Bern-ed up: Ewert eyes Capitol Hill
Bern Ewert has the chief executive thing down, brooking no nonsense from bumblers who don't do their jobs or get their facts right. That includes the U.S. Congress.
In fact, it is "mismanagement of the American government by ideologues and incompetents" that spurred Ewert to take on Fifth-District incumbent Virgil Goode– if he first can wrest the Democratic nomination from Nelson vineyard owner Al Weed, who challenged Goode in 2004.
It makes sense that mismanagement would irk Ewert, as he's spent his career running local governments– city manager in Roanoke, county executive in Prince William– or consulting for them.
His path to public service started under John F. Kennedy.
"I was part of the generation that wanted to change things," says Ewert. "I believed JFK when he said we can do things."
When he learned about city management, "the light bulb went off" for a career that helped citizens improve their lives, "use their God-given talents," and that paid well, he says.
He double-majored in history and international relations at the University of Kansas, then studied public administration at the University of Missouri so he could be an intern in Kansas City. And when Cole Hendrix moved from there to take a job as Charlottesville city manager, Ewert followed in 1971 and became deputy city manager two years later.
The only hint of a romantic youth on Ewert's management-heavy resume: two language certificates from the Alliance Francaise in Paris. "I was no good in foreign language in an academic setting," recalls Ewert, and after flunking French at Kansas, he decided to parler francaise in Paris.
He caught a tramp steamer from New Orleans at age 20 and worked his way to Antwerp. In the course of hitchhiking around Europe for six months, he picked up his certificates from the Alliance Francaise while living in Paris. "My French is a lot better than it has any right to be," he says, decades later.
Ewert doesn't consider the move from running municipalities to running for Congress such a big leap. After all, in being a city manager, "You have to be a good politician," he says. Even though a city manager is hired by a city council, the constituents are still citizens.
Unlike what he calls the "empty sloganeering" of so many political campaigns, Ewert promises a "real record" and "real results."
He points to Roanoke, where he's credited for revitalizing the downtown, lowering the property tax rate, and adding new jobs during his tenure from 1978 to 1985. "All had to be done and refined in a way the community supported," he says.
"I've spent a lot of time in that milieu," he adds, dropping a soupçon of the French in his past.
Before announcing his candidacy, Ewert jumped into the hot seat this summer, proposing– with Delegate Mitch Van Yahres and Gary Okerlund– the Ruckersville Parkway, an alternate route around Charlottesville using rights of way from the controversial western U.S. 29 bypass.
"I think it's a very practical, common-sense solution to a problem that government has backed away from for a decade," he says.
But the parkway is not part of his platform, which focuses on national and international problems. "I'm moving on to my next role," he says, "running for Congress."
Why here? We were here in the '70s when I was deputy city manager, our son was born here, and we knew then, if we could return, we would.
What's worst about living here? Traffic
Favorite hangout? Downtown Mall
Most overrated virtue? Conventional wisdom
People would be surprised to know: What a fiscal conservative I am.
What would you change about yourself? More patience
Proudest accomplishment? I was the acting city manager the night that the Downtown Mall was approved. I recommended a five-block, entirely pedestrian mall, and Charles Barbour and Mitch Van Yahres approved it. [The other three city councilors, citing conflicts, abstained from the vote–editor.]
People find most annoying about you: Lack of patience
Whom do you admire? Harry Truman
Favorite book? George Washington, An Imperfect God by Henry Wiencek
Subject that causes you to rant? People driving– and staying– in the passing lane
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Birth of two grandchildren
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Bush's second term
What do you drive? 2004 Volvo Cross Country and 1989 Olds Touring Sedan
In your car CD player right now: Nothing. I always listen to WVTF.
Next journey? Pawley's Island in July with my children and grandchildren
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Proposing the Growth Boundary, which established growth and non-growth areas in Prince William County. It was approved.
Regret: I haven't traveled in South America yet.
Favorite comfort food: KC steak and red wine
Always in your refrigerator: Lowfat maple yogurt and apples
Must-see TV: Old movies
Favorite cartoon: Doonesbury
Describe a perfect day. Visit the grandchildren with my wife, Janet
Walter Mitty fantasy: Addition(s) to my house
Who'd play you in the movie? Harrison Ford
Most embarrassing moment? It would be answering this question honestly.
Best advice you ever got? Take the best job, not the one that pays the most.
Favorite bumper sticker? Bush spent your Social Security on his war.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO