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Election 2017
Council candidates asked to critique one another at Greenbrier forum
City Council candidates at Oct. 23 Greenbrier Neighborhood Association forum
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Credit: Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow
(left to right) John Edward Hall, Heather Hill, Kenneth Jackson, Amy Laufer, Paul Long, Nikuyah Walker
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Sean Tubbs | Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.

By the time the Charlottesville City Council election is held on Nov. 7, the four independents and two Democrats will have spent more than a dozen hours at candidate forums.

“It’s a monstrous time commitment and effort with stress,” said Ned Michie, an outgoing member of the Charlottesville School Board who moderated the fifth forum of the general election cycle. Monday’s event was sponsored by the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association.

After opening statements, Michie sought to shake up the usual format of the forums by asking each candidate to pick one or two opponents and specify policy differences between them that voters should know. Individuals selected also had the chance to respond.

Democrat Heather Hill said she differed from independent Nikuyah Walker who she said supported recent disruptions of city meetings.

In addition to the Aug. 21 takeover of the City Council meeting, the Oct. 10 meeting of the Planning Commission ended after members of the group Solidarity Charlottesville took over City Council Chambers.

“While I certainly recognize we need to find a place for all voices to be heard, I think the productive way and manner in which they are heard cannot continue to disrupt us from getting the business of our community is done,” Hill said. “We have to find a way to dialogue.”

In response, Walker said disruptions have happened because the city hasn’t adequately responded to the events of Aug. 12 as well as other events this year where people have felt threatened. She said many do not trust the ongoing investigations.

“The investigator the city hired [former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy] isn’t able to fully complete his work because of the secrecy surrounding the events of the summer,” Walker said. “The citizens are not going to calm down. It’s a natural process of going through the stages of grief until there are some answers.”

Independent Kenneth Jackson opted to critique Democrat Amy Laufer and Walker but did not mention specific complaints about either.

“We don’t want to hear about white privilege because there is no such thing,” Jackson said. “If you bust your butt, you go to school and you do the best you can, we all have the same way of succeeding.”

Jackson, an African-American who grew up in Charlottesville, said the protesters are a very small minority who are holding the rest of the city captive.

Walker did not respond to Jackson.

Laufer opted not to select any candidates but instead chose to address the state of the community. She said she was present for the events of Aug. 12 and she and others are traumatized.

“I was there and I believe that City Council hasn’t given us enough information,” Laufer said. “That [Heaphy] report will be coming out but we have to, as a community, embrace each other to move forward and turn the corner and think of ways we can help each other.”

Independent Paul Long selected Hill and Laufer and praised them for running a decent campaign.

“But I would like to ask both of you see yourself fitting in to a Democratic majority on City Council that’s been controlled by big business,” Long said. “Would you be a captive to the other three members of City Council and the members of your party?”

Laufer said she knows all of the City Councilors socially but has been very critical of their reaction to the events of the summer.

“I sat down with most of them [before] and asked what are you are doing to prepare our town for what’s about to descend upon us?” Laufer said. “How are we going to protect our citizens from violence against ourselves and property damage? These were the things that we were ultimately most nervous about.”

Hill said she has no aspirations to serve in public office beyond City Council and her campaign has been about helping the community.

“We have to be able to collaborate with each other,” Hill said. “For me, first and foremost, it’s building trust with those I hope to serve with. That’s going to take relationship building and it’s going to take a lot of work because right now I think City Council is so fractured and we’re at a point where it looks like people are really following their own personal interest versus working together to really address the needs of our community.”

When it was her turn to ask the question, Walker said that Laufer, Hill and Jackson are not doing enough to address racial divides in Charlottesville.

“They go, especially Laufer and Hill, for a very safe space when talking about racial issues,” Walker said. “Jackson comes from a space where everybody has had bootstraps that they’ve pulled up. In my world… everybody has not had the same assistance and the same playing field.”

Walker said her activism has been dedicated to helping people who have been affected by racial disparities.  She said Laufer’s Piedmont Promise to guarantee tuition for qualified students to attend Piedmont Virginia Community College is an admirable goal, but Walker questioned whether it would work.

Laufer said she knows Piedmont Promise is not a panacea, but that it would help some individuals. She had her challenges funding her own education.

“I worked every single job,” Laufer said. “I went to catch fish in Alaska to put myself through college and I know how hard that is. I know it’s not just a financial burden. It can also be a mental block that you don’t think you belong there. I felt that way and almost dropped out my second year.”

Jackson responded by claiming the black community was not concerned about the Confederate statues in city parks. 

“It’s a part of history and it never bothered us and nobody wanted to listen to us,” Jackson said. He also questioned whether there are racial disparities.

Independent John Edward Hall selected Long.

“Paul speaks to the challenge of a temporary shelter for homeless people who are currently living on the streets,” Hall said. “That is a good idea but it’s difficult to accomplish in this situation we have in the city.”

Long disagreed and said such a shelter could be implemented if the city would spend the money.

The sixth and final candidate forum for the 2017 election will be held on Oct. 25 at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center beginning at 6:00 p.m.

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