HOTSEAT- Dave's world: Politics is local

There's one aspect of running for City Council that Dave Norris is having a hard time getting used to. "People keep correcting me when I say, 'I know I sound like a politician, but–'" relates Norris. "They say, 'You are a politician.'"

Norris has been a political junkie all his life. He's made a career of public service– and sees running for City Council as a way to step up his involvement. But he's never actually run for office. "Until you've done it yourself, you don't know," he says.

In a small town like Charlottesville, "People expect to know their elected officials," Norris notes.

His style is retail politics: meeting with people, listening to their concerns, and then trying to do something about it, and he says his opponent, Rob Schilling, does retail politics well. Norris has been to more than a dozen neighborhood meetings, talking to folks in their living rooms.

"The weirdest thing about campaigning– people are already coming up to me with problems as if I have the authority," he notes. "Let's get me elected first, then fix the pothole."

Norris has been working on new solutions since his grad school days, when he realized there were mental traps in the "politics of poverty." The doctrines were that either government solved the problem or people have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

"Neither was working," says Norris.

"That got me interested in public policy issues," he says. "Instead of just providing services for people in poverty, urge them to speak up and not see themselves as helpless victims."

Norris swears he's not a Boy Scout, but he is executive director of People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, shortened, thankfully, to Pacem. The group provides food and shelter to homeless people during the cold months.

Norris has worked for Madison House and the Public Housing Association of Residents, and he's served on just about every local nonprofit that deals with aging, poverty, and housing. Throw in the schools and environment, and you've covered the high notes of his platform.

As for the hair notes, Norris stands squarely in the red-headed corner. He claims he was never teased about his hair, but "I was never as popular with girls as other boys were." He sunburns easily and admits, "I'm a dermatologist's dream."

One other facet of being a fair-haired boy: "I blush easily," says the candidate. Political liability– or asset?

Age: 35

Why here? I moved here in 1995 for the quality of life, beautiful environs, and laid-back pace.

What's worst about living here? As an affordable housing advocate and a new homeowner, I'd have to say the high costs of housing!

Favorite hangout? Bodo's for lunch, Rapture for drinks

Most overrated virtue? Patience. As Jonathan Kozol once said, "Patience is a virtue only to those who are not in pain."

People would be surprised to know: This will likely earn me a lifetime exclusion from Cool Honey's list of "unbelievably dope" local politicians, but I have the largest collection of vintage Charlottesville postcards in the world.

What would you change about yourself? I'd ride my bicycle more. I was hit by a van several years ago and have been road-shy ever since.

Proudest accomplishment? Working with Charlottesville's faith community to ensure that no one in our area has to sleep out on the streets during the dead of winter.

People find most annoying about you: I keep a running "to do" list on the palm of my left hand. It's the only way I can remember things.

Whom do you admire? Robert Kennedy, Paul Wellstone, and Mahatma Gandhi top the list. You'll rarely find a finer human being than the late John Baker.

Favorite book? Catch-22

Subject that causes you to rant? Wars waged in the name of peace, bigotry promulgated in the name of love

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Watching my children learn and grow and develop their own unique identities

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Knowing that they'll be teenagers one day

What do you drive? 1999 Saturn SL2

In your car CD player right now: Robin Wynn's Oblivion– she's amazing!

Next journey? Ithaca, NY, this summer with my kids

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I took a trip through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1987, and as I was about to head home, I was detained at the Leningrad airport on suspicion of videotaping sensitive government facilities. The KGB officials were actually very nice to me, especially once they concluded that the suspected "spy tape" was just boring tourist footage.

Regret: I was offered a full scholarship to Carleton College but wanted to live and study in Boston instead. I would have had Paul Wellstone as a professor.

Favorite comfort food: Apple slices with peanut butter

Always in your refrigerator: Sunergia Soyfoods Savory Portabella Tofu (I'm part owner of the company!)

Must-see TV: My friend Wendy makes me watch Saturday night boxing with her. I'm not a big boxing fan, but I like to stay on Wendy's good side­ so it is, by default, "must-see."

Favorite cartoon: The Far Side (especially God playing Jeopardy)

Describe a perfect day. Sleep late, hang with my cats, read the newspaper over lunch at Bodo's, take a long afternoon hike with my kids, grab some Thai food for dinner, meet friends for drinks on the Mall

Walter Mitty fantasy: Being the top vote-winner in the May 2 City Council election!

Who'd play you in the movie? I'd love to say Orlando Bloom, but I'm sorry to say it would probably have to be Conan O'Brien.

Most embarrassing moment? I worked the overnight shift at various hotels to pay my way through graduate school. One night I was doing my rounds when I opened the door of the hotel spa to find two guests "in flagrante" in the hot tub. I don't know who was more embarrassed...

Best advice you ever got? "Meet people where they are, not where you want them to be" (from my friend Holly Edwards)

Favorite bumper sticker? "Taliaferro & Norris for City Council," of course!

Dave Norris