Schilling's challenge: Can he hold GOP seat?
One incumbent has said he will not run for re-election to Charlottesville City Council, and a second is weighing his options for a possible second term. But if he decides to run, Councilor Rob Schilling may find himself fighting an uphill battle.
"It's definitely a bigger hill for a Republican to climb in a city that's heavily Democratic like Charlottesville," says Matt Smyth, an analyst at UVA's Center for Politics. "The situation has to be right, and the candidate has to be right, for a Republican to win."
As the Council election approaches– the last that will occur in May– Schilling sidesteps party dynamics.
"I never asked anyone to vote for me because I'm a Republican," he says. "I also asked people not to vote against me because I'm a Republican.
"I've been respectful and served people of all political parties," Schilling says. "I'm pleased that people from across the city, many who I know are Democrats, call me frequently and ask me for help, because they know I've been an advocate of serving the public and not serving the city government."
Democrat Blake Caravati has a similar reputation for problem-solving, but the two-term Democrat and former mayor is retiring from city politics this year.
Caravati says that future Councils will have to grapple with issues involving the high cost of living in Charlottesville and transportation issues that have people stuck in city and neighboring Albemarle County traffic.
A bigger issue, Caravati says, is the cost of housing. "A lot of our folks live in Waynesboro and the Valley because our housing market here is probably double what it is over there.
"We even have a hard time hiring teachers or police officers who can afford to live here," he adds. "They can find rental housing, but not home-ownership housing."
Schilling agrees that housing and cost-of-living issues will be paramount in the upcoming campaign.
"A key issue," says Schilling, "will be the ever-increasing tax burden on the citizens based on what I'll call an out-of-control city budget. More and more people are being forced out of the city, and I hear from them every year when the tax assessments come out. We as council unfortunately have exercised very little fiscal discipline."
Caravati– without naming anyone– blasted the "politics of no" when he announced his pending retirement from city council at a January 9 press conference.
"The person I had in mind there," Caravati now explains, "was Rob Schilling. He very seldom votes yes for anything. He has never supported a budget, for instance. And he refuses to be a legislator. For him, it's the politics of no– we either reduce taxes, or I'm going to vote no on everything.
"Whatever has to do with the future of the city– for instance, building a transit center or expanding the Downtown Mall– he always votes no. And every time, he says it's a waste of money," Caravati continues.
Schilling was elected to Council in 2002, the first Republican to win a seat in 16 years. While Caravati cruised to victory, his Democrat colleague, Alexandria Searls, went down in defeat.
"Four years ago was a surprise to everybody," says blogger Waldo Jaquith, "and it was because we Democrats ran two candidates who hated each other, wouldn't campaign together, and the non-incumbent failed to do the work necessary to win. I regard it as a fluke."
Among that year's surprises was the strong performance of the youthful Jaquith in the early rounds at the Democratic nominating meeting. Jaquith– who blogs at cvillenews.com– says he's looking forward to watching the 2006 race that has already attracted two would-be Democratic contenders: poverty-fighter Dave Norris and retired fire chief Julian Taliaferro.
"The wild card here is going to be the elected school board," says Jaquith. "There was widespread opposition to an elected school board until superintendent Scottie Griffin alienated so many parents. So some of the core members of the Charlottesville Democratic Party suddenly found themselves strongly in favor of an elected school board because they felt that the appointed board wasn't sufficiently responsive."
Schilling had already advocated for an elected school board, before the controversy broke.
"That's a feather in his cap," says Jaquith, "but whether that's going to make anybody vote for him, I don't know. It's something that he's done, not something that he's promising to do."
Depending on how the cards are played this spring, it's not impossible that the GOP could continue to hold a seat on city council, says UVA analyst Smyth.
"Rob Schilling has been successful in part," Smyth says, "because he doesn't approach people saying that he's a Republican who advocates every single facet of the Republican Party agenda without fail. He presents himself as a Republican who's also a single member of a five-member city council who can bring to the table certain ideas that maybe aren't represented elsewhere on the council."
Schilling, noting the active opposition he has faced from fellow council members in his time in office, hopes that the talk about Republicans and Democrats is soon rendered moot.
"I would hope that in the future we would consider making our elections in the city nonpartisan," Schilling says.
"The saying is that there's no Democrat or Republican way to fix a road, and that's really true," says Schilling. "There's no place for partisanship locally."
Outgoing: Blake Caravati
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Incumbent: Rob Schilling
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO