GOP and Democratic candidates vie for two City Council seats

Clockwise: Kristin Szakos, Bob Fenwick, Charles "Buddy" Weber, Michael Farruggio. Photos: Elli Williams and Chiara Canzi Clockwise: Kristin Szakos, Bob Fenwick, Charles “Buddy” Weber, Michael Farruggio. Photos: Elli Williams and Chiara Canzi

For the first time since 2006, the Democratic candidates for City Council face two Republicans in a race for two empty seats.

This year’s Democratic candidates are Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos—who’s running for a second term and is the only candidate with prior experience as an elected official —and local construction contractor Bob Fenwick, who ran unsuccessfully as an Independent in 2009 and 2011. Retired police sergeant and former Planning Commissioner Michael Farruggio and city GOP chair Charles “Buddy” Weber are the Republican party’s nominees.

Electing even one GOP candidate to the Council would be a big change for Charlottesville, a point Farruggio is eager to make in pushing for voters to embrace the Republican ticket.

“We need to have the voice of two conservative guys bringing ideas to the table to discuss amongst the five,” Farruggio said at last week’s forum hosted by the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association. “If I raise my hand to have a motion and Buddy’s not there, it’s not going to get seconded.”

Here are the four candidates at a glance. If you have other questions, check out the Thursday, October 17 forum hosted by Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress in the African American Heritage Center at the Jefferson City School.

What reforms would you institute to change the way the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority operates?  

Weber: We’re running into a crisis of funding and a crisis of identity, and the public housing projects need to be redeveloped. Because the CRHA is an independent agency, it sort of insulates them and City Council from political accountability for what goes on. Terminate the CRHA as an independent agency, and bring it in as a department of the city. You’d certainly have some greater oversight from some professional managers.

Farruggio: Obviously the housing authority is in need of redevelopment of its own; we’ve been watching it floundering for years. I’d like to see the CRHA become an entity of city government, because what they’re doing hasn’t been working.

Szakos: I’m a little hesitant to leap into another agency’s business and say what I would do. There is definitely a need for more trust and communication between CRHA staff and people who live in public housing, and whatever we can do to improve those things I’m sure would be welcome. We’d have to make sure that our taking it over would make it better, because it would be very costly. I’m definitely in favor of working more closely with them.

Fenwick: They’re redoing the management team over there, with a new chairman of the board and fairly new director. I would give them an opportunity to straighten out what’s almost spiraling out of control. It’s a management situation, so if the two people in charge now are capable of straightening things out, I think we should give them a chance to do it.

What would you do to help the City of Charlottesville grow more jobs?  

Fenwick: There really hasn’t been a lot of energy and excitement around businesses lately, which is why we did Cash Mob [an event that brought a large group of cash-paying customers to a small business for a monetary boost]. My focus would be on making sure we retain the jobs we already have. We need to really get into promotion and marketing, and I would emphasize businesses that are already here.

Farruggio: We’re in direct competition with the area around us, and if we’re not pulling ahead, we’re falling behind. If you come to Charlottesville and bring your business here, not only do I want to give you a tax incentive, but I want to give you an extra tax incentive if you hire people who live in Charlottesville. And then if you hire people from the lower socioeconomic class in Charlottesville, I want to give you another tax incentive.

Szakos: We really need to be more strategic about what kind of jobs we’re trying to create. About 60 percent of the jobs in town are doable by somebody who doesn’t have a college degree, but most are held by people who do have degrees. We need to create entry level jobs for those without an education, and be really committed to looking at jobs that have career ladders to them and ultimately lead to a sustainable wage.

What do you envision for the Strategic Investment Area [the area south of Downtown designated by the city for targeted investment and improvement]? 

Szakos: The SIA has a lot of exciting potential to be able to create a little more density, and create a mix of jobs and residences of different income levels. I’m committed to keeping affordable housing in that neighborhood, but we need to make sure some of it is affordable to people in higher income brackets as well. There needs to be a real sense of place and destination, and not be just the area south of Downtown.

Farruggio: The community is not very trusting of city government, especially these communities that have a lot of black and poor families in them, and that’s for very understandable reasons. So it’s got to be handled sensitively, but it can’t be allowed to stagnate for 10 years. The CRHA is likely to go broke in four years, so if that’s the case, we need to figure this out and not wait. I think the strategic investment areas can be broader, and there should be more of them.

What challenges does the city face as it starts to realize its goal of higher density residential growth, and what are some solutions to those challenges?

Fenwick: It’s appropriate to have a long-range plan and look at how redevelopment will affect population density and transportation, but we don’t have to do everything all at once. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket. It’s nice to have something shiny and new, but we also need to pay attention to what we already have here. I think the city has to be very careful that it doesn’t turn into Fairfax County.

Weber: That buffer between the corridor and the higher density living and the lower density neighborhood is going to be an area of concern for every neighborhood that comes up against the corridor. The residents involved in the neighborhoods have to be involved in the actual planning process of the corridors, because their properties are going to butt right up against it. Once it’s a public process, neighborhoods need to weigh into the public process.