(L to R) Democrats Jennifer McKeever, David Brown, Holly Edwards, Satyendra Huja, and Linda Seaman.

The five Democratic candidates for three open seats on the Charlottesville City Council participated in their first candidate forum on Thursday, May 10th, in the cafeteria at Walker Upper Elementary School.

These forums are important opportunities for the public as the three candidates who are nominated at a Democratic caucus on June 2nd will likely end up as the next city councilors. Charlottesville Tomorrow spoke with city Republican Chair Buddy Weber this week who confirmed that the Republicans would not run a candidate this year.  Independent candidates have until June 12th to file the paperwork to get on the ballot for the November general election.

Visit our Election Watch 2007 website for detailed information on the candidates, campaign finance reports, upcoming candidate forums, and related events. View all postings related to City elections .

The forum’s format was a little unusual. For the first seventy-five minutes, candidates spent time in conversation with small groups of attendees, in a kind of retail politics. Every fifteen minutes they rotated to a new table, where the process of introduction would begin again. One participant likened the process to speed dating. The candidates then spent another fifty minutes answering questions as a group. The format allowed for candidates to answer many questions on a wide variety of topics.

Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced two recordings of this candidate forum.  First, the audio podcast (45 minutes) includes excerpts related to growth and development issues captured at one of the tables visited by each candidate (written highlights are below).  The second recording (50 minutes in audio and video) includes the panel discussion where candidates fielded audience questions as a group.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen to small group discussion: Download 20070510-Forum-Part1.mp3

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen to panel discussion: Download 20070510-Forum-Part2.mp3

Watch video of panel discussion:

Highlights from the small group discussions at one table

Jennifer McKeever says she supports efforts to reduce the allowed height of buildings downtown, but also says planning efforts should not concentrate just on downtown. “Looking to the future we’re going to have something that allows growth, but we have to growth in many areas of our community, not just downtown,” she said.

McKeever is a supporter of regional cooperation between the city and the county, but says this can have its limits. “In the city, we need to be focused on what we’re going to do, because it’s the only thing we can control.” With regards to traffic, McKeever said light rail and rapid bus transit might someday get cars off the road, and more should be done to get people to use existing transit.

Satyendra Huja , the former director of strategic planning in Charlottesville, is a supporter of recent recommendations of the recent BAR/City Planning Commission committee to reduce the height of by right developments downtown. In terms of transit, Huja says the city should do more to cut bus journey times, perhaps by running smaller buses more often. As a planner, he worked with former Mayor Maurice Cox, one of the biggest advocates of a street-car to be built along West Main.

“I think the trolley car is a good idea, except who is going to fund it?” Huja said. “I think the best solution is to have an existing bus system that runs every fifteen minutes, so it is frequent and dependable.”

Huja would like to see more cooperation between the city and the county, on such topics as affordable housing and transit. He also told people he would like to see a joint parks department.

Current Mayor David Brown is the only incumbent seeking re-election in this cycle. The city parks and recreation department is currently examining the possibility of entering into a partnership with the YMCA to build a new facility, but Brown is skeptical.

“I don’t really see the [YMCA’s] mission and the city’s parks mission being the same thing,” he said. Instead of a centralized facility, he contended the city should continue to continue having a series of gyms and pools dispersed across the city.

He said he is also concerned because one scenario for the new YMCA is to place a building in McIntire park. “We’ve got Meadowcreek Parkway going through there, and I’m not really sure I want a big footprint building going in there as well.”

Another topic before prospective council members is likely to be affordable living choices. Brown said he would like to see a joint affordable housing committee with Albemarle County to come up with a regional solution, and added the city shouldn’t start new programs unless the county gets involved.

“The reality is, if you look at the waiting list for public housing in Charlottesville, it’s not just city families on there,” he said. “If you find yourself poor, you’re going to want to live in the city.”

Candidate Holly Edwards works as program director for Public Housing Association of Residents.

“Public housing is the only affordable housing and that public housing will soon be on the verge of development,” she told the table. She says city council and the planning commission need to start designing the future of public housing now, as to avoid what happened forty years ago when the Vinegar Hill neighborhood was razed to make way for new developments.

Linda Seaman has been active in city government since she moved to the area with her family in 1974. She’s a former chair of the School Board, and currently is involved with the IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together) movement as a member of its Board of Directors.

She is hopeful about the future of public transportation, and says area residents will have more options in a few years. She suggests traffic congestion can be eased through van pools, High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on roads like the Meadowcreek Parkway, and by making the Charlottesville Transit System entirely free.

“I would like to see a trunk line up Route 29 to expand service to more areas,” she said. Seaman would expand the proposed regional transit authority to Greene and Fluvanna County, as well as the University. “This has got to be a regional collaboration because we don’t own all of it.”