Community College and says its president, Frank Friedman, "has referred to me as one of their most successful dropouts."

In high school, he picked up the lacrosse bug that took him to Perth, Australia, for the 2002 World Lacrosse Games. Three years later, he's still wearing a "Perth 2002" polo shirt, and against the wishes of his campaign, he played lacrosse this summer– and his team won the championship.

Lacrosse analogies inevitably pop into his conversation, especially when he talks about the worst part of running for office: making fundraising calls. "As a goalie, you develop a thick skin," he says.

He seems undismayed that at the end of September, he'd raised just over $9,000 while his opponent had pulled in over $100,000. McCrystal says most of his fundraisers are scheduled for October.

With a Republican-controlled General Assembly, McCrystal believes he'll be able to get more done than a Democrat. "I know how it works," says this veteran of the General Assembly's technology committee. "I've been surprised at the number of Democrats telling me they're going to vote for me."

He says his internal polls show an "amazingly high" number of undecided voters– 40 to 50 percent. And he foresees a loosening of the conservative Republican stranglehold on the legislature.

Bachelor McCrystal has gained a better understanding of why politicians always thank their spouses first: because someone has to do the laundry and shopping. "I've had to take a couple life maintenance days," he says. "Last Saturday, it got to the point I had no more clean clothes."

After being on the campaign trail since June, "I don't know if I'm cut out to be a politician," McCrystal admits. "I am cut out to be a legislator."

He has honed political skills when it comes to predicting the race's outcome: "I think people are going to be surprised on election day."

Age: 45. How the heck did that happen?

Why here? My family moved here when I was 13. I've had a couple of opportunities to move, but Charlottesville is a great place to come home to.

Worst about living here? I think local government is full of insular thinkers. They don't listen very well.

Favorite hangout? The Downtown Mall

Most overrated virtue? Consensus, when it's used as a substitute for leadership

People would be surprised to know: At one point, I seriously considered becoming a priest.

What would you change about yourself? I'd probably learn to be less direct. I tell people what I think, and sometimes that's not a good thing.

Proudest accomplishment? Taking the Virginia Piedmont Technology Council from an idea to a reality, then stepping away to let it grow. I'm also pretty proud of the 93 saves I made at the World Lacrosse Games in Perth.

People find most annoying about you: I'm constantly a half-hour behind, and that makes other people late, too.

Whom do you admire? Bono. He's taken the lead on a difficult issue (aid to Africa), and made real progress by refusing to be political. He deserved the Nobel Prize, and I'm sorry he didn't get it.

Favorite book? Fiction: Dune Nonfiction: Eyes on the Prize Technical: Volume 2 of The Art of Computer Programming, Searching and Sorting

 Subject that causes you to rant? The lack of transparency in Virginia's budgeting process. Two years ago, we went from a half billion in the hole to a couple of billion dollars surplus. In a few weeks! If you can check your bank account online, you should be able to check the state's finances online, too.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Communication technologies. You can be almost anywhere in the world and still stay in touch.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? People's loss of personal privacy

What do you drive? I'm a 13.5-minute walk to my office.

In your car CD player right now: My entire CD collection is on my iPod. Lately, I've been listening to Terri Allard, the Stones, and a lot of different chamber music.

Next journey? To Richmond, for a JCOTS meeting focusing on some state IT procurement contracts. Hopefully back to Sydney next year.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Standing in the lacrosse goal, my defensemen out of position, with Al Stadtler at the top of the crease taking a feed from Andreas Gaynor on the wing. It's an incredibly difficult shot to defend. Al usually scores just as I hit him.

Regret: You can't change the past, so why bother?

Favorite comfort food: Roast chicken on Sunday evening

Always in your refrigerator: Garlic

Must-see TV: Used to be West Wing until the writing became uninspired. I don't watch a lot of TV nowadays.

Favorite cartoon: Bugs Bunny

Describe a perfect day. Wake up late and spend the morning bumming around Sydney. Meet up with my mates to play some box lacrosse for the afternoon. Beers with them afterward across the street from where we play, then change and head to the Sydney Opera House for the evening. Oh, and no cell phone or email.

Walter Mitty fantasy: To be the next guy to walk on the moon

Who'd play you in the movie? As much as I'd like to say Harrison Ford, they'd probably cast Jim Belushi.

Most embarrassing moment? I walked up behind a friend who was sitting at the bar at Random Row and gave her a big hug hello. She turn around and said, "Do I know you?" I replied, "No, you don't"– it wasn't my friend. I was mortified. It must have shown, because she was pretty cool about the whole thing.

Best advice you ever got? Leave the game on the field.

Favorite bumper sticker? "McCrystal for Delegate"

Tom McCrystal