Invoking the spirit of late City Councilor Holly Edwards, Nikuyah Walker, a social activist and Charlottesville city employee, on Tuesday launched an independent bid for City Council.
“No matter who you are or where you’re from, if you come to me and say you have an issue, until I help you resolve it, I won’t forget about it,” Walker said during her campaign announcement at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.
The seats held by Democratic City Councilors Bob Fenwick and Kristin Szakos expire at the end of the year.
Walker is the second independent candidate and fifth overall to file paperwork with the city registrar and the State Board of Elections for this City Council election.
Szakos has announced that she will not seek election to a third term. That means there will be at least one new city councilor next year.
Democrats who want to be on the primary ballot have until March 30 to complete their paperwork which includes the submission of 125 signatures of registered city voters. They must also submit a declaration of candidacy, a certificate of candidate qualification, the statement of organization, a filing fee and a statement of economic interests.
Incumbent Democrat Bob Fenwick has submitted some of the paperwork for a re-election bid. City School Board member Amy Laufer and business consultant Heather Hill also are candidates in the June 13 Democratic primary.
The chairwoman of the local Republican Party said in February that they were not fielding a candidate in this election.
Independent candidates who wish to be on the general election ballot have until June 13 to complete all their paperwork and submit their signatures. That includes anyone seeking to be on the Charlottesville School Board.
Stanford Dale Woodson has filed as an independent as has Walker.
City registrar Rosanna Bencoach suggests would-be independent candidates complete their paperwork well in advance of the June 13 deadline.
“Two years ago there were a couple of candidates who just needed a few more signatures and I was able to review them in time to let them know,” Bencoach said. “They got the extra signatures and took care of it. Please don’t wait as long as primary day to file because we’re also running a primary that day.”
An independent candidate not affiliated with a political party has not won election to City Council in modern political history. A Republican has not been elected to the council since 2002.
Walker said she had been counseled to run as a Democrat, but she decided against it because the county and the city are in a unique point in history.
“For me, being an independent sets a clear tone for the establishment of Charlottesville that we need to change things,” Walker said. “I wanted to make clear that I’m different.”
Walker was introduced by her mother, Annie Smith.
“This young lady is determined and resilient,” Smith said. “She will never ignore, deny or neglect anyone or anything that she is passionate about.”
Walker’s campaign slogan is “Unmasking the Illusion,” which Smith said, in part, means Walker will always try to get to the root of problems.
“If you don’t want to know her opinion, don’t ask, because you will get all the facts and they will be accurate,” Smith said. “Her maternal instinct extends beyond her children.”
Walker is involved with Equity and Progress in Charlottesville, a group formed earlier this year to promote government accountability, increased spending on affordable housing and address racial disparities. Part of the group’s slogan is that the “status quo is not good enough.”
Dave Norris, a former mayor and member of the group, said EPIC will endorse candidates after a forum that will be scheduled later this spring.
Walker said she is running because Edwards asked her to do so. Edwards died in early January.
“I’m honored that Holly thought enough to keep pressing me that I would be able to bring something to the table,” Walker said, saying city government currently focuses on the needs of the wealthy and not those who she said have been left behind.
“When we get to the nitty-gritty of things and start talking about fact, we get a lot of alternative facts,” Walker said. “I’m talking about making sure that we are open to telling the truth about the duality of Charlottesville.”
Walker, a former Friendship Court resident, has been working to ensure that the people who currently live there understand that the Piedmont Housing Alliance is working on a plan to redevelop the site as a mixed-income community.
Walker said she would address race relations and try to stem the decline in the number of African-Americans who live within city limits.
“We are now at 19 percent in town,” Walker said. “How did that happen? Where have they gone?”
“First and foremost, I am a black woman and I am surrounded by my family members who have all been suffering through the neglect this country has placed upon us,” Walker said. “It’s been a very challenging thing. I will never not discuss it until it is not an issue. We are not the ones who created it and so we’re going to talk about it.”
Walker said her No. 1 goal is to introduce more transparency to the way agencies are funded by city government. She also would enhance the existing Agency Budget Review Team.
“This tool, done right, would have to be done by a third-party independent agency every year,” Walker said. “Every year when agencies go up for funding, they would have assessments from people receiving services, and people would be able to tell whether they are being served.”
Charlottesville also will vote for three members of the School Board. Incumbents Juandiego Wade and Leah Puryear will seek re-election, but Ned Michie will not.
Voters also will vote for constitutional officers. Todd Divers will run for re-election as commissioner of the revenue and is currently unopposed. Jason Vandever has filed for a second term as city treasurer and currently has no opposition. Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman is not seeking another term. Attorney Jeff Fogel and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania are both seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Chapman.