On April 21 at a forum sponsored by Charlottesville Tomorrow and the Free Enterprise Forum, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris strengthened his place as the lead candidate for one of the two spots open for this year’s city council election (as well as for the May 9 Democratic primary).
“The wonderful experience that I’ve had raising my family in Charlottesville is an experience not shared by every family here,” said challenger Kristin Szakos.
Before a small gathering in Burley Middle School’s auditorium, Norris consistently outlined his agenda for a better Charlottesville, starting with his plan—if he is re-elected—to revitalize the city’s public housing developments by creating a mixed-income, integrated neighborhood system, instead of the current model. “It’s the best opportunity for changing the very dynamics of poverty in our community,” he said, “moving away from … the failed model of segregating people by income which too often means segregating people by race.”
Norris was joined on the stage by Councilor Julian Taliaferro and challenger Kristin Szakos. While the former emphasized his concern over the 13.2 percent dropout rate in the city school system, Szakos said she is running to improve the “city’s responsiveness to its citizens.” As part of that she suggested that City Council meetings be held in neighborhoods and schools to give greater access to the public, even that pizza and childcare be provided. “We have to figure out how to motivate people to participate,” she explained the next day.
Overall, there was great agreement among the three candidates, with the major difference concerning the embattled Meadowcreek Parkway. On that question, Norris firmly detailed his opposition. “I don’t see what the city gets from this deal,” he said. “We’re putting a huge swath of asphalt through our largest park” that “will clog downtown streets” and “drive a stake through the downtown renaissance.”
Over the course of the evening’s two hours, Norris’s clarity of position left little doubt he will be re-elected, leaving Taliaferro and Szakos in a likely battle for the last spot. “It’s all fair game,” the latter says, but politics dictates that an incumbent always holds an edge in name recognition if nothing else. As a result, it is up to Szakos to separate herself and she seemed to do so based on her advocacy for those with the lowest income in Charlottesville. “Many people who work here in the city cannot afford to live here,” she said during the April 21 forum. As a result, she called for more frequent and efficient bus lines.
“The wonderful experience that I’ve had raising my family in Charlottesville is an experience not shared by every family here,” she expounded in her closing statement. “And I feel I have an obligation … to make sure that that sort of opportunity is available for every family and every child and everyone who lives in the city.”
“I believe in public service,” said Taliaferro. In his closing, he stressed his decades as a public servant in Charlottesville (he was fire chief for more than 30 years before running for council in 2005), reasoning that his experience would help when it came to making tough decisions in hard economic times. Norris also called attention to his past accomplishments while on City Council, but cautioned that more work is necessary, saying, “We have made good progress but we’re not where we need to be.”
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