Not Cox's: Hamilton dances to her own beat

(The third in our series on City Council candidates)

Words are the sea that Kendra Hamilton swims in. In her official job, she's an editor of the Fairfax-based magazine Black Issues in Higher Education. In her life as a graduate student, she's writing her doctoral dissertation on Gullah, the language and culture of the South Carolina and Georgia low country.

And in her current avatar as Charlottesville city council candidate, she has electrified forums around town as well as the February 7 Democratic convention with the conviction of her plain-spoken yet eloquent message that the Democrats "are in danger of becoming the party of the comfortable."

Political life is nothing new to Hamilton. Her father served 24 years on the county council of Charleston, South Carolina, after his election in 1970, the first African American to hold the office since Reconstruction. He took her with him to the Democratic convention in Miami in 1972.

"I was so incredibly excited," she says, the thrill of the convention that nominated George McGovern still evident in her voice.

Another political memory is a little less vivid, but no less meaningful. "My mother has a picture of me hoisted on my father's shoulders in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. traveled through Charleston on a train," she says. "She circled our heads in the huge crowd."

More immediate experiences, however, led to her decision to run for council. She is a homeowner in the Rose Hill area, and her role as president of the neighborhood association required regular attendance at city council meetings where she came into contact with Mayor Maurice Cox– not always benign contact.

"When we had problems," she says, mincing no words, "I'd go to Council and tear him a new one on a regular basis. We got to know each other that way."

While she says she has "tremendous respect" for Cox, she denies reports (some printed in The Hook) that she's his political protégé.

"He talked to me about running," she says. "I told him no for months. But people in my neighborhood convinced me that there needed to be a black perspective in the room.

"Eight separate people were calling and trying to talk me into it, but the thing that finally persuaded me to run was talking to my father," she says.

What are the chances that she has put down roots in Charlottesville?

"The average stay for a person getting a degree in humanities is nine years," she says. "If I'm lucky, I'll graduate in May, but I have no plans to go on the job market.

"I have the best of both worlds here," she laughs. "Because I telecommute, I can live in Charlottesville with a Fairfax salary. I have no reason to think of leaving."

Age: 45

What brought you here? Graduate school

What's worst about living here? The dancing– Charlottesville doesn't do enough of it.

Favorite hangout? The Greenbelt– my dog and I used to walk there every day, before she died, that is.

Most overrated virtue? Diversity. Justice is so much better.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I can do the Texas two-step and the cotton-eyed Joe. I used to know a group of black ranchers and cowboys when I lived in Texas. They taught me all the dances, and I got really into the culture. I had such great cowboy boots, they even asked me to be in their cowgirl beauty pageant during the Houston Rodeo. Of course I said no, but it makes a great story.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My singing range I want to hit the high notes, too.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? A couple of things this year. In public life, being named Citizen Planner of the Year and seeing Rose Hill named Neighborhood of the Year by the Planning Commission. In private life, getting a poem in the Southern Review.

What do people find most annoying about you? I am very extroverted and very social, but I have a private side, too. There are times when I just have to turn the phones off and no one can reach me.

Whom do you admire? Feisty, opinionated, outspoken old ladies– I look forward to being one.

Favorite book? Favorite recent book is Erasure by Percival Everett. It's this generation's Invisible Man, and nobody's read it.

What subject causes you to rant? The publishing industry. Abuse of the earth. Reality TV. I can go on.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The fact that more and more people are waking up.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The fact that the people who want us to stay asleep know we're waking up.

What do you drive? '96 Toyota Corolla

What's in your car CD player right now? Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life

 What's your next journey? Running for city council

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? I married my college sweetheart. The fact that he was the college mascot, the Duke Blue Devil, should have given me a clue that this was not a good idea.

What do you regret? That I dropped piano for boys when I was in college.

Favorite comfort food? Smothered shrimp and rice– a Charleston specialty.

What's always in your refrigerator? Shrimp

Must-see TV? Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Favorite cartoon? Is Finding Nemo a cartoon? 'Cause I really loved that.

Describe a perfect day. First of all it's a beautiful day– not too hot, not too cool, but sunny. I spend a few hours digging in the dirt, then, while it's still early, I get cleaned up, walk downtown to hang out at City Market, take in a yoga class, have lunch with friends, go to a movie then walk back for a long hot bath, then a glass of wine on my deck while I watch the sun go down.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Writing the hottest show on Broadway, getting the movie deal, retiring to a small Caribbean island– and taking all my friends and family with me to drink fruity drinks and loll beside the ocean.

Who'd play you in the movie? Rae Dawn Chong.

Most embarrassing moment? Once I fainted in the middle of a department store. It was a huge to-do. I knocked over a display case and woke up surrounded by rubber-neckers and buried under pink and red heart-shaped handbags– it was right before Valentine's Day.

Best advice you ever got? Ask smart people, experienced people, for advice– then follow it.

Favorite bumper sticker? I can never remember these things, but it goes something like: "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty."

Kendra Hamilton