Councilor Kathy Galvin won’t be sitting on the dais in City Hall much longer. Instead of running for re-election to council this year, she’s currently campaigning as a progressive candidate for the House of Delegates. The planks of her platform are “a sustainable future,” “an equitable future,” and a “just and safe world.”
At face value, it is a good and progressive platform. But looking at her history as a local politician tells a different story—Councilor Galvin is almost cartoonishly sawing through the planks of Candidate Galvin’s platform.
Galvin’s understanding of the government’s role in righting the wrongs of its past is perhaps best summarized in her own words. Before she sat on City Council, she served as a member of the Charlottesville City School Board. In 2004, the district commissioned a report by the International Curriculum Management Audit Center. The audit found a stark racial divide in our city’s schools, concluding, “No city can survive by only serving one-half its constituents well. The future of such a legacy is dire.”
In a 2005 memo to the rest of the school board, Galvin criticized the report, accusing the outside auditor of being “bent on finding evidence of institutional racism.” Instead, she blamed parents for Charlottesville’s shocking racial inequities:
“The educational system is in and of itself neutral, even passive. White parents make it work for them through persistence and volunteer involvement. Black parents on the other hand expect the schools to look after their needs and tell them what needs to be done. […] As a result white kids learn how to prepare for college life due to their parents’ advocacy and black kids are left in the lurch due to their parents’ lack of knowledge or experience with a good education […].”
She urged the rest of the board to reject the results of the audit and “unequivocally state that the racial bias [in the audit] was unnecessary and in fact harmful” and warned of “unintended consequences” of closing the racial achievement gap, particularly that the district will lose more rich white students to private school “because they perceive that academics have taken a back seat to politics.”
She asks what the implications are “if the needs and interests of one ethnic group are emphasized over all others,” but clearly fails to realize that’s the situation the report tells them they already have.
When asked about the memo by The New York Times in October of last year, she stood by her position, calling the report’s advice on correcting the city schools’ racial achievement gap “too narrow and racially biased.”
I reread this memo recently. Several times. A recent AP Style Guide update has advised journalists to do away with euphemisms like “racially charged,” but as an opinion columnist I was already free to call this what it is. It is so racist it knocked the wind out of me. Any white progressive who truly believes the system to be neutral doesn’t stand a chance of making any meaningful change. And based on what I’ve seen in council chambers, that memo was and remains representative of her views as a whole: We can address issues of equity if and when we’ve thoroughly considered how it might affect upper-middle-class white families.
Galvin’s votes as a councilor often seem motivated by a rigid adherence to existing paradigms, even when she acknowledges that the plan she’s clinging to is flawed or downright wrong. For instance, in her rationale for voting against a zoning change that would have allowed the Hogwaller Farms project to move forward, Galvin was anxious about rezoning out of sync with the comprehensive plan, saying “that’s not a holistic vision; that’s not a healthy way” to plan. In her job as an architect, this is an asset. An entire building is carefully planned on paper before ground is broken. Cities are planned, too, but life doesn’t stop while you take the plan back to the drafting table. We can’t sit on our hands for years waiting for an overhaul of zoning ordinances the head of Neighborhood Development Services has called “a wastebasket of errors.”
I’ve long believed Galvin is simply terrified of change, that she lacks the courage and creativity to imagine solutions that don’t adhere to her rigid notions of how the system works, and is unwilling to examine how that system works and for whom. Time and time again she asks marginalized communities to wait for a more convenient season, to stop agitating for radical change, to stop inconveniencing the comfortable. I do think she believes what she is doing will bring about “an equitable future,” but she holds fast to a flawed belief that this can be done without the input of those currently suffering under inequity.
It doesn’t matter if there is no malice in your heart if you repeatedly support policies that consistently harm marginalized communities. At the end of the day, intentions don’t matter. Impact does.