Hopefuls running for the Charlottesville City Council participated in a fourth candidate forum Wednesday evening at Random Row Books. Eleven of the 12 declared candidates seeking three seats on the council participated.
The forum was organized by bookstore owner Ryan DeRamus, who named the event “The People’s Forum.” The almost 70 citizens in attendance took full advantage of the opportunity and generated all the questions.
“I wanted the independent candidates to have a chance to voice their positions,” DeRamus said in an interview. “I have little confidence in the effectiveness of participating in government at the federal and state level, but maybe there is a little hope left in participating in local politics.”
That was a sentiment shared by Ajay Chandra, a University of Virginia graduate student who served as moderator.
“I hope that this type of event will convince more people to get involved in city politics,” Chandra said.
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Seven Democrats — Satyendra Huja, James Halfaday, Kathy Galvin, Paul Beyer, Dede Smith, Brevy Cannon and Colette Blount — and five independents — Scott Bandy, who was not in attendance, Bob Fenwick, Brandon Collins, Andrew Williams and Paul Long — are competing for three seats on city ballots in the November general election.
The Democratic ticket will be narrowed down to three nominees at this Saturday’s “firehouse primary,” technically known as an unassembled caucus. The first question the candidates faced related to the current all-Democratic composition of the current council.
“It is perceived that the primary this Saturday is the election, and that’s just not the case,” said independent Collins. “I think the people in Charlottesville are way more progressive than the Democratic party leaders…. [We need to] break up the Democratic party lock on this town.”
“I don’t think anyone has thought this is a homogenous ticket, or lack of diversity in this race,” responded Democrat Beyer. “I am very pro-progress, and pro-business and pro-jobs. That will make a difference with poverty and [educational] achievement.”
As the forum began, city resident Brenda Lambert said she wanted to know if the candidates would continue to support the Dialogue on Race.
“I think it’s probably one of the most important initiatives to come out of City Council,” Lambert said.
“[The race] seems to have taken a nasty turn the last few days,” Lambert added. “We need to try and stick to the issues. You don’t want a race where the only thing different is their personality, you want differences on [the issues] that you can pick between.”
Like past forums, questions were asked about positions on the local water supply plan and the Meadow Creek Parkway, but candidates on Wednesday also responded to audience questions on a variety of other topics too.
Matt Cameron, an undergraduate student at the university, asked how the candidates would address safety concerns of students around the Corner.
“We need more police officers, but we need to be wiser in how City Council spends money,” said Halfaday, a fitness club owner. “We need to support our police officers and not build stupid fences on the Belmont Bridge.”
“How we design our streets, place our buildings, where we put lighting and where we place street trees [are among] the very best ways to provide a safe environment,” said Galvin, an urban designer and architect currently serving on the city School Board.
“I don’t believe the city has enough police officers,” Long said. “All police officers should be living in the city, and be paid an adequate salary [so they can afford] to live in the city.”
“I’d like to focus on this gap of late night transportation, as I am particularly concerned about women,” Smith said. “When transportation shuts down before the bars do we have a real problem. I’d like to work with the university to find a solution.”
Hallie Clark, another university student, asked how candidates would support a “living wage” for city and university employees.
“In this day and time it is hypocritical to not offer a living wage,” Blount said. “The partnership needs to be there with the university and President Sullivan needs to recognize the greater impact on the community.”
“I totally support a living wage, not just in principle, but in practice,” Huja said. “Since I have been on council, we have paid a living wage to our employees.”
“I also agree with the goal of the living-wage campaign,” said Cannon. “We need to also make sure we are diversifying our economy, beyond UVa.”
“I applaud the efforts to raise the living wage through negotiation. I am in construction… and private enterprise has to stay competitive,” Fenwick said. “However, when UVA raises its wages, a lot of other enterprises will have to do so…and that will put the city at a disadvantage to other localities.”
“We need to improve the quality of education and provide funds for vocational training,” answered Williams.
Three nominees will be selected by the Democratic Party at a firehouse primary being held this Saturday at Burley Middle School from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The primary is open to registered city voters willing to sign a Democratic declaration form. The winners will face all qualified independent candidates in the Nov. 8 general election.
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