The five Democrats seeking their party’s three nominations for Charlottesville City Council had an opportunity to differentiate themselves at the first candidate forum of 2015.
“The central question of this forum is how City Council candidates will improve the health of the African-American community,” said M. Rick Turner, the president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP, the sponsor of the forum.
The event, which was co-sponsored by the Public Housing Association of Residents, was held Thursday at the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center
“This is the perfect place for tonight’s forum,” Turner said.
The candidates were asked to make an opening statement that addressed how they would improve environmental health, economic conditions and public safety while on Council.
Wes Bellamy, a teacher at Albemarle High School and the founder of Helping Young People Evolve, said improvement will take the efforts of all Councilors.
“This is not an ‘I’ job,” Bellamy said. “It’s a ‘we’ job. It’s not about what I’m going to do, but what I’m going to continue to do in terms of working with you all,” Bellamy said.
“I believe government has a role in shoring up the community’s health,” said architect Kathy Galvin who is seeking a second term. “There are signs of distress. Very high unemployment and poverty rates in our traditional African-American neighborhoods.”
Galvin said she was instrumental in opening a job center in the Central Library and will use redevelopment of public housing to empower the community.
“I come from a family of mixed cultures and I understand that some people have a higher barrier to success than others,” said Lena Seville, president of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association. “I bring a sense of fairness to everything I do.”
Mike Signer, the president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association and a business attorney, said he has worked on voting rights cases for over ten years. He said there are many solutions to the various problems facing Charlottesville.
“Anybody who tells you they have a silver bullet to solve all these problems also has a bridge to sell you, and I’m not going to be that guy,” Signer said. “But I can tell we need a compassionate, responsive government that is listening to and acting on the best ideas the community has to offer.”
Dede Smith, who is also seeking a second term, said it is crucial to preserve the history and historic character of the area’s traditionally African-American neighborhoods and communities.
“That is coming together now in an exciting way by weaving together the story of the Hydraulic Area with the story of Starr Hill and the Jefferson School celebrating 150 years of freedom through education,” Smith said. “I believe education is the key to independence.”
Smith also said that she pushed to have the city’s housing dollars used to rehabilitate homes in the Tenth and Page neighborhood to keep them in families that have lived in them for generations.
Other questions asked about the relationship between African-Americans and the police, the achievement gap and creating economic opportunities.
In the final question, candidates were asked to describe the African-American community in one word.
“Hope,” said Bellamy.
“History,” said Smith.
“Friends,” said Seville.
“Charlottesville,” said Signer.
“Real,” said Galvin.
The NAACP also sent the five candidates a questionnaire with ten questions ranging from their position on the Human Rights Commission to eliminating a question on city employment forms that asks whether applicants have committed a felony.
“Those answers will help us keep these folks accountable,” said Turner.
The Democratic primary will be held on June 9.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
01:00 - Introductory comments from M. Rick Turner
04:10 - Comments from Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam
06:00 - Introduction from moderator Karen Waters-Wicks
07:30 - Opening statement and question: "How will Council candidates improve the health of the African-American community?"
19:00 - First prepared question: "The City Council is the steward of taxpayer dollars, and as such has the power to hold the police department accountable. The City Manager provides day to day supervision and oversight of the police chief. What do you see as the top three areas for police department improvement and how will you use your position on Council to address these needs?"
33:00 - Second prepared question: "What role would you take as a City Councilor to address not only the achievement gap and subsequent lower reading scores, but also the low representation of African-American students in the Charlottesville City Schools?"
49:00 - Third prepared question: "Many people believe that certain influential interests in the city have the ultimate goal of gentrifying lower-income and working-class parts of Charlottesville. The end result will be new neighborhoods that will cater to newcomers and the well-to-do and will not be affordable or welcoming to long-time residents of our community... Do you think that's progress?"
1:05:00 - First audience question : "Given the present lack of African-American representation on the Board of Supervisors and the City Council, what one thing will you do to ensure the voices of the black community, low-income citizens and native Charlottesvillians are heard?"
1:09:30 - Second audience question: "The Charlottesville Department of Social Services has a proven record of targeting black families. The Charlottesville's statistics are worse than the state's averages. What will you do about restructuring the department so that it is respectful of the lives of black families?"
1:18:00 - "What are your proactive plans for the black community? Jobs are fine, but what about promotion of business ownership opportunities?"
1:27:30 - "In one word, when you look at the African-American community, what do you see?"