Republicans plot course for City Council race

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Charlottesville Tomorrow Executive Director Brian Wheeler moderates as Democratic City Council candidates Bob Fenwick, Adam Lees, Wes Bellamy, Melvin Grady, and Kristin Szakos answer media and audience questions at last week’s public forum. Photo: Christian Hommel Charlottesville Tomorrow Executive Director Brian Wheeler moderates as Democratic City Council candidates Bob Fenwick, Adam Lees, Wes Bellamy, Melvin Grady, and Kristin Szakos answer media and audience questions at last week’s public forum. Photo: Christian Hommel

While the Democrats prepare for the June 11 primaries, two Republicans are quietly taking notes on the issues raised and looking ahead to the November general election, hoping to become the first conservative representatives on City Council since 2002. The five Democratic candidates fielded media and audience questions during an open forum last Thursday, where they discussed everything from transportation to per-pupil spending. Uninvited Republican candidates Charles “Buddy” Weber and retiring city police sergeant Michael Farruggio, who sat in the back of the room to observe the discussion, know they have their work cut out for them if they want break the Dems’ stranglehold on the Council.

“As a Republican we’re outnumbered here by three to one,” said Weber, the Charlottesville Republican Party Chair.

About 50 people filled the rows of fold-up chairs in the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center last Thursday, which had an air of friendly competition. Vice Mayor and incumbent candidate Kristin Szakos, emphasized the importance of having a representative on Council who understands the problems of low-income families. Wes Bellamy, the 26-year-old founder of youth empowerment group Helping Young People Evolve and a Albemarle High School computer science teacher, is one of two African-American candidates, and has said he hopes to replace Councilor Dave Norris as a voice for public housing residents.

Bob Fenwick, a local builder who made unsuccessful runs for City Council as an independent in 2009 and 2011, has joined the Democrats this time around and said last week that Council needs to prioritize taxes and fees to support local businesses. UVA graduate student Adam Lees, a 24-
year-old studying politics and foreign affairs, spoke passionately about transportation and treating low-income families with dignity. Buford Middle School math teacher Melvin Grady, whose uncle Charles Barbour was the city’s first black mayor, is a Charlottesville native whose priorities are early childhood education and, like his fellow candidates, affordable housing.

Of the topics discussed at last week’s forum, the Republicans agreed that three issues stood out in their minds: poverty, the homeless, and the embattled Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. They’re all interconnected, Weber said, and before publicly stating a particular stance, he and Farruggio are going door-
to-door around town to gauge residents’ priorities and establish a plan to win the votes of a traditionally liberal population.

Farruggio, who has lived in the city since 1988 and served on the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association, said the decision to run as a Republican wasn’t an easy one to make.

“I wish everything was not so partisan,” he said. “The majority of my friends are not republicans, but…I can work with anyone.”

After Thursday’s two-hour question-and-
answer session, Farruggio commented on the question about race that had briefly silenced the entire room. In response to an audience inquiry about whether or not City Council should have at least one black representative, Farruggio said he agreed with Bellamy, who said the seat should be filled by the most qualified candidate, regardless of color.

“You can’t say you’re going to hold the position for anybody,” he said. “And if that’s the case, why in the world aren’t they holding a position for a Republican?”

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