EPIC forum: When candidates and townspeople meet

Bob Fenwick, Heather Hill and Amy Laufer seek the Democratic nomination for two open seats on City Council in the June 13 primary. Courtesy Subjects Bob Fenwick, Heather Hill and Amy Laufer seek the Democratic nomination for two open seats on City Council in the June 13 primary. Courtesy Subjects

New group Equity and Progress in Charlottesville hopes to piggyback on the progressivism sparked by Bernie Sanders’ campaign last year, while elbowing aside the ruling Democratic party’s stranglehold on local government. EPIC is holding forums to ferret out candidates in local races most closely aligned with its goals of adding affordable housing, and stanching gentrification and racial inequity.

A May 9 forum at The Haven brought the three Democratic candidates seeking nominations for two open seats on City Council in the upcoming June 13 primary, as well as more than 60 citizens.

Incumbent Bob Fenwick, who often finds himself on the losing end of 4-1 council votes, asserted at the outset, “I’m a progressive Democrat.”

Fenwick likes the word “robust,” and used that in response to a question about a living wage to describe the charitable allocations slashed the previous year that he asked City Manager Maurice Jones to put into this year’s “people’s budget.” Says Fenwick, “To an amazing extent, it was robust.”

For candidate Heather Hill, an industrial engineer and mom who is president of the North Downtown Residents Association, issues such as a $15 minimum wage or racial inequity need to be addressed “holistically.” She also noted a couple of times that she was “energized” and is covering the city door-to-door.

And School Board member Amy Laufer’s mantra, repeated about five times: “If you work here, you should be able to afford to live here.”

Moderator Karen Waters Wicks asked the candidates to commit to EPIC goals of adding 1,000 units of affordable housing and a $15 minimum wage but, better yet, a $17.50 living wage. The candidates all replied with concern about affordability, while refraining from pledges.

“I’ve heard loud and clear that this is a top priority,” said Hill on affordable housing. “I don’t want to promise something I’m not sure I can accomplish in my tenure on council.”

“If you work in the city, you should be able to live here,” said Laufer.

“I think the county can do a lot more to help the city,” said Fenwick, who also advocates fixing up houses in the city.

One issue the candidates seemed to feel was more manageable was parking. Fenwick segued during a living wage question—he favors an incremental approach —to the parking meters planned for downtown. “I don’t know anyone who’s said to me, ‘Why don’t we try parking meters again?’” he said.

For Hill, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed holistically. “The analytical side of me is eager to dive in,” she said, while noting that she’d taken CAT and the bus was 30 minutes late. “It’s not a reliable way to get to work.”

From the audience, Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy asked the candidates if they support the local Black Lives Matter chapter.

Laufer noted that she’d worked with Bellamy on the Charlottesville Alliance for Black Male Achievement. “I definitely support success for all people,” she said.

Hill once again touted a “holistic approach” that included child care, job training and support of the vulnerable.

“Do you support our local Black Lives Matter?” asked Bellamy again, while Showing Up for Racial Justice member Joe Starsia interjected: “We’re trying to get you to say ‘black lives matter.’”

The three candidates voiced their support in response to Starsia.

EPIC will hold a forum for five independent candidates—Nancy Carpenter, Kenneth Jackson, Paul Long, Nikuyah Walker and Dale Woodson—Wednesday, May 17 at 6pm at The Haven.

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