COVER- Free elections: Hopefuls jockey for Board seats
It was the first of elections, it was the last of elections. Charlottesville's first School Board election ever will also be its last May election, and then the voter-mandated process will move to November 2007.
City Council's lone Republican, Rob Schilling, has been calling for an elected School Board since he began running for Council. Appointed boards "have a shameful history," says Schilling, pointing to early 20th-century laws prohibiting elected boards as a way to keep African Americans from serving.
The city's elected Democrats resisted the switch, claiming elections would lessen School Board diversity. It took Schilling and Democrat Jeffrey Rossman's bipartisan efforts to get enough signatures for a referendum that found favor with 73 percent of voters last fall.
"I think it's great six people are running for three seats," says Schilling. That defies conventional wisdom that average folk would not seek seats on the School Board if they had to run for office.
Voters will decide May 2 who gets the nod.
Incident that made you decide to run: I felt I could make a contribution to schools and students by serving on the board given my experience– I've taught in three states.
Why vote for you? I have a much more thorough perspective on issues than any other candidate, and I'm the only one endorsed by the Charlottesville Police Officers Association.
Campaign slogan: Vote for a candidate who's been involved with students. Vote Vance High
Priority issue: Getting parents involved with students and schools
Pet peeve: Too much junk food in schools. I'd like to see snack machines taken out of schools. They're full of sweeteners that contribute to obesity.
Occupation:Owner of a business for technology-based solutions to care management
Incident that made you decide to run: A lot of my drive to run came out of frustration from last year's events with the superintendent and a lack of connection between the School Board and teachers and people who work in schools.
Why vote for you? My experience as a special ed teacher is a tremendous asset as far as understanding teaching and its variables. I've had enough experience in different schools in our system to understand their strengths.
Campaign slogan: Communication and connectivity. Check out my website– ck4schoolboard.org.
Priority issue: Achievement gap
Pet peeve: Have you ever seen a teacher on The Bachelor?
Occupation:Retired financial adviser
Incident that made you decide to run: It's the public service I've always wanted to do. Public education is a real passion. If there's any one incident, the whole superintendent mess. It was clear the board was not as functional as I'd have liked.
Why vote for you? My experience and expertise on 12 boards. I've had financial oversight– I'm used to working with budgets– and personnel oversight– I've conducted three executive searches– and worked on policies, procedures and bylaws. I'm an inquisitive and curious person who asks the right questions, and I don't let people off the hook.
Campaign slogan: SL– Smart leadership
Priority issue: Closing the achievement gap and early childhood education
Pet peeve: Using educational jargon when there are just a handful of people who understand it.
Incident that made you decide to run: It's been a lifelong connection and interest. My father was on the School Board. My mother was one of three women who started one of the first integrated preschools. Mother was a high school teacher before that; my brother and stepsister are teachers.
Why vote for you? My lifelong connection has given me deep knowledge of the schools. I went to Charlottesville schools. My daughter is in the 8th grade, which is like going through a second time. I've served on PTOs and on the PTO Council for five years, which looks at the system as a whole. Since being on the School Board, I've served on advisory committees (special education, CATEC, capital improvements) that have greatly expanded my knowledge.
Campaign slogan: Caring, collaborative and committed
Priority issue: Closing the achievement gap for at-risk kids– but that doesn't mean we'll back off from what makes our schools excellent.
Pet peeve: Educational fads. You have to be careful about changing horses too often and focus on best practices.
Occupation:Director of Upward Bound at UVA
Incident that made you decide to run: My belief in Charlottesville City Schools– that we have a strong school system but with problems any school system can face. With my background in education, I could bridge the gap between the board and parents and teachers so that we have a holistic, winning approach.
Why vote for you? This is the beginning of a new era in the Charlottesville public school system. Members of the community have said they want a change, and I'm willing to work for the change this system needs to be number one.
Campaign slogan: Reach to teach. (She's running with Juandiego Wade.)
Priority issue: Inclusion. I want to make sure everybody in Charlottesville, whether student, parent or people in the community, is included because education is ongoing, and if everybody buys into it, we have better schools.
Pet peeve: That people don't believe education can be fun. I hate that people think education is drudgery. It's not.
Occupation:Transportation planner for Albemarle County
Incident that made you decide to run: I mentored a group of young men from fourth grade to high school, and they graduated last year. My daughter is 3-1/2, and she's going to be in school.
Why vote for you? I'm really committed to the city. I don't have a personal agenda. I volunteer for numerous community activities, and a lot of them focus on youth.
Campaign slogan: Reach to teach. (He's running with Leah Puryear.)
Priority issue: Increase parent/community involvement in academic achievement for all students.
Pet peeve: The negative publicity the school system is getting. At International Night at Buford, hundreds of people were there– but no press were.
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT
Countdown: Can Dems retake Council?
In 2002, Republican Rob Schilling handed Charlottesville's Democrats their first City Council defeat in 16 years, winning a seat on that traditional Dem stronghold and rocking their Democratic world.
Four years later, it's election time again. Blake Caravati is not seeking re-election, and this time Schilling finds himself the incumbent fending off two Democratic challengers, Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro.
Many credited– or blamed– Schilling's upset in the 2002 election on single-shot voting (and a timely article by Daily Progress reporter Jake Mooney explaining how to do it). Schilling supporters cast only one vote for the two open seats, avoiding diluting their minority ballot with a second vote for one of the Democratic-majority candidates.
"Single-shotting is not going to be significant if Democrats turn out and if they don't split their vote," says Dem website guru George Loper. "If their vote is split, and there are single shots, that'll be a big problem."
Loper believes the Dems learned from 2002 and says they're motivated, organized, and canvassing. More importantly, "They've got candidates who are compatible," unlike the Caravati/Alexandria Searls odd-couple pairing four years ago.
Former Council candidate and Norris supporter Stratton Salidis is toying with the idea of a single-shot vote. "I've wondered if I should take that route," he muses. Although he'd like to have Taliaferro sitting on Council instead of Schilling, he acknowledges the power of the incumbency. "I'm ambivalent," he says.
On the Republican side, party chair Bob Hodous refuses to prognosticate on the election outcome. "I've heard from several people that they're going to [single-shot vote]– including Democrats– so it could be a factor," he says.
Photographer Jen Fariello took the candidates to the First Amendment Monument and asked them to write the one word with which they want to be associated.
How will single-shotting play in this year's May 2 City Council election– and in the School Board elections? How do the candidates stand on Meadowcreek Parkway? Who favors a Downtown Mall crossing? What are these guys drinking?
All this, and more...
Rob Schilling– The Incumbent
Schilling doesn't think four years of often being on the 4-1 end of City Council votes amid sometimes harsh criticism from his fellow councilors– particularly during budget time– has necessarily hurt him.
"The feedback is very good," he says. "Lots of Democrats say they'll vote for me. I serve everybody. I don't think political affiliation is a factor in serving."
Schilling has picked up the endorsement of long-time civil rights activist– and Dem– Eugene Williams, and he has Charlottesville-establishment figure Hovey Dabney on his list of supporters.
As in 2002, Schilling thinks single-shot voting could be a factor. "People I talk to say they're casting only a single vote for me," he says. And among the Schilling supporters who want to cast two votes, who will benefit– Norris or Taliaferro?
"I think they're split pretty evenly," he says.
Occupation: Public servant
Family: Married to Joan; "Dee-daw" to Gabriel, age 2-1/2
Party: Lincoln Republican
Why run? Because monolithic government is not now and has not been healthy for Charlottesville
Top three issues in Charlottesville: In no particular order, affordable living, education, and improved citizen participation and representation in government
Complete this sentence: Charlottesville has to... adapt if it's going to survive.
4th Street mall crossing– yea or nay? 7th street was the better option.
Ideal property tax rate: Is based upon the home's purchase price with very minimal annual increases.
Wards or at-large? Depends if you want inclusive or exclusive government!
Political experience: Four years public service on Charlottesville City Council; five years K-8 classroom teaching
Skills that makes you suited for Council: Good listener, free thinker, hard worker, passionate advocate, long-suffering
What do you do better than your opponents? I represent a "different" point of view.
Past newsworthiness: Opening musical act for Thomas Dolby in the '80s, on the iTunes music store now.
Political hero: Abraham Lincoln
Beverage: Sparkling cherry juice, ice cold
What are you reading now? Green Eggs and Ham (over and over and over...)
Motto: One voice can make a difference.
Julian Taliaferro– The Chief
Now retired, Taliaferro apparently hasn't had enough of municipal government. After being approached about running for office, here he is in his first local election. "I don't have a big ax to grind," he laughs when quizzed about his motivation for leaving the leisure of retirement. "It's a nice city."
Taliaferro has campaigned for the treasurer seat at the International Association of Fire Chiefs, but that was mostly talking to groups. "This is more one-on-one, going door to door," he says. And the issues he's hearing about from voters: Charlottesville public schools and property taxes.
He says he can't predict whether single-shot voting will affect his election chances, but his position on the matter is straightforward: "I think people ought to vote for who they want."
Occupation: Treasurer, International Association of Fire Chiefs
Family: Married with two grown sons
Why Run: To represent all of our citizens and utilize their input to preserve and improve the community
Top three issues in Charlottesville: Public education, affordable housing, and maintaining the financial stability of the city
Complete this sentence: Charlottesville has to... involve the community if it's going to improve the community.
4th Street Mall Crossing– yea or nay: I reserve my opinion until the trial is completed; however, I don't think I would support a large expenditure of $800,000 to $900,000 to make this permanent.
Ideal property tax rate: The lowest possible that would support necessary services for our citizens
Wards or at-large? I would be willing to look at a mixed ward and at- large system.
Skills that make you suited for Council: Thirty-plus years of local government experience, being a consensus builder and a good listener, and compassion and civility
What do you do better than your opponents? I know the right questions to ask of city staff as a result of my many years working for the city.
Past newsworthiness: Retiring after 43 years in the fire department with almost 34 years as chief, and my announcement that I was running for City Council.
Political hero: John Kennedy
What are you reading now: Medal of Honor
Dave Norris– The Progressive
"Dave Norris doesn't sleep. He waits." "Dave Norris has counted to infinity. Twice." "Dave Norris can win a game of Connect Four in three moves."
Such are the postings of his supporters who seem to think Norris walks on water.
This is the affordable housing advocate's first run for office, but he's in no way a political naïf. Norris acknowledges that single-shot voting likely will benefit Schilling.
"I'm trying to convince Republicans who do want to exercise both their votes to vote for me," he says. "There are people who appreciate Rob's efforts but want to have a say on the second councilor."
Norris– but not Taliaferro– snared the endorsement of the Sierra Club. So wouldn't a single-shot campaign benefit a Dem candidate more than a ticket?
"I'm running on a ticket with Julian Taliaferro and hoping for a large turnout May 2," says Norris firmly.
Occupation: Executive Director, PACEM
Family: Single father of Eli, 9, and Chloe, 6, both of whom attend Charlottesville public schools
Why run? I have the energy, vision, and experience needed to create positive change for our community.
Top three issues in Charlottesville: Affordable housing, education, environmental sustainability
Complete this sentence: Charlottesville has to... work with Albemarle to curb suburban sprawl if it's going to avoid becoming another Fairfax.
4th Street mall crossing– yea or nay? Mall pedestrians and parents of young children say nay!
Ideal property tax rate: $.99 seems fine to me (minus $.05 to be dedicated to a new Affordable Housing Investment Fund)
Wards or at-large? At-large– so Council is accountable to all voters.
Political experience: I've volunteered for numerous campaigns, but I'm a first-time candidate.
Skills that make you suited for Council: I "play well with others" and seek innovative solutions to entrenched problems.
What do you do better than your opponents? I will ensure that the working poor have a voice on Council.
Past newsworthiness: I got PACEM off the ground and steered the Housing Authority Board through rough waters.
Political hero: It's a tie– Robert Kennedy and Paul Wellstone.
Beverage: Iced tea
What are you reading now? Home from Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler
Motto: "No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to do!" (Dorothy Day)
PHOTO COURTESY ROB SCHILLING
Fire Chief Julian Taliaferro
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
PHOTO COURTESY DAVE NORRIS
SIDEBAR- May day: Spring elections R.I.P.
After next week, Charlottesville's May City Council races will go the way of the paper ballot.
It hasn't been just on a whim that since 1972 the City has elected its councilors in May. "It's the law," says Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta.
State law decreed that cities and towns elect their officials in May; counties did so in November. The General Assembly voted to allow city elections in November in even-numbered years, but that didn't satisfy Charlottesville, which feared its election would get lost during presidential years.
Hence the "Charlottesville bill," carried by former Delegate Mitch Van Yahres, that allows this city to hold its elections in odd-numbered years.
"It could have started in '05, but City Council decided not to shorten current terms because those councilors were elected for four years," explains Iachetta.
Iachetta, for one, is excited about the switch from May elections. Besides the huge difference in turnout– 22 to 24 percent in May compared to 75 percent for November presidential elections, "There are a lot of logistical issues," she says.
The Dogwood Festival parade closes streets downtown for four hours on one Saturday, frustrating the absentee balloters who want to vote and can't find parking, she says.
Hard-pressing the registrar's staff are June statewide primaries, for which absentee balloting begins May 15 this year, two weeks after the May 2 City Council and School Board election.
"It seems like we're just cleaning up from one election before we're gearing up for another," says Iachetta.
Another logistical matter: "We can't use all our voting equipment in May," says Iachetta. "After the election, machines are locked down until the State Board certifies them. We have to hold some machines back for absentee ballots. There's a possibility we would have to rent equipment."
She calls the move to November "the most fiscally responsible decision."
And with the average age of election officials at 72 across the country, she also notes the human cost of working aging officials for a 16-hour day in May, then turning around to do it again in June.
But not everyone will be happy to see the May races end. "I had some serious doubts about moving the time of the election," says former city councilor Meredith Richards.
She acknowledges the high percentage of city voters who turn out in November, but says, "The downside is the potential for Council to get overshadowed." She worries about Council candidates having to compete with bigger-budgeted statewide candidates who are buying media time.
And in Charlottesville, "Door-to-door can make or break a candidate," notes Richards. In the fall, it gets dark earlier and people aren't out in public places like the Downtown Mall or Fridays After Five, she adds.
For former councilor John Conover, the sprouting of yard signs is a bi-annual harbinger of spring. He testified against the change at a forum. "[City Council] is going to be a down-ticket race," he says. "It's not necessarily clear to me state elections are more important."
Nor is he convinced the savings of $15,000-$20,000 every two years is worth the move to November. "That's a small price to pay for democracy," he says.
Conover does predict one benefit for Democrats: "Republicans will never win again," he says. "The bigger the election, the more Democratic Charlottesville is, and the more get-out-the-vote effort is made by the state."
Conover's already nostalgic for the doomed May tradition. "In an increasingly fragmented world, you don't have a lot of institutions, and those," he says, "get chipped away by rationality."
Registrar Sheri Iachetta appreciates the nostalgia for the soon-to-be-defunct May City Council elections, but says logistically and fiscally, November makes more sense.
FILE PHOTO BY LINCOLN ROSS BARBOUR