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Leadership in Action 9 of 12
Jack McHale and his wife, Barbara, moved to Chesterfield County in 1979, when the Army assigned him to Fort Lee. McHale served on Chesterfield's Board of Supervisors from 1992 to 2003, representing the Bermuda District, while also participating in Leadership Metro Richmond and the Political Leaders Program at U.Va.'s Sorensen Institute. Today, he serves on the board of Hope in the Cities, the Crater Planning District Commission and Friends of the Chesterfield Riverfront.
Q. How did you get involved with Hope in the Cities?
A. After I got elected, I attended the first Richmond Unity Walk held by Hope in the Cities in June 1993. I met Mayor Walter T. Kenney and Rob Corcoran and learned more about their reconciliation work. Most of the walk followed the slave trail.
Q. So what's your involvement now with Hope?
A: When I went off the board of supervisors, they asked if I would like to serve on Hope's board. Our next big event is Nov. 12, Metropolitan Richmond Day at the Richmond Marriott. Last year, we had the mayor of Charlotte speak.
Q. What are three things from your Chesterfield board service that you consider highlights?
A: First, starting of the movement to get an arts center in Chester. We bought enough property for a library and land enough for the arts center. With a bond referendum coming in 2011, it looks like that center will be there when I go from this earth. Next is some of the work I did with some of the plans for Jefferson Davis Corridor, the Eastern District and for Chester. I just wonder what's going to happen to these existing plans as the county revises its comprehensive plan in the coming months. And last is having Phil Cunningham as my planning commissioner. Phil was patient and always got both sides to come together. He did a wonderful job.
Q: Why did you run in the first place?
A: In the very early '90s, I got interested in a few zoning cases and started coming to board meetings. At the time, two out of the five supervisors were involved in real estate, and one other was allied with them. People were incensed. They didn't like the results they were getting.
Q: So with that first campaign, how did you pull it off as an independent?
A: I was running against Republican Sonny Currin. Because that year was a census-result year, I was able to file late, only about 60 days before the election. I ran the campaign like a business, [with] weekly meetings on Monday that started and ended on time.
Q: What's your best piece of advice for someone making â€¨a run?
A: You have to pay attention to money. The first time â€¨I ran, I raised $5,000 and my opponent had $25,000, and â€¨I won. It's not the only factor, but it's important. Without it, you can't get your word out. You'd like to think that you are going to put out a piece of literature that people are going to read, but basically all you have is the time they walk from their mailbox to their trash can.
Q: What did you discover after taking office?
A: I was familiar with what public life meant, since my dad was the city council president in Garfield Heights, Ohio, outside Cleveland. I knew it wasn't just going to â€¨a meeting or two a month. But what I didn't know is that it's so, so, so much more.
People want to meet you … and you have a ton of committees to serve on and regional groups. You need to have a boss who's understanding, because you'll need to take time from work. It's a major commitment and [a] fair amount of work if you are going to do a good job.
Q: What lingers after leaving office?
A: The fact that I was the only one who voted against [the expansion of a landfill in 1997]. I thought at the time that the applicant had not made the case, nor the concessions. It sticks with me because a landfill that my dad voted against in Garfield Heights started leaking methane gas last year after a shopping center was built atop it. Wal-Mart shut its store down.