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Charlottesville City Council votes down resolution calling for cease-fire in Gaza

It quickly became apparent at Monday’s City Council meeting that the focus of the night would not be on tax hikes proposed in the Charlottesville budget.

Instead, public comment was dominated by community members demanding a cease-fire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Over and over again, speakers pleaded for Council to adopt a resolution similar to those passed in dozens of cities across the country; it called for an immediate cease-fire, the release of all hostages held by Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to residents of the Palestinian territory of Gaza, which Israel has laid siege to since Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7 of last year.

The resolution failed in a 3-2 vote, with councilors Lloyd Snook and Brian Pinkston as well as Mayor Juandiego Wade dissenting.

The trio was promptly jeered by members of the audience with cries of “shame”, “coward” and “genocide supporters.”

The resolution was a last-minute addition to the evening’s agenda, which was originally headlined by tax increases, affordable housing initiatives and the very rules that dictate how Council operates.

Council chambers were packed with people supporting the resolution, with many holding “Ceasefire” signs.

It was an emotional public comment session both before and after the vote, with many members of the engaged audience claiming that councilors would face electoral consequences for their "no" votes.

“I think this is a profound political mistake on your part,” David Walsh told council. “Like it or not, this is one of the defining issues of the entire election cycle in 2024.”

Multiple speakers said they were activists who regularly participated in efforts to get out the vote. Some who said they supported councilors in their winning campaigns threatened to withdraw that support if those councilors voted against the resolution.

Snook will not be up for reelection until 2027. Wade and Pinkston’s terms expire at the end of next year.

The resolution was added to the agenda by councilors Natalie Oschrin and Michael Payne. The duo also brought it to a vote.

“I think it was clear from tonight that this is an issue we’re not going to be able to avoid and need to address,” Payne said.

He cited reporting that 30,000 Palestinians, more than 10,000 of them children, have been killed by Israeli forces since the war began, and that famine in northern Gaza is imminent.

“This is an action that is coming from a groundswell of local support. We have a petition that’s been endorsed by thousands of people who live in our community,” he said. “Part of our role as elected leaders is leading on important national issues, and these national issues, we could try to avoid them, but they’re always going to come to our doorstep.”

Just as many people mentioned during public comment, Payne noted that past Charlottesville councils have adopted resolutions on international issues. That includes one condemning the U.S. invasion of Iraq and another calling for the end of apartheid in South Africa.

“We have a very small voice, and but it’s still a voice. It’s one small action as part of a major collective action,” he said.

If passed, the resolution would have required it be forwarded to President Biden, the commonwealth’s Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Republican Rep. Bob Good, who represents the 5th Congressional District surrounding Charlottesville.

The evening highlighted a philosophical difference between some councilors and members of the public about what is and what is not the responsibility of a local governing body.

Oschrin said Council had a number of discussions about the resolution, debating what its role is when it comes to issues outside of city limits.

“We all care about our city, we all care about the world, and we all care about doing the right thing,” she said. “Some think that means we should make a comment here. Some don’t. But we all do care.”

The majority of councilors determined that it was not their place to weigh in on the issue.

“I do not think it is City Council’s place to be opining on matters of national and international policy," Snook said. "I’ve said that for probably 40 years that I’ve been involved in local affairs. It’s not a new position with me."

He argued that if Council took up this issue, it would struggle to limit its involvement in other national and international matters. And while he said he believes it would be appropriate for him to sign such resolutions in his personal capacity, it would not be appropriate in his role as councilor. City Council, he said, should focus on issues it can take direct action on, not issues it would like to see other groups, such as the federal government, take action on.

“I think we need to get away from the idea that we’re so much the center of the universe,” he said of Charlottesville.

Supporters of the resolution argued that it is the duty of local government to hear and act on residents’ concerns. With so many other cities adopting similar resolutions, including Harrisonburg, adding Charlottesville to the list could encourage other localities to do the same. It would be one small step toward a bigger goal of increasing pressure on state and national leaders.

Pinkston said he understood the anger and pain he heard during public comment. And while he said he found it hard to disagree with much of the resolution’s language, he determined it was not appropriate for him to support it.

“Doing this, as well intended as it is, will create more friction in this community, not less,” Pinkston said, adding that such a resolution could bring unwanted attention to the city.

Council received hundreds of emails about the resolution, Wade said.

“I feel like I was elected to Charlottesville City Council to be hyper-focused on local issues,” Wade said. “I would love to see this type of support for the three shootings that we had in our community a few weeks ago, for the unhoused that we have right here on the Downtown Mall. I would love to see this type of input.”

The issue has been put to rest, but perhaps only temporarily. Supporters of the resolution vowed to continue bringing the matter to Council’s attention, with one calling the war the “moral issue of our time.”

Charlottesville City Council will meet again April 1.


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