City Council candidates on representing a diverse community
In advance of Election Day Nov. 7, Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for the Charlottesville City Council and Charlottesville School Board. In advance of the election, we will also feature their responses to important questions about their qualifications, priorities, and key quality of life issues so that our citizens can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2017 Election Center website also features candidates in Albemarle County and links to the full written transcript and audio of these interviews.
All the following passages are verbatim excerpts from our interviews.
CHARLOTTESVILLE CITY COUNCIL, FIRST IN A SERIES
If elected, what will you do to help our community move forward in the aftermath of this past summer’s violent demonstrations and how will you seek to best represent and effectively serve our economically and racially diverse communities?
John Edward Hall (I)
I think it’s good to promote the tenets of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan. In that Comprehensive Plan is a lot of the information on how to best run the city and best approach our economically and racially diverse communities. We have been a community of healing now since the problems we had this past summer. I think since we are working towards that and healing more every day we can come along and promote further healing while we are striving to understand each other in our racially diverse community.
Heather Hill (D)
This has certainly been an emotional summer. But to address this question for me it really starts with each of us as individuals and members of this community. First looking inward and being honest about our own implicit biases then looking out into the community, and making a conscious effort to engage and build relationships with all of our neighbors. And as leaders we need to be pursuing proactive legal and policing measures that make it clear to white supremacists and other hate groups that we will not be there punching bag. I don’t know what it’s like to be targeted under a constant suspicious eye as many minorities are. I can’t imagine what it would be like to tell my kids the police can’t always be trusted. I recognize I’m viewed differently as a white female, but I can’t understand how this may have gotten me out of driving tickets or missed deadlines but what I can do and I would I have done is listen. To hear the pain in people’s voices when they try to explain how structural racism has affected them. How it has affected their children and our communities. That’s why I felt so important to get into every neighborhood in our community to listen to these diverse voices. It’s hard to put into words how much my life it’s been enriched these past nine months by going into spaces I previously had never spent time engaging with that diverse and passionate population. I will continue to explore these spaces and engage with these people. I’ll also invite and welcome others in my spaces and my family. I believe that everyone who wants to live in a community together has a duty to educate themselves on how structural racism and daily prejudice affect others. Especially in this moment here in Charlottesville. And the way we can do that is again by listening to our minority communities, and they are trying to tell us what they experience when it comes to a stop and frisk policies housing, and job discrimination and the countless other things that we wish to tell ourselves are all in the past.
Considering what city council can do, it can support meaningful integration designed to make work based on best practices around inequitable housing and classrooms. We can also support community building through neighborhood and community wide events as well as bridging the gap our local law enforcement and the broader community while building trust and creating transparency. Council can also work with our school board to strengthen our curriculums in the history of our AfricanAmerican population both locally and nationally. We can also require bias training and retraining among all city staff — including and especially our law enforcement officers. We also can lower the threshold at which bias complaints means a staff member will be asked to leave.
I’m currently participating in the dialogue on race which has been a very deep emotional experience. In our last session we did a large group exercise that illustrated a clear separation between the races relative to how each of us is treated in the world that we live. Looking around the room was a powerful emotional image. I think it’s important for white people regardless of where we come from to understand the duty lies with us. We’ve been able to live the American dream in a way that our 7 neighbors of color have not. And the history of Charlottesville has not been kind to African-Americans. But based on the countless conversations that I’ve had to date with a variety of people, I have reason to believe there is a strong alignment in our community towards unity and hope and I want to be a conduit for further strengthening of those ties.
Kenneth Wayne Jackson (I)
Charlottesville has always been economically and racially diverse even since I was a child. I went to school with Asians, blacks, whites, rich to poor, and we all treated each other the same. To sit here and say that we’re going to have equity and everyone’s going to be equal is a lie, and I’m not going to perpetrate that lie. No where in any civilization has everyone always been treated equal. I mean justice should be fair, but race relations? I think we [need to] learn how to talk to each other. We keep going to August 12th and when the Klan came. That was a small group of people that was bused in. A lot of the protesters were bused in, regardless of what they think. Because then they lash back on the black community that we weren’t down here. We were not defending ourselves.
The black community, we have nothing to do with it. We didn’t have an issue with the [Robert E. Lee] statue. [city councilors Wes] Bellamy and [Kristin] Szakos brought that issue together. This hidden racism — Racism and hate have been around since the beginning of time since Adam and Eve. What people want to do is to move forward, they want to deal with the real issues.
As far as the economic diversity — The whole thing is I’m not going to take from the rich to give to the poor. What I’m going do is help the poor better themselves. Get them good jobs, clear up their credit, get them some transportation, some real transportation, do the wheels to work program. You know there’s a lot of talk about workforce development. That’s been bantered around for five decades, and it’s nothing more than a means of getting federal and state money. And nothing ever really comes of it. We need to work with all of these companies, I don’t care how small they are, because they’re looking for employees. They’re looking for qualified employees. We need to teach people how to work, how to prepare for a job, what a job entails. Most young people that get jobs now, they don’t stay. ‘Someone yelled at me.’ It’s a part of life. You and I both know that, I mean I’m fifty years old. There have been days I didn’t want to go to work, but you gotta do what you gotta do to survive and a lot of these poor people they don’t want handouts. They want hands up.
Amy Laufer (D)
I think going back to what I talked about and bringing unity to so many groups. I mean there has been decades-long neglect and abuse of many segments of our population and this summer, you know, we had these extremist groups come and really torment, quite frankly, these very communities. We have to be mindful of how we’re supporting our African-American community, our newest refugee families, and, quite frankly, shoring up our Jewish community as well. So I think it’s going to take a lot of different things. But I think number one is dialogue and fully understanding the concerns and coming up with real solutions. And that’s what I’d be committed to.
Paul Long (I)
I think one of the reasons why tensions are so high is the rhetoric from a variety of sources. I believe that the alt-right and Jason Kessler and people of his ilk, they’re rhetoric was extremely damaging. But I also believe that rhetoric on the other side, on the left, was also extremely damaging when members of, and I’m not going to mention names, but I saw it at City Council where members of the left made obscene gestures to people who were opposing them and, you know, that kind of behavior on both sides is uncalled for. We need to lower the rhetoric. 3 People can have drastically different opposing viewpoints and still treat each other with respect and deference.
Nikuyah Walker (I)
I already do really well compared to most people just starting out. I probably have what would be considered a Ph.D. in this area. But, I think the main thing that I’ve been doing my entire life is making sure that we have the challenging conversations whether people were ready to have challenging conversations or not. People are not usually ready. Individuals, especially leaders in the community, function off of, ‘I’m doing my best,’ and ‘I have the best intentions.’ And while that may have worked in some time and space, it’s just not ideal when you’re talking about dealing with the effects of four centuries of oppression and laws that followed that limited the ability of black people to move forward in the world.
And so because of that, there’s very little economic diversity in this city, no matter who you are, because if you implement laws and policies for one group of people, at some point it will trickle down to a lot of groups of people. Overall as a country, we’re suffering. During the book festival around that time this year, we had a lot of authors in town talking about the great divide of our country overall. We have a lot of work to do, but I think the main thing is that individuals have to be ready to be challenged way past their comfort zone. And when it gets to that place where they are most uncomfortable, they probably need to be OK with knowing that if they all survive and it will be a little bit more comfortable.
But individuals [need to be] honest with [themselves] about actually what they think about race, about especially black people. I just read a poll that was conducted in collaboration with UVA. So even where most people didn’t agree with neo-Nazis, like the terms, their ideals, they were not on the same page when it came to race relations and what that looks like moving forward. And that’s really telling. And on one hand I believe we give the label neo-Nazis because that helps white people not identify with the group who’s causing the most problems. But if you look at Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, their background, just those two guys in particular, you’re talking about UVA-trained men, white men living in, or in Charlottesville, Virginia at some point in their world. And if you looked at both of these men from a distance without them opening their mouth and telling you what their thoughts and ideologies were, they just look like any other white man. And so we really have to come to terms with really calling out colonialism and oppression, and who primarily has been in charge of it. And you’re talking about primarily white males. And what that looks like overall. We have a very difficult time acknowledging that. So in that poll, it said that white respondents felt like they were under attack. To a black woman reading that, and with the legacy of slavery to modern day enslavement and what that looks like, I know people feel like that, but I still can’t really get a grasp on how, when you are the group in the country with the most power and ability to dictate the outcome of your life. So we have a lot of work to do. A lot of work to do.