Portrait of a Legislator: Virginia's David Albo
By Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
Albo was eager to run for office but he lacked the one thing every aspiring politician needs -- money. However, as a 30-year old single guy and ex-fraternity president, Albo had lots of friends looking to help. Although none of them had much money, they knew lots of other young people ready to pitch in.
So Albo threw a party. A big party. 40 kegs of beer big. A Richmond-based rock band big. One thousand people big. At $20 a head, Albo's keg party raised over $20,000 toward his campaign. Not bad for a guy who earned only $13,000 his first year out of law school.
Albo went on to win that election and become the second youngest member of the Virginia House of Delegates, the lower branch of the state's General Assembly. He ran then as the "Problem Solving Legislator." Now, eight years, four terms and over 32,000 legislative votes later, Albo is gearing up to run again, still billing himself as a problem solver.
Because the Virginia House of Delegates is a part-time legislative body, meeting only a few months each year, most members hold jobs outside the legislature. Albo's fulltime job is as a partner in the small Virginia law firm of Albo & Oblon, where he handles mostly traffic cases.
Forty states besides Virginia have part-time legislatures. The remaining 9 state legislatures -- California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin -- meet year round.
The dual lives that part-time legislators lead -- living and working in their communities as well as serving in their statehouses -- can be quite stressful. Albo says he could split himself in two and still not make every civic function, court hearing, committee meeting or vote that his jobs demand.
The time and resource crunch gets even worse around campaign season. Should he face a credible opponent this year, the race will cost Albo at least $140,000 and will require countless hours of knocking on doors, speaking at public meetings and assembling mailings.
A serious challenger, Albo says, would have to raise over $210,000 and log hundreds of hours on the campaign trail to have any shot at unseating him. All this for a part-time job that pays only $17,640 per year. So why do it?
"A faith in community service, that's all it is," Albo says. "Before I got in the House of Delegates, I had that same belief that everybody has about politicians: 'Oh, they're all out for themselves.' I can't think of a single person over there who is doing it for personal gain. I haven't found anybody who's gotten rich off it yet. I do it because I love it."
Albo represents Virginia's 42nd District, a mostly upper-middle class district located in the southern corner of Northern Virginia's Fairfax County, the wealthiest county in the country.
Albo knows the district well. He is a graduate of Fairfax public schools -- Rolling Valley Elementary through West Springfield High School. And he returned to the area to set up a law practice after earning a B.A. in economics from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Richmond.
Like many other rapidly growing suburban areas across the United States, Fairfax is struggling to define itself in a time of great transition. Home and business development is exploding. Farmland and open space is being turned into shopping malls and housing developments at an incredible rate. All this development is bringing lots of people, and their cars, to the area. The commute to Washington, DC, and Tyson's Corner -- two major work destinations -- is long and slow and getting slower. The Texas Transportation Institute recently tagged traffic congestion in and around Washington, DC, as the second worst in the country behind only Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, transportation is the number one issue on the minds of Albo's constituents. He says that 80 percent of constituent inquiries relate to roads and trains and anything else that might make getting around the county a bit easier.
"What my people care about is so different than the rest of the state," says Albo. "The rest of the state might really care about their guns or might really care about even religious issues, things like that. But here, people drive an hour-and-a-half to work and an hour-and-a-half back. What they care about is being home with their families. So anything you can do to give them some of their life back is what they want."
Albo has had a hand in developing a few of the area's biggest transportation projects, but he is careful not to claim too much credit. "I am part of the team," he says, that delivered the Springfield Interchange, a $585 million project designed to ease passage through the intersection of Interstates 395, 495 and 95, the traffic artery that links Miami, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
The present interchange accommodates 350,000 commuters each day. The new interchange will be one of the most complex in the country and will include 50 bridges and 30 ramps along 41 miles of interlocking roadway. Albo has also worked to ensure completion of the Fairfax County Parkway and the Franconia-Springfield Metro.
Despite the many hours he puts in on behalf of his constituents, Albo's work as a legislator has brought him little notoriety. He says that at the local supermarket only one or two out of a hundred people will recognize him as their representative in Richmond.
"My district's eyes are focused elsewhere," he says. Most people in this area follow national politics, not the local stuff. "They don't have a whole lot of time to do anything else but take care of their kids. If I knock on doors, everybody's at a soccer game or a swim meet."