Across Virginia, voters go to the polls in November to elect state and local legislators, but in Charlottesville, the election will pretty much be sewn up in August. In this overwhelmingly Democratic burg, perhaps a thousand or two people will vote in the party's primary and decide who will serve on City Council and as the hotly contested clerk of circuit court.
The bleak odds have not deterred four independents from joining the race, raising the number of candidates to 11 seeking the three seats up for grabs on City Council.
When voters go to Burley Middle School on August 20, it will be the second time local Dems have tried a so-called firehouse primary. In 2009, the party abandoned the mass meetings of the past that often took all day to choose candidates.
"The reason we went to the firehouse primary is to make it as easy for people to participate as possible," says local Democratic party co-chair Tom Vandever.
You don't even have to be a Democrat to vote in the day-long event, but registered voters must sign a loyalty pledge to support the Democratic party and its candidates. "There's no legal recourse," says Vandever, but he notes a bit of controversy two years ago when Dede Smith, now a candidate for for City Council, supported independent Bob Fenwick for Council in the 2009 race.
Another feature in the firehouse primary is the instant run-off. "The difficulty is in making sure people know they can rank the candidates," says Vandever. That way, even if your favorite candidate doesn't get a majority of votes, ballot-casters can still weigh in on who'd they'd like next on the list of seven running for the Democratic nomination.
Back around the turn of the millennium, a group of progressives called Democrats for Change challenged the slate-making party traditionalists, and such upstart candidates as Kevin Lynch and Maurice Cox won seats on Council. Some observers see that happening again this year.
Rob Schilling, the last non-Democrat to win a seat on City Council (in 2002), says there's a big split that's water-based: candidates endorsed by Mayor Dave Norris– Dede Smith, Brevy Cannon, and Colette Blount– who favor dredging the current reservoir over building a new dam and pipeline, and candidates who favor the Nature Conservancy-pushed dam plan– incumbent Satyendra Huja, Kathy Galvin, and Paul Beyer.
"It's a showdown," says Schilling, "between the new guard and the old."
Mayor Norris doesn't think the alliances are cut and dried, and says that candidates like Cannon and Beyer who are on different sides of the water issue might still attract the same young voters. But he doesn't doubt that water is the big issue.
"There was so much anger about water after the Council vote in February," says Norris, referring to councilors' 3-2 vote to sign on to building a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
And there's more than water. For instance, James Halfaday is the first openly gay candidate for City Council, as well as the first Native American, and he claims he's been the subject of hate emails.
"The Old Guard is conspiring against me to push me out of the race," he alleges, although he declines to release the emails.
"Early in the campaign, some third party was trying to cause some mischief with false postings," says Dem co-chair Jim Nix. "We got to the bottom of that. That was months ago."
And he adds, "Why would anyone try to force anyone out of the race?"
The requirements for getting on the ballot have stumped both independents and Dems. Halfaday, who filed with the registrar's office April 20, says when he tried to e-file a campaign finance report July 15, the Virginia Board of Elections told him they had no record of him.
"I'm not required to send the state anything for a local candidate," says city registrar Sheri Iachetta. "Candidates are told if they want to e-file, it's their responsibility." Three other candidates had similar problems, she says.
Another race that will be determined August 20 is for the seemingly staid clerk of the Charlottesville Circuit Court, an eight-year, $112K position held by Paul Garrett, who's seeking his fourth term. Garrett has successfully fended off challengers in the past, but with public defender/School Board member Llezelle Dugger calling Garrett out, he finds himself in a serious race against Dugger and a third challenger, Pam Melampy, whose sister, Debra Shipp, is clerk of Albemarle Circuit Court.
Both Norris and Schilling see the 11 candidates for Council as a healthy sign, although Schilling believes anyone who isn't a Democrat is "disenfranchised" from local government in Charlottesville.
"I'd like to see all these candidates on the ballot," he says. And of the ranking of candidates, a.k.a. the instant run-off, he says, "Why not use that in the general election? That might give independents a chance."
Previous political experience: Appointed member, Charlottesville Public Housing Redevelopment Committee, chair, Albemarle County Housing Committee.
Why run? Council sets the conversation. I want us to focus on fostering jobs, a diverse middle class, and economic vitality in our city.
Priority issue: Jobs: both sensitivity and support to our hometown businesses, and targeting outside industries that address the aspirations of our citizens.
Dam or dredge: Dam– 1.7 billion gallons for $16-20 million. Dredging– 228 million gallons of storage for $25+ million. Dam makes more sense. My main thought, though: it's a thoroughly debated question. Let's move on.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Fence. Quikrete won't address the broader structural problems with that sidewalk.
Why vote for you? Business experience and sensitivity to the economic vitality of the city, coupled with a youthful perspective on arts and culture.
Campaign slogan: Jobs - Sustainability - Arts
Occupation: Public school teacher since 1994.
Previous political experience: No partisan experience; elected to Charlottesville City School Board in 2007.
Why run?: For Council and the city to broaden educational approaches to strengthening our schools, increasing environmental stewardship, and amplifying economic opportunities for underrepresented populations.
Priority issue: Sustainable and cost-effective resolutions to water supply/transportation issues so the city can address other challenges— economic and cultural, to name a few.
Dam or dredge: Dredging is economically feasible (per actual and projected water consumption), less invasive on natural environment, and reflective of community desire.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Although the eastern sidewalk (per inspection) received “poor” rating, substructure is “fair” to “good.” Therefore, patching is more economical and keeps sidewalk open.
Why vote for you?: I will approach planning/projects with fiscal responsibility, work in the present with focus on long-term goals/vision, and bring dedication and thoroughness to tasks.
Campaign slogan: Equal Access to the Future
Occupation: News writer for University of Virginia
Previous political experience: Work on Capitol Hill for Senator Bob Kerrey (Nebraska) and several campaigns, including Al Weed's first run for Congress.
Why run? City Hall could use some common sense. We need to think big, be bold and creative, but balance that with pragmatism.
Priority issue: Creating middle-class jobs in Charlottesville
Dam or dredge: Maintenance dredge first and gain better sense of full-capacity dredging costs, then concrete dam if needed.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Quikrete if it could be done safely.
Why vote for you? If you want to see the two Charlottesvilles become one Charlottesville by building our middle class.
Campaign slogan: A pragmatic progressive Democrat
Kathleen M. Galvin
Occupation: Architect, urban designer, small business owner, and educator
Previous political experience: Elected School Board, CRHA Redevelopment, Housing Advisory Committee, Commission on Children and Families, Weed and Seed, Capital Improvements Program, chaired Albemarle DISC, Johnson PTO President & Council Parent Liaison, Social Development Commission, Charlottesville Housing Foundation
Why run? To increase opportunity and jobs, enhance Charlottesville’s walkability and urban character, and improve regional collaboration through an accountable, transparent Council.
Priority issue: Expand economic opportunity and preserve community character, ensuring that the common good is not sacrificed to special interests or lack of vision.
Dam or dredge: False choice. Compromise plan costs $10 million less initially, doesn’t preclude elective/auxiliary dredging, and “dredge only” requires ongoing maintenance dredging costing $1.6 million per year.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Bob Fenwick has quipped about Quikrete, but unless there is a formal engineering evaluation of the safety and durability of sidewalk patching, this isn’t a question any of the candidates can responsibly answer.
Why vote for you? I have the range of knowledge, professional experience, and public service skills to ask the right questions, work for consensus, and focus on the common good.
Campaign slogan: Greener, smarter, stronger by design
Occupation: Co-owner of Snap Fitness
Previous political experience: Elected councilman 1998-2001 in Dunfermline, Illinois.
Why run? I believe that I would be a good representative for the city and to protect the interests of the city.
Priority issue: Closing the educational achievement gap and increasing the graduation rate.
Dam or dredge: Dredge first!
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Quikrete
Why vote for you? I believe in ensuring quality education for all the children of our community, equal opportunities socially, economically and culturally for all our residents and the preservation of our natural resources.
Campaign slogan: One Charlottesville, our Charlottesville
Occupation: Retired. Adjunct faculty at architecture school
Previous political experience: Currently on City Council, Charlottesville planning director for 31 years
Why run? Committed to public service
Priority issue: Transportation, environment, and infrastructure
Dam or dredge: Both
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Fence
Why vote for you? Most experience
Campaign slogan: Building together, a better community for all
Deirdre “Dede” Smith
Occupation: Former Director of the Ivy Creek Foundation (14 years at Ivy Creek Natural Area); now volunteer with several community groups.
Previous political experience: Two terms on Charlottesville School Board (2000-2006); founding member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan (2007-present).
Why run? As someone recently told me, I have the “heart of a public servant.”
Priority issue: My two main priorities are environmental protection and equal opportunity in education.
Dam or dredge: Dredge the South Fork Rivanna River. Three new studies confirm that dredging will supply more than enough water for at least 40 years.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Repair with a high adhesion industrial repair system and use Jersey barriers if needed for safety.
Why vote for you? I will work hard, pay attention to data, listen to all voices, and stick up for city residents.
Campaign slogan: Dare to CARE. C = Conservation; A = Accountability; R = Respect; E = Education
Occupation: Between unemployed and avoiding premature retirement
Previous political experience: Enough to be disaffected by both parties. Hence, running Independent. Other than that, my experience is having NO BEHOLDEN POLITICAL EXPERIENCE.
Why run? Denial through complacency has brought nothing but undeserved discontent. There's no lack of issues waiting to be handled better.
Priority issue: Roads/sidewalks and transit. Also as our faithful environmental activism citizens like to cajole everyone else, "protecting our city's assets."
Dam or dredge: The recent cessation of hostility (for just $3.5million public funds) between Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority and Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan has weighed preferences toward dredging.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: $14,000 could've afforded more than plenty of Quikrete. I've got a trowel and concur with Bob on this.
Why vote for you? Because it's really the special collective interests the candidates ought to be running against. People before and above interests!
Campaign slogan: The Un-Elitist Candidate
Occupation: Musician, restaurant worker, personal care attendant
Previous political experience: Committed activist on national, statewide, and local issues, Save WTJU campaign, wrote draft of council resolution opposing anti-immigrant legislation, Board Member Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, Secretary of Socialist Party of Central Virginia, National Committee (alternate) Socialist Party USA
Why run? Charlotttesville can be a place where fundamental and comprehensive changes can take place to confront the enormous problems of our society.
Priority issue: Poverty: Let's guarantee that all of our residents can get meaningful employment, affordable housing, and ample public transportation.
Dam or dredge: Dredge, raise the existing dam, follow recommendations for further conservation efforts. We should always use existing resources rather than building a destructive and costly new dam and pipeline.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Quikrete was a cheaper option for temporary solution to the bridge issue. When constructing the new bridge, use a local workforce.
Why vote for you? Charlottesville needs a strong voice for social justice on City Council. I have proven through organizing and my political analysis that I can be that strong voice.
Campaign slogan: Instead of treating the symptoms, let's work to cure the disease.
Why run? To provide strong citizen representation in deciding public matters for the city and dealing with the county.
Previous political experience: Candidate for City Council, 2009; active in various community organizations and advocacy groups.
Priority Issue: True representation for all city citizens. We don’t have that now.
Dam or dredge: Dredge. Immediate increase of water supply. Create "green collar" jobs. A cleaner reservoir. Recover and sell sand, gravel, and the topsoil.
Belmont Bridge: Repair. It worked for the west sidewalk and has lasted six years. Why not the east side until we repair the bridge?
Why vote for me: Innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems (dredging and selling topsoil, clearing Rock Hill Gardens), public demonstrations of my solutions, not just committees, task forces, endless talk.
Campaign slogan: Experienced leadership, common sense representation, results.
Andrew D. Williams
Occupation: Insurance claims handler (adjuster)
Previous political experience: None. I was, however, appointed by Dr. Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community College, to serve on a state system-wide strategic planning task force.
Why run? I would like to fill a gap in Charlottesville’s legislation. The definition of gap is the need for a different perspective and more balance in our local government.
Priority issue: Pure representation with the residents as the major shareholders instead of following party guidelines. I don’t see the need for partisanship at the local level.
Dam or dredge: Based on the available data (to date at least), I believe dredging would be reasonable and consistent with my idea of long-term sustainability across all sectors of our government.
Belmont Bridge sidewalk– Fence or Quikrete: Whichever can incorporate green features and other surrounding architectural aesthetics into its design without compromising the safety of pedestrians is my choice.
Why vote for you? I have a sincere desire to represent the needs of the many, without forgetting and addressing the concerns of the few in our diverse population.
Campaign slogan: Exercising good judgment, with energy to spare!
Clerk of Court
Name: Llezelle A. Dugger
Occupation: Assistant public defender
Previous political experience: Charlottesville City School Board
Why run? I can improve the level of service to the users of the Circuit Court Clerk’s office.
Priority issue: Customer service, which includes improving accessibility of records by placing them online.
Why are you the best candidate for clerk? I have the leadership skills and vision to keep the office current and provide service with professionalism, competence and transparency.
Campaign slogan: Helpful. Informative. Professional.
Occupation: Clerk, Charlottesville Circuit Court
Previous political experience: Four previous elections for this position plus participation in various roles in other campaigns.
Why run: Dedication to the community and to the clerk's office and service to the public, with a commitment to implement the latest technology.
Priority issue: Keeping abreast of state and local budgets; technological advancement such as e-filing, case imaging, and a paperless court.
Why are you the best candidate for clerk? Experience in the position; fair, respectful, and dedicated pubic servant to all, efficient operation of the office within budgetary limits
Campaign slogan: Experience. Equality. Dignity.
Name: Pam Collier Melampy
Occupation: Deputy clerk /probate clerk at Albemarle Circuit Court
Previous political experience: This is my first political venue.
Why run? I believe that the Charlottesville Circuit Court needs to progress into the 21st century. I also believe that everyone who enters that office should be treated with courtesy and respect regardless of their affiliation with the Court.
Priority issue: I have three priorities: courteous and friendly service to everyone who enters the door; utilizing the technology that is available so that records can be accessed online; cross-training employees to make citizens' first visit as productive as possible.
Why are you the best candidate for clerk? I have 22 years invested with the court system. Worked in both General District Court and Circuit Court, which provides me with the credentials that can only be obtained from on-the-job experience. I will not use taxpayers' dollars to train me while I am in office.
Campaign slogan: "Focusing on our Future" and "Never look down on someone unless you're helping them up"
Correction 7/21/11: Because of a transcription error, Paul Garrett's response for his priority issue was mistyped as "peerless court" rather than "paperless court".