Seven of the eight candidates for City Council appeared at Greenbrier Elementary School last week for a campaign forum that covered affordable housing, economic development and race relations in Charlottesville.
The moderator for the event was Michael Barnes, president of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association. He thanked all of the candidates for running.
“I know it takes a lot of time and effort and you are away from your families to do this,” Barnes said.
Candidates included the three Democrats seeking two nominations in the June 13 primary as well as four of the five independent candidates who will appear on the November 7 ballot.
Independent Kenneth Jackson did not attend the event.
Barnes began the forum by asking the candidates to introduce themselves and to say three topics that are important to them.
“I am a native of Charlottesville and I have three children who have gone through the city school system,” said independent Nikuyah Walker, who added she has worked for several nonprofits in the community. “I’ve been very active with Council for years not as a [City Councilor] but by being active in the background. I’m usually a behind-the-scenes person.”
Walker said her three topics are equality, transparency and justice.
Independent Dale Woodson said his three topics are affordable housing, representing people as individuals and restoring the “boringness” of City Council.
“One of the reasons I’m mainly running is because I’m a millennial and no one else seems to be stepping up to do it,” Woodson said. “Instead of just complaining I figured someone might try to at least do something.”
Democrat Amy Laufer said her three topics are providing tuition assistance to students to Piedmont Virginia Community College, affordable housing and environmental issues.
“I’ve been on the school board for almost six years with two years as vice chair and two years as chair,” Laufer said. “We’ve raised graduation rates to nearly 90 percent.”
Democrat Bob Fenwick, the only incumbent in the race, said he has been in Charlottesville for forty years.
“I’ve been your Councilor for about three and a half years,” Fenwick said. “My concerns [are] neighborhood protection, making sure that the city was listening to neighborhoods and trying to get some balance on the city budget.”
Democrat Heather Hill said her three topics are transparency and accountability in city management, safety and infrastructure in neighborhoods, and economic progress and community equity.
“My background is in industrial and systems engineering and I have my master’s in business from Darden,” said Hill, who is also president of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association. “I’m really committed to applying those skills in a meaningful way and working with talented resources within our community.”
Independent Nancy Carpenter, who is also president of the Rose Hill Neighborhood Association, said her three topics are equity, justice and progress.
“I am looking for your trust and hopefully your vote in November,” Carpenter said. She also works at the Haven as a shelter supervisor and homeless prevention coordinator.
Paul Long, an independent who ran in 2009 and 2011, said he is running in part to protest the money in local politics.
“I believe that the Democratic Party in Charlottesville is a disgrace,” Long said. “I believe that Charlottesville is in a crisis. I believe that we need finance reform in the campaigns for City Council.”
Long said his issue is public transportation and that he would increase service so all routes are served every twenty minutes and all day on Sunday.
The forum’s format was a series of loose questions about growth and development in the community.
“I don’t seen much evidence of sensible, smart growth development in Charlottesville,” Carpenter said, adding that public engagement is the most important principle. “Come to the community first and ask what they want the place to look like.”
“I think when we’re looking at growth in Charlottesville, we need to ask the question of who can afford to live here,” Walker said, adding that many families are being pushed out by higher property costs.
“Smart growth is common sense,” Fenwick said, but added the city doesn’t have smart growth because city management is not communicating well with its neighborhood leaders.
“I think we can do a lot to work on this if we had a more diverse section of people actually represented on Council,” Woodson said.
“I think if anything is built in the city, we need to require affordable housing units within every development,” Laufer said.
“I think that this Council has been unduly influenced by realtors and they give the stamp of okay to every single hotel developer that comes into the city,” Long said, adding the city should require 25 percent of the units to be deemed affordable.
There is one more candidate forum remaining before the Democratic primary. Fenwick, Hill and Laufer will answer questions from the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville at the Violet Crown on May 30 beginning at 6:30 p.m.
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