50 Ways to Gain Power

By Susan Anspach, Jonathan Hunley, Abegail Matienzo, Tracey Edgerly Meloni, Maria Scinto, Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski


26. Start a Real-estate Agency
One determined man who took a chance on his own agency 40 years ago is living proof that Northern Virginia is a fertile cradle for real estate. Wes Foster parlayed a single, modest Fairfax real-estate office into a multi-billion-dollar empire. Long & Foster, with 230 offices in seven states and the District of Columbia, today ranks as the largest privately held real-estate firm in America. The company employs almost 15,000 agents and 2,000 additional employees.—TEM


27. Found a Town
Aside from the obvious respect one garners for establishing his own town, there must also be some effect on longevity. The 95-year-old Reston founder Robert Simon, who can be seen driving his Volkswagon bug about town, trekked to the Mayan ruins of Machu Picchu just five years ago.—VLS


28. Lobby for a Cause
Understanding that lobbyists hold power—at both the U.S. Capitol in D.C. and the State Capitol in Richmond–isn’t rocket science. But which causes hold the most sway? They’re not hard to guess after one lives in Northern Virginia for even a short time. In the state legislature, transportation is a major issue with players such as the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council gaining influence as they try to affect road-planning, says Virginia Commonwealth University political-science professor Robert Holsworth. And in Washington? National defense is right up there, though just about every other movement or idea has a mouthpiece these days. “Every issue is extremely well represented, as are the activist groups,” Holsworth says.—JH


29. Protest a Cause
In 2006, Steve DeBenedittis was elected mayor of Herndon as voters showed their disdain for a tax-funded job center for immigrant day laborers. He and the town council closed the Herndon Official Workers Center, approved the town police’s participation in a federal program to detain and deport illegal immigrants, and cracked down on residential overcrowding. His career as protester-turned-politician was boosted again when he was re-elected last year.—JH


30. Buy Redskins Season Club Tickets
Every autumn, enjoy friends’ groveling for a seat at the next game.—VLS


31. Buy the Team
As minority owner of two Washington-based teams, Ted Leonsis enjoys a number of perks, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, like a seat on the team plane and “social cachet.” The majority owner, on the other hand, “has the benefit of being the face of the franchise and [has] the ego play without taking all of the risk,” said Zander Lurie, a vice president at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. who specializes in the buying and selling of professional sports teams, in an interview with Gazette writer Scott Soshnick.—VLS


32. Drive a Hybrid Vehicle
Dominate in traffic-free lanes during rush hour—exclusivity at its best!—VLS


33. Spread the Wealth
Have a high IQ? Head-turning physical characteristics? Above-average athletic ability? Donating your egg or sperm might earn you a space in the Fertility Hall of Fame.—VLS


34. Keep Your Nose Clean
William Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, knows it’s good to always be on your best behavior—even in politics. Howell, a Stafford County Republican, was elected speaker in 2002 partially because he had no known skeletons in the closet. He succeeded Vance Wilkins, whose reputation was besmirched by a sexual-harassment scandal. Not good if you’re a Democrat. Terrible if you’re in the GOP, which espouses family values.—JH


35. Start a Winery
Thomas Jefferson, America’s first vintner, would cheer for his viticultural progeny as they beat the bigger teams out of prestigious awards. Oasis Winery in Hume, for instance, earned “Top 10 in the World” status, producing sparkling wines that defeat big names. Proprietor Tareq Salahi is not surprised. Oasis succeeds by “making the best that [we] can make. We have a passion for our best-known sparkling wines.” Oasis will have a grand re-opening this summer, following renovation. “We grow what works here; we don’t try to out-California California,” says animated Jennifer McCloud, of award-winning Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg. “We craft our wines.”—TEM


36. Run for Office
Many political novices have been elected to Virginia’s General Assembly over the past few years, but Stephen Farnsworth, assistant professor of communication at George Mason University and increasingly influential political guru, says the best example of a political newcomer gaining office—and, thus, power—is U.S. Sen. Jim Webb. The Democrat wasn’t even supposed to beat former senator and Virginia Gov. George Allen, but he did—and was even touted as a vice-presidential candidate for Barack Obama. The lessons, according to Farnsworth: Be a veteran, and be willing to take a risk.—JH


37. Work for Someone Running for Office
An effective political campaign has to get its message out, which requires good relations with the media. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner entrusted part of that mission to Charlotte Slaiman when he made his successful run last year. It was the assistant press secretary’s job to coordinate interviews and news events with reporters around the state, which could have been pretty heady stuff for a University of Virginia senior taking a semester off. The campaign wanted press attention, of course, but the candidate’s time was limited. Slaiman had a large role in deciding who got access to Warner and when. “There were some times that were very busy,” the McLean resident says, noting especially the occasion of Warner giving the keynote address at last year’s Democratic National Convention. She landed the job after serving in internships with political consultants who worked on the campaign.—JH


38. Start a Blog
Everyone has something to say. That’s nothing new. But the information age offers everyone a worldwide audience in front of which to say it. Northern Virginia is a stage filled with influential bloggers who garner respect via poignant witticisms and cleverly penned observations. And as they keep watch over our socio-political gaffes and glories, media outlets around the globe are closely watching them. Visit our website for links to our region’s bloggers, and discover how they are getting journalists’ attention.—VLS

Cultural historian and media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan offers this advice for blogger wannabes: “Start blogging about five years ago.” The University of Virginia associate professor emphasizes that acquiring notoriety for your blog work is more difficult now that the arena has become saturated. Still want to give it a go? Vaidhyanathan makes these recommendations:

“Think long and hard about it.” Vaidhyanathan urges would-be bloggers to give their work  fine-pointed focus, since general-interest blogs are a thing of the past. Your chances of earning blog cred are greater if you attack your web space with in-depth coverage of a specific subject.

“Do it to leverage the professional reputation you have already.” Rather than using your blog to explore subject matter, Vaidhyanathan suggests turning the knowledge and experience you already have into something “lively and important.”

“Rise in Google ranks.” Keep a close eye on the prominent sites that come up first in a Google search and get them to pay attention to you.

“Get added to a blog roll.” The 2.0 world is all about reciprocity. By garnering the respect of the established bloggers, Vaidhyanathan says you might have a chance of getting hyperlinked within their entries, or added to their link lists.


39. Become an Academic Expert
Our region tops the charts when it comes to talking heads. University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato and George Mason University’s Stephen Fuller are most often called upon by members of the media for comment in their individual areas of expertise. When these folks speak, what was once questionable data becomes confirmed fact.—VLS

Larry Sabato
“Virginia has changed dramatically over the years, but the question will be, has it changed enough?” Washington Post, May 2008

“The Republicans are losing one of the great swing votes in American politics—Hispanics and Latinos … they’re taking great offense at the Tom Tancredos of the world.” The Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 2007

“It’s fair to say that as classes of celebrities go, they’re [athletes are] less politically identified and less politically interested. I’ve taught some football players, and I wouldn’t say they got up in the morning thinking about politics.” The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 2006

Stephen Fuller
“A correction in the housing market should begin taking place in the second half of 2009, most certainly in 2010. The [real-estate] market is tied with the economy, and a consensus of global experts projects the second half of ’09 to be pretty healthy.”  Loudoun Times-Mirror, Sept. 2008

“If we can’t fill a job, it’s work that doesn’t get done. It slows our economy. It makes us weaker. The availability of workers, the shortage of workers is critical.” WTOP radio, April 2008

“Our economy is more gender-neutral than Pittsburgh or St. Louis, where there is a manufacturing and warehouse base. The muscle between the ears is more important than the muscle in the arm … We’ve been pushing paper here for years.” The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 2005


40. Take Over a Town
With her mega resort & fame as a queen of black entertainment media, Sheila Johnson put Middleburg on the proverbial map.—VLS


41. Be a Critic
The best way to have people cower at your feet? Become a food critic or gossip columnist. You don’t even have to work for a newspaper. Internet access is all you need. Just ask Wonkette founder Ana Marie Cox or DCFoodies.com founder Jason Storch.—VLS


42. Become a Yelp Elite Member
Regularly sharing your reviews on Yelp will earn you all kinds of special invites, backstage passes and dinner previews by sheer virtue of your prolific postings (www.yelp.com/elite). One local woman has been an elite member four years running.—VLS


43. Start a Band
Everybody who has ever practiced air guitar in front of a mirror knows how much clout musicians have. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a GOOD band. Start out at a few open mics at Iota Café in Arlington, produce a CD on your Mac OS X and voila! You’re on your way to a music career that is just like heaven.—VLS


44. Build a Performance Space
Theater snobs brag about preview invitations at Arlington’s Signature Theatre, and Wolf Trap in Vienna has housed some of the most talented acts from all over the world. And while Wolf Trap’s storied makings—the land donated to the National Park Service in 1971 has exchange records dating back almost 200 years—might be a tough act to follow, Signature only got started in 1990. Then-27-year-old artistic director Eric Schaeffer struck out with then-community theater board member Donna Migliaccio to found Arlington’s first major professional company, though it was only in 2007 that it nabbed its snazzy Shirlington digs—which, according to Schaeffer, were funded with the help of donors and have since served to hoist audience expectations. For the 13 years prior, they made do building a reputation for themselves—securing a following and footing for funding—in “the Garage,” an Arlington bumper-plating factor. The two “were out one night,” Shaeffer said in a 2007 interview with Metro Weekly, “and I said, ‘We should just start a theater company. There’s no professional theater in Arlington.’ We were 27, young, naïve, going, ‘We can conquer the world, here we go.’” Another key to Signature’s success: its dedication to maintaining its tradition of  structuring seasons around works of Stephen Sondheim, while looking ahead. “Some people could sit here and say, ‘No, this is it … we’ve got everything we’ll ever need.’ How is that challenging as an artist?”—SA


45. Become a Traffic Cop
Certainly no police officer you’ve encountered ever abused this power, right? But in case you ever wanted to feel the winds of speed or experience the freedom to disregard basic highway rules without being penalized, here’s a list of a traffic cop’s legal rights:
•  Use any apology as an admission of guilt when testifying in court.
•  Perform a pat-down search once you have exited the vehicle.
•  Impound and subsequently search your vehicle should you be arrested.
•  Carry a concealed weapon even while off duty and in another jurisdiction within the United States.
•  Exceed the speed limit while operating emergency vehicle as long as neither life nor property is endangered.
•  Proceed past stop signs or through red lights with due regard to the safety of other  vehicles or pedestrians.
•  Drive on the shoulder, pass in the intersection  or in no-passing zone, or cross highway median to over-take stopped or slow-moving veh-icles without sounding siren.
•  Disregard turn-only lanes or other directional indicators.
•  Park or stop vehicle regardless of parking regulations.—MS


46. Donate to a College
These days, the trend of donating is to dole out gifts with strings securely attached. In 2007, Virginia communications entrepreneur Frank Batten Sr. was very clear in his express purpose behind the $100 million he bestowed upon the University of Virginia—to construct the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, which is launching its undergraduate major in public policy in 2009—and with good reason. Last year saw the close of a the six-year battle between Princeton University and the heirs of its Robertson Foundation over charges the school was misspending the funding, ending with Princeton having to return $90 million to the successors.

In Northern Virginia, Fairfax-based SRA International CEO and George Mason University Board of Visitors rector Ernst Volgenau and his wife, Sarah Volgenau, made the largest individual contribution in GMU’s history in 2005. Their $10 million has since gone to the now-dubbed Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering. Meanwhile, Mason trustee Don de Laski and arts board member and wife Nancy de Laski fronted enough in 2005 to help fund the expansion of performing arts space on the school’s Fairfax Campus; create a new scholarship endowment for music, dance and theater students; and launch a summer music academy that expanded seven-fold its second season.—SA


47. Invest in Commercial Real Estate
The economic jury is still out on commercial real estate’s future piece of the prosperity pie, but local realtors see general real estate boons. “Investors are celebrating,” says Pat Fales, associate broker at Pat Fales Associates. “I do not remember a time in the last 26 years that was more conducive to starting and building a real-estate investment portfolio than today.” Fales points to the large inventory of bank-owned properties selling for a fraction of their original cost. “Investors enjoy a positive cash flow from day one of their investment. Rents have not fallen. Conditions are perfect for a new investor to get started.”—TEM


48. Become a Celebrity Chef
When the name Roberto Donna escapes the lips, it’s probably because the mouth wasn’t filled with his food. A dining experience a la Donna is one that demands your full attention, and commands the attention of food critics around the world. With 13 restaurants throughout the D.C.-Metro area, Donna has created a venerable empire de cuisine.—MS


49. Write a Tell-all Book
“Colonoscopist to the Stars” is how Michael Crowley describes Kitty Kelley for her controversial unauthorized biographies. But despite “Kitty’s Litter,” Kelley has never been successfully sued—and she’s laughing all the way to the bank. “In spite of the mud she thrives in, I have to tip my hat to someone who can bank $3.5 million for writing an admittedly unauthorized biography [of Nancy Reagan],” says Reagan-era California Rep. Norman Shumway.—TEM


50. Make Your Own Biofuel
How much more control can you have, than being your own energy mogul? Last summer, Washington, D.C., was the first stop on the 2008 Big Green Bus tour, the ongoing initiative of Dartmouth students—including one hailing from Virginia Beach—who devoted their break to championing the use of waste vegetable oil as a means of alternative fuel. Benefits of crafting your own? Besides helping to ease America’s energy crisis, there’s the media recognition: In its three tours, the Big Green Bus has been featured in Newsweek, the Boston Globe and USA Today, among others.—SA

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(February 2009)

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