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October 25, 2011

City Council candidates on ward-based elections

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In the run up to Election Day on November 8th, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out our in-depth nonpartisan voter guide, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council.  In the weeks before the election, we will feature one to two questions a day so that citizens like you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice November 8th.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2011 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, as well as links to videos of candidate forums, copies of our 2011 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more.  All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.

CITY COUNCIL, FIRST IN A SERIES

image from cvilletomorrow.typepad.comWould you support switching from at-large seats to ward-based representation for elections to Charlottesville City Council? Why or why not?


 

Scott Bandy (I) - Challenger

"Boy, you know how to ask them, I’ll give you this.

It’s past high time that we switched from an at-large system to a ward-based system. I’m of the opinion, I don’t care what kind of configuration, as long as part of it is ward-based. Do a half and half, some sort of configuration of some at-large, and some ward-based, or do it completely ward-based but we need to move in the direction of representation from wards. This is how citizens’ interests are best represented.

My own area that I come from, Fry’s Spring, for a long time, one of the, it’s sort of like running, something akin to a running competition and a running joke between the difference between Belmont and Fry’s Spring. Well, for the first time in ages, this election has had three candidates and one of them whose background has been questioned and I won’t allude on that, three candidates that declared from Fry’s Spring to run at large. That’s ridiculous!

Why can’t we get a representative from… divvy up the city in an acceptable way, whether it’s a representative from Fry’s Spring, whether it’s a representative from Belmont, whether it’s a representative from Venable, or Woolen Mills. Find a way to divvy the city into an acceptable ward-system so that the citizens are better and honestly represented."

 

Brandon Collins (I) - Challenger

"I considered this a lot when I was first crafting my platform and it’s not in my platform right now.  I would like to see the amount of people on council expanded--the amount of people on council—I think that would be healthy for us. I do have cautious support for a ward-based system, but there are some critical things that need to be straightened out before I would fully support that.

One of those is the direct election of a mayor, and how many seats we would have on there, and what those folks are going to get paid.  I think direct election of the mayor is critical with that.  I think with ward-based elections we would need at least 3 at-large councilors to bring some balance.  My fear is that if Charlottesville continues to gentrify, that the political power of poor people and established residents will be diluted as they get pushed to different parts of the city and pushed out of the city and its going to leave a great deal of poor folks, scattered throughout the city, and that will diminish their political influence more than its already been diminished.

One way to address this is to have another referendum.  I know it’s happened before in the past, so maybe this is a first step for that, but I would like to see direct election of the mayor, and some at-large seats, and then I would probably be in favor of ward-based elections."

 

Bob Fenwick (I) - Challenger

"Well, on ward-based elections, I think the best decisions our community makes are those in which all the citizens are involved and have an active hand in, not just given lip service in public input and I’ll turn that around.  We are making terrible decisions when we keep it in the hands of a few people in what used to be termed the smoke-filled rooms.  Public input in our community is the least noticed part of the process in which decisions are made by special interests and then vetted in a public process, the end result of which has already been decided.  For a community with the history that this city has to basically disenfranchise an entire group of citizens is unconscionable.

One of the basic explanations of our government is that all of us can count on honest and equal treatment.  Unfortunately, it is obvious we haven’t reached that point yet.  The political monopoly which results in political slogans with no real action in this city is preventing us from reaching our potential.  What’s good for individuals in this city is good for everyone."

 

Kathy Galvin (D) - Challenger

"I am going to have to say that I need more time to understand this issue.  On face value, I don’t see a problem with it.  I would love to make sure that we have built in place also at-large seats so we don’t run into the problem of having wards pitted against each other.  I think right now, even as it is, with our neighborhoods, I think there’s a perception between neighborhoods that some get more favored treatment than others.  I have to really look into that to see why that sense is coming out.  I hear that in the town halls. 

I want us to make sure that whatever we do that we are looking at this for not only for the benefit of individual wards but also the benefit of the entire city, because we are only 10 square miles.  When I think of Boston, where I went to school as an undergraduate, that was like almost the size of one neighborhood.  Boston prided itself on its neighborhoods but actually at times they became really, really at loggerheads with each other, especially when you did things like bussing in the 1970s. 

Having said that, I think the ward system speaks to a genuine, sincere and legitimate need of many of our community who feel that they need better or more representation.  I am all for that and I think it does also speak to the need to make sure that people are encouraged to run for political office.  That they are informed, and they are given the tools, so that they are well-equipped to run for political office.  I learned a little bit how to do it by running for school board, it’s a bit of a training ground, however I have to say the run up to the primary was intense.  It’s an intense process, and you have to raise money.  And you have to be on top of your game.  You have to give it a lot of time.  I am self-employed.  I was able to work nights and weekends.  If you’ve got some people who want to run for office and they have a very rigid 9-5 job, or they work at night, that’s going to be a very strong hardship on them.  So again, I think it also brings into the discussion, do we want to reconsider the salary that we give council members if we truly want a broader representation because you are asking some folks to run that it will really mean they may not be fully able to meet their own family’s needs.  So it’s a much more complicated question than just saying yes / no.  It needs to be researched.  I want to get at what the core of it is which is a feeling on the part of many in our community that they are not being represented well."

 

Satyendra Huja (D) - Incumbent

"I am satisfied with the at-large system in our community because we are a small community of 10 square miles.  All council members think of the well-being of the whole community instead of just a small part of the community.  But I am open to exploring a mixed ward and at-large system where you could have some wards and some at-large, but still an emphasis on at-large [representation]."

 

Dede Smith (D) - Challenger

"Well I am certainly interested in looking at this issue.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be all at-large or all ward-based either, a combination might be a more reasonable approach.  What we really need to do is ask why? Why are we are interested?  The reason that I am interested in exploring this is that I would like to see better representation on council, not only to represent our changing demographics but also geographically.  I am from the south side of Charlottesville.  We haven’t had that much representation and certainly a ward-based approach would pretty directly address a geographic concern, but whether it would address a diversity concern really needs to be examined.  And there is data to do that, I just haven’t seen it, and I’m not sure anybody has. 

With the changing of our precincts since the census, it would be an interesting time to look at it because at least we know we have these precincts for the next 10 years.  So this would be a great opportunity.

The other reason I think, getting better representation, I think would at least encourage more citizen involvement.  If citizens think there’s somebody on council who really represents them, I think it’s likely they are more likely to get involved themselves."

 

Andrew Williams (I) - Challenger

"Yes, but there are steps that need to be taken in order to do that. I wouldn’t say that it would be an overnight thing. What we can do is maybe bring a few more councilors and keep the elections at-large, and then slowly but surely progress to a ward system. It’s going to take a lot of time as far as the Registrar’s Office is concerned, it’s going to take a lot of time as far as the City is concerned, a lot of time as far as making sure that it’s fair, making sure that it makes sense, making sure that the system works, making sure that there’s a lot of risk-management tools in place, but I do think that it’s possible, and why? Because we need to balance the representation here in Charlottesville.

But the first thing that we need to do prior to any of that is put some Independents on Council, and put some resident-focused people on Council. I think that we’ll have a more balanced Charlottesville, with a ward system, but we can start by electing Andrew D. Williams."

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