Post-budget: Schilling, Dems trade barbs

Maybe it's becoming a tradition. For the second year, Republican Rob Schilling called a press conference following the 4-1 approval of the city's $100.4 million budget that again found Schilling on the losing end of the vote.

He was joined at the April 20 press conference by Republican City Council candidates Ann Reinicke and Kenneth Jackson– and by two of his fellow councilors: Mayor Maurice Cox and Kevin Lynch.

Last year, tempers flared when Schilling held a conference following a council meeting and didn't invite his co-councilors. After Lynch and Cox followed him outside, Schilling accused Lynch of yelling and rudeness, and Lynch countered that Schilling put little effort into the budget.

This year's affair was more subdued, except for the heckling by a citizen named Brandon Smith, who shouted, "parasites," and "carpetbagger" while Schilling spoke.

Schilling, in a spring yellow jacket and tie, criticized the tax burden and real estate assessments that pay for budgets "expanding at rates well above inflation."

The new budget climbs 7.2 percent and hikes taxes on cigarettes (from 12 to 25 cents a pack), lodging (from five to six percent), and E-911 taxes (from $1.04 to $1.50 a month)– as well as trash fees, parking fines, and building permits. It also increases the minimum wage for city employees from $8.28 to $9 an hour.

Schilling called for a change of attitude on Council and addressed the personal criticism that "inevitably leads to a stream of invective and personal attacks," both toward him and "many members of the public who dare to question the actions of some on Council."

Responded Lynch after the conference, "I think we have a number of challenges, and there are two ways to deal with them. One can complain about them, or one can attempt to solve them."

Standing in the sun in front of City Hall, Ann Reinicke wore a trim black suit, while Kenneth Jackson took a more casual approach, decked out in a rainbow-striped polo shirt.

Reinicke lambasted "skyrocketing real estate assessments" and taxes that have made the cost of living in Charlottesville "too high for too many people."

Later last week, Reinicke made headlines when the Daily Progress reported, "Reinicke backs creationism in schools," following an April 21 League of Women Voters candidates' forum.

Reinicke denies she wants creationism taught in public schools. "First of all, I believe in the separation of church and state. I do not believe that religious beliefs should be taught in the public schools," she says.

UVA biochemist and professor Clive Bradbeer posed the question to Reinicke at the forum because city councilors appoint members of the Charlottesville School Board.

Reinicke insists she was talking about creationism in the sense of religious studies– not science class.

While Jackson has struggled to emphasize his independent thinking, his criminal record still attracts attention. He drew headlines early in the campaign when he admitted he'd been convicted of assault and battery four times, and wielded a knife in three of those incidents. The last conviction was in 1995.

At the press conference, Jackson called for a more business-friendly Charlottesville. Both Republican candidates labeled Cox's pet project, the now-quashed Preston Commons, "frivolous."

"I'm focusing on the future," says Cox. The Republican vision "would be a very different Charlottesville and not a place I want to live."

The heckling at this year's press conference, though not from his fellow councilors, seems symbolic to Schilling. "I think it furthers my perception that people are trying to shut me up, both on Council and outside."

As the campaign heats up, so does the rhetoric.

Rob Schilling hopes to change his status as the lone Republican on City Council by getting Ann Reinicke and Kenneth Jackson elected May 4.