Just when Charlottesville School Board member Juandiego Wade thought he would soon be finished with local politics, the COVID-19 pandemic inspired him to remain in public service — and now he is seeking to serve from a different seat.
On Jan. 11, his birthday, Wade formally announced his candidacy for the Charlottesville City Council.
Originally deciding not to seek another term on the School Board — a position he has held for 16 years, the inspiration for his City Council run stemmed from long walks he would take during quarantine over the past year. While having that self-reflective time, he decided to run for one of the two seats that are up for election this year.
“I was taking many walks. part of me is like, ‘Oh I’m going to have some free time after this year is up,’ but part of me said, ‘You still have so much passion so much love and so much to give for this city. What else could you do?’”
Wade said it is time for a new perspective and new voice to join his soon-to-be-vacant School Board seat and that he wants to apply his experience and insights to the City Council to help “infusing equity” into policies.
“What I bring from day one is not only 30 years of deep communication and relationships with all aspects of our community, but I will be able to bring knowledge of local government,” Wade said. “I understand how budget, human resources, and planning works.”
Wade feels his past experience will allow him to “hit the ground running” on some of his policy focus areas as well as his ability to “listen to people impacted by policies” for the other areas he would like to prioritize.
If elected, Wade said he plans to focus on criminal justice reform, affordable housing, public education and economic vitality.
He said his decade of experience working in Albemarle County’s career center helping others find employment and translate their transferable skills is an insight he will apply to ways the City Council can help the local workforce economy.
“Every locality in the nation is going to be tight this year. There may not be a lot of new initiatives, but we need to make sure that our businesses are able to get off their knees and thrive,” Wade explained. “That’s where we get some of our tax base from to implement programs for housing and equitable initiatives and funding for the School Board.”
He also said his experience on the School Board gives him “first hand insight” into what schools need when they are making budget requests to the council.
He says his experience working in the county in a mentorship role helped inspire his run for school board. He claims that there wasn’t always the best communication between parents of students he was mentoring with school divisions, so he ran to help bridge that. It’s an experience he says he can bring to helping with law enforcement trust in the community.
“It’s not going to happen overnight and there’s not a magic pen that will do this,” he said. “It is really hard work and sometimes it’s having those courageous conversations and putting everything on the table. I’m used to that and willing to roll up my sleeves and do that. I have deep connections in the community and that’s something I will bring.”
For the past two years, Wade has also served as a member of Charlottesville’s Police Foundation, an organization that provides services like housing assistance for CPD officers to live in city limits and training opportunities to local law enforcement. Recent courses have included “wrongful convictions” and “improving police/community contact.”
As Wade says the pandemic further highlighted inequities nationwide and within the Charlottesville community, he also plans to bring an equitable lens to climate planning.
Calling it “climate justice,” Wade wants to tackle the impacts of energy efficiency in neighborhoods that have been subject to higher utility bills and hotter summer days— referring to studies from over the summer that indicated the neighborhoods facing energy burdens, which have often been communities of color.
He adds that his connection with various equity and climate organizations means he can call up some of my board members and say’ what does this mean?’ or ‘should this be a policy?’”
On what else he brings to the table, Wade has experience serving on various boards, including the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, the Virginia School Board Association, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center Board. He also has degrees in urban planning and environmental planning from the University of Virginia and Norfolk State University.
Before working with Albemarle County’s career center, he served two decades in transit planning. This, he says, can be helpful as the city continues to make progress on a Comprehensive Plan, zoning rewrite, and affordable housing strategy.
“I’ve helped do comprehensive plan rewrites with the county,” Wade explained. “I will understand what to look for to see what is actionable and what can be implemented.”
The son of a Richmond school teacher, education has played a big part in Wade’s life. He also grew up in a large family he says they refer to each other as “the Black Brady Bunch.” Wade graduated high school in 1984 before going on to study urban and environmental planning.
Wade is running as a Democrat and hopes to obtain one of the two council seats that are up for election this year. Previously Mayor Nikuyah Walker, an Independent, has announced that she plans to seek reelection for her seat. Vice chair of the local Democratic party, Brian Pinkston, has also joined the race for a second time.
Hopeful to join the city’s legislative body, Wade says he plans bridge his listening skills with his leadership skills.
“I just want to talk about my vision and listen,” Wade said. “If I do that I hopefully will be in one of the two seats come this November that will be able to serve the city.”