FACETIME- Sikh and find: Huja wants City Council seat

Satyendra Huja with a

It should come as no surprise that the architect of Charlottesville's much-heralded aesthetic would himself live in a glass house. Satyendra Huja's residence, designed by former UVA architect James Tuley, is surrounded by trees, trees, and more trees that bring the outdoors inside.

"People used to think I was fanatical on trees," says the man who also brought flowers, a Greenbelt, and a $6 million transit center grant to his city. Retired since 2004, he announced in April that he want to come back to city government, this time as an elected city councilor.

"In City Hall, you're working as part of a large bureaucracy," Huja explains. "You're implementing policy, not creating policy."

Some might argue that Huja made policy during his 31 years working for the city. He got used to taking the heat for projects such as historic neighborhood designations and bricking over the Downtown Mall, and he jokes that someone wanted him fired every six months. 

Today, of course, people gush over the Downtown Mall or the city's tree-lined streets and blooming landscapes. 

"I'm not saying I made all these changes," he says. "I've been part of these changes– and a lightning rod for the city. I didn't have to look for problems."

The man who thought he'd be out of here in three years now says, "To make a real difference in a community, you have to be here a while. I'm interested in making the quality of life better."

In turning Charlottesville into a "best place" to live, Huja, 65, understands improving the quality of life. He was recently instrumental in facilitating the ArtInPlace program of public sculptures.

Politics is new ground for him, and while he's hitting all the right issue notes– free transit system, lower taxes– he still has to get nominated at the June 2 Democratic convention. 

"I know I'm a minority of one," he admits. "I don't fit into a category. I have a track record. You can see what I've done."

"Huja thinks outside the box. It's even on his damn letterhead," says former mayor Blake Caravati. "He's a visionary type of character. And he's a doer. He's indefatigable."

Over tea– guests pick out a teapot, tea cup, and kind of tea from a vast collection– he admits, "I didn't see myself as a politician, but I'm in the happy position to be able to explore it."

And when he says he's a minority of one, he means it– literally– although he points out, "There is another [Sikh] gentleman in the county."

"I'd bring diversity– diversity of ideas," says the man some call "the urban turban." Or as his projects have been called in the Hook: Hujavision.

Huja doesn't think the fact that some people may not know how to pronounce his name will be a factor in the election. "Sat-yen-dra," he says. It means "one who speaks the truth."

"It doesn't matter what you call me," he says simply.