City Republicans have been "revitalized" since the Ronald Reagan dinner, says party chair/council candidate Buddy Weber.
City Councilor Dede Smith checks out the Republican uprising April 25 on the Downtown Mall.
photo by lisa provence
City Republican chair Buddy Weber has been looking for Republicans to run for City Council since at least 2006, the last year the GOP fielded a candidate in Dem-heavy Charlottesville. After a seven-year drought, Weber has not one, but two candidates– although he's one of them.
Former fighter pilot Weber, 67, and soon-to-be-former cop Mike Farruggio, 50, announced in their respective lingo that they'd be "wingman" and "backup" to each other in a GOP two-fer to take back City Council.
Master political strategist Karl Rove was in town recently for the Ronald Reagan dinner, and since then, Republicans have been "revitalized," said Weber in front of the two dozen or so supporters who gathered April 25.
Traditionally, candidates running for council announce in front of City Hall. Weber and Farruggio chose Central Place on the Downtown Mall, as if to distance themselves from what some see as the shenanigans of a Democratic-controlled City Council.
"During my time in Charlottesville, I have grown increasingly frustrated with a City Council that pontificates with faux authority on issues that do not matter, but dithers endlessly on issues that do," said Weber, a criminal defense attorney who's handled such high-profile clients as convicted wife-killer Eric Abshire and graduation rapist Jeffrey Kitze, who was charged and acquitted of stalking.
"I have found myself up close and personal with young men and women in our community in serious trouble," he said. "With the right leadership, they can do better."
One item on Weber's platform is public housing, now a hot-button issue after a recent Department of Housing and Urban Development review revealed a lengthy list of problems with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
"Fifty years after Vinegar Hill and the establishment of public housing in the city of Charlottesville, the CRHA continues to receive a letter grade of 'F'," blasted Weber. "It represents years of neglect by the elected officials of this city."
Farruggio, a 25-year veteran of the Charlottesville Police Department who's retiring in August, said he regularly runs into people who ask, "What are they thinking on City Council?" He recalls the short-lived Yellow Bike program about 10 years ago, in which free bikes were placed around the city to reduce auto use– and were promptly stolen, or the days when city government provided garbage pick-up without citizens having to pay extra for it.
He honed in on what critics have dubbed the "rain tax" in his announcement, otherwise known as the stormwater utility fee, which charges citizens based on the amount of impervious surface they own. "Enacting this tax while the city manages enterprise funds collected from utility fees for such improvements and maintenance is plain wrong," said Farruggio. He pegged the cost to taxpayers at $23,000 every time it rains, and said while he'll only pay about $45 a year, the Salvation Army will be hit with $2,000 and a Park Street church will have to pony up $8,000 a year.
A former planning commissioner, Farruggio has served on several city advisory boards, including the 250 Bypass Exchange Steering Committee and was active in his Fry's Spring Neighborhood Association.
"Over the years as a police officer, I have had the opportunity to meet and serve thousands of people, and so many have shared that they are tired and frustrated with council," said Farruggio. "I'm not campaigning on tired and frustrated. I'm campaigning on diversity of thoughts and ideas."
Farruggio describes himself as a conservative. "As Republicans go, I'm very moderate," he says.
So what are the chances for two moderate Republicans in a Dem-dominated town where Rob Schilling was the last to win a term in 2002?
"I would never say never," says Schilling. "But if you look at the numbers and voting pattern in the city, anybody who's not a Democrat has a very tough road."
With City Council elections now being held in November rather than May, he estimates 75 percent to 80 percent of city folk will vote a straight party ticket.
His advice to the candidates: "Knocking on doors constantly between now and the election. People need a personal touch."
"I'm optimistic," said Republican Tom McCrystal, who took on David Toscano for the House of Delegates in 2005 and garnered only 25 percent of the vote. "Even the Democrats are talking about how thin their bench is. We have two very strong candidates. When I talk to Democrats in the city, that's all they talk about, how crappy their candidates are."
That field of five– Wes Bellamy, charged with failure to appear in court days after he announced a run, Bob Fenwick, who's run unsuccessfully as an independent, Melvin Grady, a middle school math teacher, Adam Lees, a UVA grad student, and Kristin Szakos, incumbent councilor– will be narrowed to two after the June 11 statewide Democratic primary.
For the two Republican candidates, it boiled down to this, says Weber: "I told Mike that if he ran, I would, too."