Making nice

Much of the campaign for the Democratic nomination to City Council was spent drawing lines between the candidates who supported the construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway (MCP) and the ones who didn’t; the ones in favor of a new earthen dam at Ragged Mountain and the ones who preferred dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Now that the three nominees have been chosen, those two hot-button issues may take a back seat. But did the split mark a divide within the Democratic Party?
From left: Kathy Galvin, Satyendra Huja, Dede Smith

Jim Nix, co-chair of the Democratic Party of Charlottesville, says no.  

“I don’t see that there is any problem, but there has been talk about it,” he says.  

Mayor Dave Norris, who endorsed nominees Dede Smith, Colette Blount and Brevy Cannon, says that during elections, “factions form,” but when the election is over, “the party comes together and most people in the party support the ticket and I suspect that’s what’s going to happen this time.” 

In fact, Nix tells C-VILLE that the three nominees, incumbent Satyendra Huja, current School Board member and local architect Kathy Galvin and Smith are working together on a “unified campaign.” 

“For the most part, Smith, Huja and Kathy Galvin are largely in agreement on most of the issues that are important to Democrats,” he says. The water supply plan and MCP are only two issues, “and that’s not the big picture by any means.”

The nominations of Huja and Galvin, who support the MCP and a new dam and were endorsed by councilor Kristin Szakos, have been seen by some as a challenge to Norris’ endorsements. The backing of three candidates by Norris stirred controversy, but Nix says that it was not “precedent-setting.”  

“I don’t know how much good it did for them. You can see that his trio didn’t fare very well,” says Nix. 

In an early August press conference, Galvin called out fellow Democratic candidates for having a “bunker mentality about a particular issue or set of issues.” 

“It seems to me that by my election and by Mr. Huja’s by a very clear majority of the voting population, that we are being tasked with completing the work of Council,” says Galvin. “We now have the votes to make sure we are not going to revisit the water plan and we are not going to revisit the parkway, and those were the two issues that were highly charged and the voting public had said enough. They did.” 

If elected, Galvin will find a seat on the same council as Norris. Although the mayor opposes the MCP and still believes that the adopted water supply plan is “overpriced and overbuilt and not good for the environment,” he says he has been able to work with councilors who disagreed with him in the past.

“I can’t expect people to just give up their heartfelt beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that Council as a whole can’t get a lot of things done,” he says. 

For Norris, disagreements are never personal. Norris has served with Huja for years and although they don’t see eye-to-eye on all matters, Norris expects him to become the new mayor. “I will support him in the transition to that role, assuming that’s something that does happen,” he says. 

Galvin says she is looking forward to working on new city issues and on old ones that have been put aside. 

“Already I know that Mayor Norris and I have common ground on a comprehensive plan to address unemployment,” she says. 

For the first time in more than 30 years there won’t be an African-American on council. Blount, who finished fifth in the primary, was the only black Democrat and Independent Andrew Williams is the remaining black candidate. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of people wanted to make sure that we had a City Council that voted a certain way on a couple of these hot button issues and, in the process, didn’t really take into consideration what kind of Council we are going to have in terms of diversity,” says Norris. 

For Galvin, however, the “almost overshadowing emphasis” on the MCP and the water supply plan did not resonate with the African-American community. 

“I walked many streets in the African-American neighborhoods. Those two issues were not the issues, first and foremost, for the people I talked to. It was jobs and it was good paying jobs,” she says. 

Galvin, Huja and Smith will square off against five independents—Andrew Williams, Brandon Collins, Bob Fenwick, Scott Bandy and Paul Long—in the November election.

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