Primary Election Day in Charlottesville is imminent and it is likely that the three Charlottesville City Council candidates who emerge from the Democratic primary will become the city’s next councilors.

There are three open seats on Charlottesville’s City Council on the ballot in November. Three of the five Democratic candidates will be selected during the June 20 Primary election to represent the Democratic Party in the general election.

All five candidates in the race thus far are registered Democrats, and no other party has put anyone forward or shown any indication they intend to.

“There is a strong chance that there are only as many named candidates on the November ballot as positions,” said Charlottesville Chief Deputy Registrar Joshua D. Jenkins.

Republicans are a rarity on Charlottesville’s City Council. There has not been a Republican member in more than 20 years, since Rob Schilling’s last year in office in 2002. The party has not run a candidate since Michael Farruggio and Charles “Buddy” Weber ran in 2011

“We don’t have someone ready to run this cycle, unfortunately,” Charlottesville Republican Party chair Dan Moy told Charlottesville Tomorrow.

It’s possible an independent candidate could enter the race by declaring their candidacy with the registrar by June 20. That’s not unheard of in Charlottesville. Independant Yasmine Washington ran for Council in 2021, though she lost to Democrats Juandiego Wade and Brian Pinkston.

Jenkins said that the November ballot has write-in fields too, so voters could also choose candidates who have not declared their candidacy.

“It is less common for write-in candidates to win, but it has been known to happen,” Jenkins said.

The five Democratic candidates who will appear on the primary ballot are Dashad Cooper, Bob Fenwick, Natalie Oschrin, Michael Payne and Lloyd Snook. Payne and Snook are both incumbent members of the City Council and have served since 2020.

Four of those five candidates appeared at a candidate forum hosted by private organizations Town Crier Productions and the Free Enterprise Forum on May 10. (Cooper was absent due to illness.) The Democratic candidates agreed on many issues.

One area that highlighted contrast was forthcoming changes to the city’s zoning laws.
Payne and Oschrin said they want to see the creation of more affordable housing in the city. They both support the proposed zoning rewrite, which officials and community members have been working on for several years. The proposed new ordinance increases allowable housing density everywhere in Charlottesville.

Candidate Fenwick, on the other hand, said he does not support the proposed zoning changes, and that he chose to run because he believes residents who are opposed to the zoning rewrite have not been listened to by city leaders.

Snook is a defense attorney who handles major felony, car accident and malpractice cases, and estate matters, according to his firm’s website. As a local politician, his main platforms are affordabilty, transportation and future readiness.

Payne is the co-founder of the group Indivisible Charlottesville, which has a stated purpose of, “empowering citizens, opposing Trumpism, defending democracy, holding government accountable.” Before he was elected to Council, Payne worked at organizations like Habitat for Humanity Virginia and People And Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM). He said during the forum that his main focus as a Councilor has been housing accessibility.

Fenwick was a City Councilor from 2013 to 2017. He ran again in 2017 and 2019, but was defeated both times in the Democratic primary. He also ran for Council in 2007 and 2009, but did not win.

Cooper has worked for the city of Charlottesville for more than six years, most recently as a social service assistant. His focus in this race is creating equity in Charlottesville — in housing availibility, educational opportunity and in the experience of the criminal justice system, according to his campaign website. He started this political cycle running for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, which he talked about with C-VILLE Weekly, but switched into the City Council race.

Oschrin is wedding sales manager at the vineyard Pippin Hill Farm. Her main areas of interest in the race are increasing the amount of affordable housing in Charlottesville, supporting better public and alternative transportation, working to secure money from the University of Virginia (which currently pays no local taxes) and working to address the underlying causes of crime, according to her campaign website.

All registered Charlottesville voters can participate in the Democratic primary, regardless of political affiliation. Because Virginia is an open primary state, voters are not required to be registered members of the party whose election they are voting in, or do anything beyond registering to vote, then showing up to their regular polling place on June 20 or in early voting, which has already begun. Here is more information about early voting in Charlottesville.

Citizens can register to vote online by May 30, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, or by mailing a voter registration form to the address on the form.

If you miss the voter registration deadlines, you can still vote. You can register in person on election day at your polling location.

Anyone interested in running as an independent in November can still do so. All candidate information and required documents can be found on the Virginia Department of Elections website and will have to be submitted to the registrar by June 20 at 7 p.m.

Editor’s note: Bob Fenwick is not an attorney. A previous version of the story incorrectly said that he was.


I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's democracy reporter. Get in touch with me here. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here and keep up with all things civic information.