Charlottesville City Council candidates discussed the firing of Police Chief RaShall Brackney, school reconfiguration, the Future Land Use Map and other issues affecting the city during a candidates forum on Wednesday afternoon.
The forum, held at The Center at Belvedere auditorium, was hosted by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia, a nonprofit that aims to keep seniors informed about the work of the local and state government and various political issues. The forum was simultaneously broadcast via Zoom webinar.
Democratic nominees Brian Pinkston and Juandiego Wade and independent candidate Yas Washington participated in the forum. Mayor Nikuyah Walker was previously slated to participate but withdrew from the election earlier in the day.
The debate was moderated by Bob Beard, a former news anchor with CBS 19 and a longtime reporter with CNN, NBC and Reuters. Members of the audience could submit questions both in person and through Zoom.
Beard opened the forum by asking the candidates for their thoughts on the sudden termination of Brackney’s contract.
The candidates were hesitant to offer an opinion on Brackney’s termination, saying they don’t have a full understanding of the situation, but they offered their perspectives on how the police department should move forward.
Washington, an entrepreneur, said she believes it is important to reimagine policing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd, including ensuring representation for communities of color.
“We need to make sure individuals are represented,” Washington said.
She said she wants the city to hire a police chief who will “enforce ethical policing for the long run.”
“I don’t want to speculate on what took place,” said Wade, a current school board member. He said he has had positive experiences working with Brackney.
“If elected, I will support the City Manager and City Council in hiring a police chief … That’s one of the critical leadership positions that the city needs to hire,” Wade said.
Pinkston, a project manager, pointed out that all three candidates are supportive of the existence of the Police Civilian Review Board and that he thinks it is an important resource moving forward.
“I think that Chief Brackney was trying to make some important changes,” Pinkston said. “But I am optimistic that we’re going to find someone that would be a better fit for our community … There’s a lot of cultural changes that need to happen.”
Beard asked each candidate what they felt were the most important issues facing Charlottesville.
Washington said she feels the most strongly about environmental sustainability, public safety and affordable housing.
“We’ve seen an increase in the population, we’ve grown as a city. Now is the time for development to take place,” Washington said.
Pinkston said he’d prioritize positive relationships between councilors, affordable housing and equity.
“We really need to have a stable government in city hall … having the City Council functioning as a team,” Pinkston said. “Disagreement is an important part of the democratic process. But internal disagreement in this council has had some negative effects.”
Wade said his top three issues are leadership and stability, economic development and public safety.
“We have to get our hands around public safety … and that’s going to take working with the police department but also community nonprofits and individuals,” Wade said.
All three candidates voiced their support for affordable housing being worked into the Future Land Use Map.
Pinkston acknowledged how controversial the map has been from many different perspectives, and commended the Cville Plans Together team for trying to “thread the needle” between these contrasting views. He wants to address the legacy of redlining in the city.
“In Charlottesville … we care for one another. Homeownership is so tied into the equity conversation for persons of color,” Pinkston said.
“I don’t support density for density’s sake,” Pinkston said. “But I think density should be tied into affordability.”
Wade said he thinks it’s important to address concerns about redlining but also be realistic about the need for affordable housing.
“I know people on both sides of the issue … This is a big issue,” Wade said. “I don’t know the answer.”
Wade said he wants to figure out a way to address the rising prices of housing in the city. He would like to see more of a variety of home prices and types as opposed to a stark divide between single family homes and public housing complexes.
“We need to look at what affordable housing looks like,” Washington said. Similarly to Wade, she said it’s important to have different types of affordable residences available, and that seniors and families need different things, for example.
All three candidates supported reconfiguration of Charlottesville City Schools.
Wade cited his 16 years on the school board and said he looks forward to making improvements for Charlottesville students. He said it’s important for the City Council and school board to compromise.
“We’ve been talking about this for all my 16 years,” Wade said. “There needs to be some modernization … The plans for what we want to do could be really spectacular, amazing work.”
Pinkston said he supports reconfiguration but feels the city needs to determine a practical way to fund it.
“We need to minimize the number of transitions … and look at this from an equity perspective as well,” he said.
Washington said she supports reconfiguration but wants sustainability to be prioritized. She also said she supports working a charter school system into the reconfiguration to give students more opportunities.
The City Council election is Nov. 2. Early voting will begin Sept. 17 at the Department of Voter Registration and Elections and will run Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Oct. 29.