At a Glance
- Born: Washington, D.C.; raised in Fairfax City
- Education: bachelor's degree from Williams College; law degree from University of Virginia
- Family: married, four children
- Occupation: lawyer at Surovell, Isaacs, Petersen & Levy
- Public office: city councilman; 37th District delegate; current 34th District state Senator
Chap Petersen's family has been in Fairfax City for generations. Raised in Fairfax City, just a few streets away from his law office, he is now raising his own expanding family — his wife gave birth to their fourth child last week — in the same town.
With his happy childhood in mind, Petersen moved back to the area after undergraduate and law schools to raise his future family. He quickly involved himself in local politics, elected as a city councilman in 1998 and then worked his way to the state legislature.
"I enjoy representing this community," said Sen. Petersen (D-34th District). "I know it better than anybody else and I think that puts me in a better position than anyone else to represent this community in the state legislature."
He never predicted he'd be a politician, but it does not surprise him. As president of his class at Fairfax High, captain of his soccer team and an active member of other sports and activities, he always found his way to leadership positions.
"I envisioned doing something. All my life I've been active," the 43-year-old said. "Did I expect that I'd be state senator? No, not state senator. But did I expect to be somebody that was a leader in the community? Yeah, that was what I hoped to do."
He admitted he might have started his political career a little too confident, taking positions or making promises he regrets now that he's found more humility.
He pointed to a position he took years ago on extending the Orange Line westward beyond the Vienna Metro station. He knows now that's neither likely, nor feasible. To expand the line would clog the system because of the increased traffic at East Falls Church once the Dulles Metro rail is completed, he said.
Instead, he's working with the McDonnell administration to find alternative transit options, specifically rapid bus.
Petersen said solving transportation issues in the district has always been a priority. He's confident in the ongoing projects — namely the HOT lanes project, the Fair Lakes-Fairfax County Parkway interchange and Gallows Road improvements — and wants to continue to improve commutes, but said he stays realistic about the costs.
"People talk about solving the transportation problem, but then they say 'Oh, I'm opposed to the gas tax or the titling tax," he said. "Well, what do you think you pay road contractors with? There's not a single transit system in the world that's based on just user fees. There has to be some stream of revenue."
In addition to transportation, Petersen said he wants the state to start adjusting to what he has dubbed "the post-stimulus era." Because Virginia has relied on the federal government for jobs since about World War II, the state needs to be prepared for when the federal government contracts, he said.
"We've taken advantage of [the federal government] and it's brought an incredible amount of wealth to this area," he said. "We need to look for some type of post-stimulus industries that will stand on their own two feet whether or not they're getting funded by the federal government."
Just like he went away to college and law school only to come back to raise his family, Petersen believes many residents will do the same. With those returners and newcomers attracted to the area because of the county's good schools and opportunities, he's confident Northern Virginia can make the adjustment because of the people.
"The best and the brightest for years have been coming to this area and sending their kids to our schools," he said. "That in and of itself generates jobs. We have such a talented pool of human capital. If federal spending does contract, we're gonna stay on our feet here in Northern Virginia."
With Oakton resident Gerarda Culipher challenging him for the state Senate seat he's held for one term, Petersen is relying on the connections he's made with his constituents and his past work as a public servant to carry him to victory Nov. 8.
"I think people like the fact that they have a representative they know, they've met, that's come around their neighborhood, who also knows this community like nobody else," he said. "That makes a difference."