On Eve of Election, Council Candidates Talk Priorities

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email

June 10, 2013

Democrats in Charlottesville have a lot to decide on Tuesday. The city's primary ballot has more candidates on it than any other in the state. It includes five candidates for city council, two candidates for Commonwealth's Attorney, and two candidates for commissioner of revenue, in addition to the statewide races.

The five council candidates are battling for two spots, that will go on to face Republicans Mike Farruggio and Buddy Weber in the general election in November.

The Democratic candidates include incumbent Kristin Szakos, who also works as a writer and editor; Melvin Grady, a middle school teacher; Adam Lees, who recently graduated from the University of Virginia and served on the student council there; Wes Bellamy, a high school teacher; and Bob Fenwick, a general contractor.

Here is how each candidate responded to a couple of questions on Monday:

What differentiates you from the other four Democratic candidates?

"I can really listen to all the communities here in Charlottesville and flow between them without it being an awkward conversation," said Lees. "I'd say I'm the only candidate that really has a good idea of what the university does and how it's like and how to interact with it."

"I'm a life-long resident," said Grady. "I feel like I have a connectedness to our city. Also being an educator. That's a new perspective for Charlottesville. I've worked with diverse people, so I feel like that is handy coming on city council."

"The most obvious, is that I'm a woman," said Szakos. "But probably the most important thing that differentiates me is that I've had three and a half years experience on council and I know how the budget is put together and I know a lot of the institutional memory of the city."

"I feel like I'm an individual who has a great deal of energy and who is really in depth and in tune with the community," said Bellamy. "I feel like in the time in which I've been here that we've been able to work collectively and bring together several different individuals from several different parts of the city."

"I've been in small business for almost 40 years and I know how small business works," said Fenwick. "I think I could be instrumental in promoting a new cooperation between city government and business."

What is your biggest priority for the city?

"The priority would be to make the budget process as transparent as we could make it," said Fenwick. "Make sure the money is spent wisely, and make sure city hall doesn't just look at small business as a source of tax revenue. That they realize that we both play an important part."

"We recently created a resolution in which all low-income housing residents are now able to take the GED class for free," said Bellamy. "That's the kind of leadership I plan to bring. Taking individuals who want to do better, taking individuals who also want to help those who want to do better, and bring them together."

"We still have a significant number of people in our community, and many of them children, who live in poverty and whose children also tend to live in poverty," said Szakos. "I think we really need to work on ways to get people equipped for good jobs, to get good jobs for them to work in that are jobs with a decent wage that you could move up and support a family."

"Pre-K education," said Grady. "I feel we can get the money, find the money, make it happen to where we have more kids in Pre-K education to where they are not falling behind in kindergarten. If you don't get that, at five years old you're constantly falling behind."

"My three big issues are improving the public transit system here in Charlottesville," said Lees, "fostering job opportunities specifically for young adults who have an unemployment rate three times the citywide average, and finding a dignified solution to homelessness that first addresses the mental health needs of our homeless population."

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