A University of Virginia graduate student has filed paperwork to run for the Charlottesville City Council.
“There’s a huge proportion of the population that’s between the age of 18 and 29,” said Adam Lees, a master’s candidate in foreign affairs. “I want to help improve town-gown relations.”
Lees, 24, said city government came into his focus last summer after the council considered strengthening its noise ordinance in order to satisfy concerns from residential neighborhoods about student parties. The idea was tabled, but Lees’ interest was piqued.
“That became a huge talking point at UVa and I wondered how they could just consider these things and never ask the students,” Lees said. “It seems as if there was a huge disconnect between the citizens, City Council and the students.”
Lees represents the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences on the UVa Student Council.
He grew up in Delray Beach, Fla., and moved to Virginia to attend Hampden-Sydney College. He moved to Charlottesville in August 2011 to begin studies at UVa. His mother is from Brunswick County.
Lees identified three issues as the most important facing Charlottesville — crime, homelessness and public transit.
“The transit system here is something I’m going to be increasingly dependent on because I can’t drive,” Lees said. He added he has a medical condition that prevents him from doing so.
Lees said he supports changes to Charlottesville Area Transit routes to increase efficiency and frequency. In mid-March, the council will hear a final report from a $116,000 transit study conducted by Nelson Nygaard.
When Lees filed his paperwork in mid-January, he did so as an independent. Presently, he is seeking the Democratic nomination.
No independent candidate has ever been elected to the City Council. Democrats have held all five seats since 2006.
“I want this to be a good lesson not only for myself, but also in the future when I have students,” Lees said. “It’s easy to sit in an ivory tower on a box and play armchair pundit, but it’s a whole different idea when you can tell them first-hand how this stuff works.”
Lees is the second Democrat to announce for the party’s two nominations. Incumbent Councilor Kristin Szakos declared her bid for a second term in mid-February. Councilor Dave Norris has said he will not seek a third term.
“It would be definitely a change to have a UVa student as a councilor,” said Jim Nix, the co-chairman of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee. “One thing that frustrates us is the lack of interest in local affairs by UVa students. So this would be a positive thing.”
Nix said the local party’s window for selecting candidates for the nomination process runs from Monday to March 28. To get on the ballot, would-be candidates must get 125 registered city voters to sign a petition.
“We have been recruiting candidates for months and now it’s time to see if that recruiting has borne any fruit,” Nix said. “There are many more unknown to us as this entry from Mr. Lees tells us.”