If it seems like we just finished an election, well, we did, but in Virginia, it’s never not an election year. In Charlottesville, the two seats on City Council currently held by Kristin Szakos and Bob Fenwick are up for grabs, and Szakos says she won’t be seeking another term.
“Eight years is a long time,” she says. “When I first came on, I figured two terms was probably enough.”
Szakos says being on City Council is “a very time-consuming job and it pays very little. It’s hard to also work a full-time job.”
She came into office stressing community engagement, and she started town hall meetings to try to bring local government to residents who typically didn’t have a voice at City Council. Last year councilors hosted six neighborhood meetings.
“I had kind of an agenda of things I really wanted to work on,” she says, and lists “increasing the robustness of our affordable housing” and working on City of Promise to make “a community that supports all children” and helps their parents find jobs and housing.
She also advocates density in the city where appropriate to promote walkability and public transportation “so we don’t do rural sprawl,” she says. Szakos serves on the board of the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, and says, “The city is a model on partnering with the jail.”
Fenwick is “exploring the possibility” of running for another term, but a formal announcement won’t be for a little while, he says. He notes that petitions to get on the June 13 Democratic primary ballot are due March 30.
Fenwick often finds himself on the losing end of 4-1 votes on council, and some wonder whether there will be alliances to boot him from office. “I expect to be targeted,” he says, “but I don’t know who will do it.”
Says Fenwick, “I feel very comfortable with how I’ve acted in three years on council.”
He was elected to council in 2013, edging out Wes Bellamy by five votes in the Democratic primary. And in Dem-heavy Charlottesville, the winners of the primary typically are shoo-ins in November.
“The Schilling Show”’s Rob Schilling floated some other names January 10 as possible council candidates, including former Charlottesville School Board chair Amy Laufer and North Downtown Residents Association President Heather Hill.
Laufer, who is in her second term on the school board, confirms she’s running for City Council and is actively gathering signatures. “I’m doing my homework and I’m taking it seriously,” she says. Although she’s not ready to formally announce, she says she’s looking at important issues, such as the budget, the parking study and the Strategic Investment Area.
Hill, an industrial engineering grad from Virginia Tech with an MBA from Darden, says she’ll announce her decision in a few weeks.
A new political organization called Equity and Progress in Charlottesville officially announced its plans January 17 to recruit, support and endorse candidates for local offices. Former mayor Dave Norris and former councilor Dede Smith are founders, along with the late Holly Edwards, a former vice mayor.
“I don’t have anybody who’s told me directly they’re running,” says Norris, “but I’ve heard quite a few names bandied about.”
Lena Seville, who ran for council in 2015, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. Seville says she’s busy getting an undergraduate degree at UVA in environmental thought and practices and expects to graduate this spring. “I don’t think I’ll be running in the Democratic primary because of that,” she says.
And city GOP chair Barbara Null says she knows of two possible candidates, but no one has decided yet. “It’s so hard for a Republican to get on in the city,” she says.