Board Chairman Kate Hanley (D) shocked many political observers and even her own colleagues on the board last week when she announced that she was dropping out of her race for the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I'm one of Kate's closest friends on the board and I had no clue until it was announced," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).
"Nobody knew really," said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully), who added that he learned of her decision after he received a phone call from someone in U.S. Rep. Tom Davis' office.
In March, Hanley announced she would challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), after Moran made controversial comments on the eve of the war with Iraq that inflamed the Jewish community and others in Northern Virginia.
Hanley said she ultimately decided not to run because of family concerns.
"I know the time commitment it takes to win races having won six of them and for personal and family reasons I'm unable to make that commitment at this time," she said. "This is not for political reasons. The campaign was going very well. This is a straightforward personal reason decision."
Hanley said she reevaluated her priorities after this month's elections and decided she'd rather spend time with her husband who had surgery in October.
As of last month, Hanley had raised $262,120 for her congressional bid while Moran has raised $511,502. Hanley had also hired campaign staffers, two of whom are currently working on closing down the campaign.
Hanley's eight years at the helm of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors made her a serious challenger for Moran, a seven-term incumbent. She also benefited from the 2001 round of redistricting which expanded the district further into Fairfax County.
With Hanley out of the picture, Moran’s only other competitor is Andrew Rosenberg, an Alexandria lawyer.
On Friday Moran declared himself "delighted" by Hanley's decision.
"She would have been a formidable opponent," he said.
The two don't have many disagreements on the issues, Moran said, which could have led to personal attacks rather than policy debates.
"It's possible it might have become ugly and I hate that," he said. "I don't like to engage in negative campaigning."
Hanley said she wouldn't be surprised if other Democrats jumped into the race between now and next year.
"I think the incumbent is vulnerable," she said.
HANLEY'S 20-YEAR political career took her from the School Board to two terms as the Providence District seat on the Board of Supervisors followed by two more terms as chair. She said she had no regrets about stepping down from politics.
"I've been in public life a long time and I left it better than I found it," she said. She called the newly-elected board "a very experienced, knowledgeable and congenial board," adding that it will do "very well."
Gerry Connolly, who was elected Nov. 4 to succeed Hanley as chair said Hanley was "irreplaceable" and that she would be missed.
"Kate's a public servant of incomparable ability and encyclopedic knowledge of the county and the region who has devoted incalculable numbers of hours to public service to the citizens of Fairfax County," he said.
But some on the board said they could not believe Hanley would fade from public view.
"I don't think Kate's ready to go home and knit shawls and sit around waiting for grandchildren," said Frey. "I presume she has a plan."
Hanley said she had no plan other than to "spend time with my family."
But she didn't rule out any possibility.