Wes Bellamy lost to Bob Fenwick in the 2013 Democratic primary for Charlottesville City Council by five votes—a frustratingly small margin, he said. But now, as the 28-year-old teacher and youth mentor launches his second bid for a Council seat, he’s glad he didn’t win last time around. A lot has happened in two years, he said: He’s learned more about the city’s neighborhoods. He’s got two more years at Albemarle High School under his belt. He got engaged to his girlfriend of three years, and will soon be a dad to three—his 5-year-old daughter and his fiancée’s two girls.
“I’m a couple years more seasoned,” he said. “I’ve realized now what it truly takes to get people on the same page and start working together.”
Bellamy was one of the rallying forces behind the December City Council meeting that boiled into a protest over what many called racist policing practices in the city. During the meeting’s comparatively civil public comment session, Bellamy listed community demands he said would help reestablish trust between police and African-American residents. He reiterated several of them last week: independent review of police misconduct issues, a plan for the force’s soon-to-arrive body cameras and an ordinance banning racial profiling.
But he’s emphatic about the importance of a cooperative approach to change. He’s been involved in the development of a series of upcoming roundtable sessions with the Charlottesville Police Department, where members of the community will be invited to discuss rights, responsibilities and efforts to work together to get past issues of perceived bias and other concerns.
“We want to do all these things to let the community know we’re here to build partnerships, but also to let the police officers know we want to work with you, not against you,” he said.
He knows some people aren’t interested in discussion. “That’s their opinion,” he said. “However, those of us who really want to work to resolve the problems—let’s start now.”
Bellamy said the same goes for resolving the contentious relationship between public housing residents and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA), tasked with the long-term redevelopment of the city’s deteriorating public housing stock. Bellamy said if elected, he’d get Council more closely involved in the operations of the CRHA.
“I don’t think anyone has malicious intent in terms of uprooting people from their homes,” he said. “However, there’s a disconnect. The residents don’t often know what the plans are.”
He said he also wants to expand the city’s pre-K program and fund more educational programs that will help people get and keep jobs.
Bellamy said he knows the fact that he’s African-American matters to a lot of voters. “But for me, that’s not the be all and end all,” he said. “I don’t want you to vote for me because I’m the black candidate, I want you to vote for me because I’m the best candidate.”
But he definitely does want you to vote.
“I’ve been keeping a tally,” he said. “There’s been 86 people who have contacted me since the last election who apologized for not going out to vote, because they thought I was going to win or whatever the case may be. We literally lost the election by a handful of votes. If you really want to see a change, and you believe in this process, I need you to come out and vote on June 9. No excuses.”