Three City Council candidates will compete for two party nominations in the Democratic primary Tuesday.
Carl Brown, Brian Pinkston and Juandiego Wade are vying for these spots to run in the general election in November for two council seats that are up for grabs.
One seat is currently held by Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who is running for re-election as an independent.
The other seat is currently held by Heather Hill, who is not running for re-election.
The Daily Progress spoke to the Democratic hopefuls ahead of the primary to find out where they stand on issues affecting the city and what their main goals are if elected.
Carl BrownBrown, 53, is a lifelong resident of Charlottesville. He has a history of working in the nonprofit sector and currently is a consultant to nonprofits.
Brown said his main strength as a candidate is his history in and deep understanding of the community, including the relationships he has developed.
“We need to engage with people because people are our best resources,” he said.
Brown said he thinks the current City Council has done a good job in working to better understand diversity and different perspectives in the community, but he wants the council to focus less on personal disagreements and conflicts.
“The personal aspects of individuals on the [council] make it hard and overshadow the work that they have done,” he said.
Brown said that if elected, he will work to combat this dynamic by having open conversations. He said he thinks he would be good at bringing councilors together through his experience in working with people.
Brown wants the council to take concrete action on developments and improvements that the city has been discussing for several years, including, for example, the Belmont Bridge.
“I think we need to get that bridge done,” he said. “We need to show that we can complete some stuff. We’ve got a lot of doors open, but we’re not closing those doors.”
Brown wants the city to finish current projects and reevaluate projects whose origins predate the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a proposed third downtown parking garage.
“I want to delay, not deny,” he said. “The garage is something that we can talk about later, because we don’t know what our business is going to look like [post-pandemic].”
Brown wants to prioritize and invest in education, especially literacy, and he supports reconfiguration of the city schools in terms of improving the school buildings, but wants to have more conversations about grade level reconfiguration.
“I think we need to take a hard look at how we’re going to do it, because you’re talking about … transitioning those fifth-graders that are now at Walker [Upper Elementary] back to their elementary schools … that’s going to be a heavy transition,” he said.
Brown said he would like to see more transparency with the police department, particularly its budget, going forward.
“When you ask for transparency, that can sound like someone’s doing something wrong. That’s not what I mean … We need to be transparent so that we can be upfront with each other,” he said.
Brown said that because he has worked with the police department through some of his nonprofit work in the past, he has a different perspective on policing.
“I want our police department to be open to the changes that need to be made, but also feel supported in what they do, and kind of be a model going forward for other police departments,” he said.
Brown wants more mental health and de-escalation training to be required for officers. He also wants to see the department engage more with the community.
“I’m not against the police, I just want to be able to say, ‘listen, we got to do it in a different kind of way,’” he said.
Brown said he wants to see the Police Civilian Review Board become more stable and established with the hiring of an executive director before having discussions about granting the board investigative and disciplinary powers.
Brown said that while he is open to passing legislation permitting city employees to form unions, under a recent change in the state code, he wants all open city staff positions to be filled and for City Council to do more research before taking action.
“In terms of departments like firefighters unionizing, I support that,” he said.
Brown said it’s important to support city employees because that support is an investment in members of the community.
Brown is passionate about creating affordable housing opportunities, but wants to see improvements made to existing public housing facilities. He also wants to take a proactive approach to the housing crisis by providing resources to people to prevent them from getting into a situation where they struggle to afford housing.
“We need to provide [people] with resources, whether it’s education or vocational training, to help them get out of that position,” he said.
Brown wants the city to invest in its relationships with partners such as the University of Virginia and Realtors associations to create affordable housing solutions. He also wants community organizations to be a part of the conversation.
“We just need to let everybody have a say, or be a part of the conversation. I’m not saying everything will work out for everybody, that’s just not realistic, but I think we could do a better job in our conversations,” he said.
Pinkston, 49, is a project manager at the University of Virginia. He ran for the City Council in 2019 but was not elected. His background is primarily in the business side of project management and working with stakeholders, but he cites his graduate degrees in the humanities as a strength.
“Thinking about people as fully fleshed human beings as opposed to just kind of abstract numbers is really important to me, and so I want empathy to be built into everything,” Pinkston said. “The issue of equity, particularly as that touches the African American community and persons of color in general, is very, very important to me.”
Pinkston said he is impressed by the Affordable Housing Plan the council endorsed, and he feels councilors have the city’s best interests at heart. However, he said he thinks the council is sometimes dysfunctional and that this has had major ramifications.
“What’s been most damaging in my opinion is the impact it’s had on city staff morale and the fact that we’ve been unable to recruit and retain top talent,” he said.
He hopes that when new councilors are elected, the dynamics between members will shift and the atmosphere will change.
Pinkston said he thinks the city sometimes spends too much time analyzing and delaying various projects and developments and he wants to see more action. He feels his background in project management would be an asset to the council.
“I feel like the Belmont Bridge is an example of something that Charlottesville struggles with in general, which is, I think, overanalyzing some things. A decision could have been made a long time ago,” he said.
Pinkston supports development of a new parking garage somewhat, but also says he sees investing in education and other resources as the priority when making choices about where time and money goes.
“When it comes to priorities, anything having to do with human beings, and particularly children, and particularly equity, is always going to be at the top of my mind,” he said.
Pinkston said he thinks it’s important to consider building the parking deck on East Market Street because it may become more necessary in the next five to 10 years. However, he said he does not think it is worth demolishing Lucky 7 and Guadalajara, two local businesses that are on the plot of land where the city might build the parking facility.
Pinkston sees reconfiguration of the public schools as a top priority and it’s a major part of his campaign. He supports increasing the real estate tax rate in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
“For whatever reason, we’ve not funded these things like we need to and we’ve not brought in the revenues that we need to. The trick is how you do that … we are going to need more revenue coming into the city to deal with all the things, and that will mean some level of increased taxation probably on homeowners,” he said.
“I want to be thoughtful about how we do that because of the fact that we’re in a situation where so many people’s housing assessments continue to go up,” he said.
Pinkston wants to have thoughtful discussions about the future of policing in Charlottesville and how resources could be reallocated.
“I think that we should think carefully about what we want the police to do. Do we want them involved in traffic, parking tickets? … We also need to make sure we’re asking the people whose lives are actually affected by this,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to a number of people in the African American community who say, ‘we want the police here in this area, we don’t want fewer police on the beat, we need more.’ So, if we rethink what policing looks like, there may be places where we need more police and places we need fewer,” Pinkston said.
He said he wants greater transparency from the police department about its budget and supports moving funding from the police to the Region Ten Community Services Board and other mental health services.
Pinkston supports a strong Police Civilian Review Board with disciplinary and investigative powers “as long as that’s thought through carefully.”
“I respect police officers, but their job is to serve and to protect, and the community has a right to expect transparency when it comes to the police,” he said. “I have always felt like the PCRB, if that was done well, would be a win-win for the community.”
Pinkston said he’s unsure if he wants to give city employees the opportunity to unionize.
“There are so many ramifications that would follow if we allowed staff to unionize. And so I would really need to think about that,” he said. “Honestly, I feel like City Hall struggles as it is now … adding another layer of even more distance between City Council and employees seems problematic to me.”
Pinkston said his main priority is creating more opportunities for affordable housing.
“I am for increased density in the city, both because of past racial covenants that have given so much R1 zoning but also mostly because I think it could just be better for the community in terms of the diversity that would bring,” he said. “It will increase the amount of housing stock we have available, which you know may not absolutely reduce housing prices but we’re in a situation trying to … decelerate.”
“I am pro-density in that way, not like in a knee-jerk sense. Some of the things that have been kicked out, particularly by some members on the Planning Commission, I think are too much,” he said. “We need to be careful about how we preserve the character of our neighborhoods … I am concerned that the neighborhood associations haven’t been as much a part of this whole thing as one would have liked.”
Wade, 55, currently serves on the Charlottesville School Board. He works as a career coordinator with Albemarle County and has a background in urban planning. Wade sees his experience as his main strength
“I love this city. I love everything about it. And I’ll continue to work hard for it … that’s been evidenced by my work day after day, year after year,” he said.
Wade commended the current City Council for pressing forward throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to see the council compromise more and engage with the community, but acknowledged that this may have been challenging during the pandemic.
“I would like to have working meetings, maybe with another councilor or staff, and go into neighborhoods and communities that don’t traditionally come out to speak at meetings or have input,” he said. “I know that they have comments and very valuable input.”
Wade wants the city to push forward on projects like the Belmont Bridge.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s a bridge and bridges are complicated, but they’re done every day. We can do this and come up with a design everyone can live with,” he said.
Wade wants to reevaluate before starting construction on a new garage, especially as some workplaces may transition to a hybrid work-from-home model following the pandemic and the city might not need the same amount of parking spaces it did before.
“If people are [working from home] about two days or three days a week, that’s 40% or 60% reduction right there. We’re going to notice a difference in the roads, the need for parking and things like that,” he said. “We can reevaluate some of the choices because the last year has really made us refocus and figure out how to do things differently.”
Wade is a strong supporter of reconfiguration of the city schools.
“The last building we built was in 1974, and we just haven’t built big projects in many years and we need to do this. I support it,” he said.
Wade wants to come up with a plan with the school district to finance these improvements. He said he has looked into how other localities have successfully done this.
“We could find a way to creatively finance these big projects and not impact our bond ratings and things like that,” he said.
Wade supports the Police Civilian Review Board, but does not think it should have investigative and disciplinary powers.
“I think that we need to have some level of accountability with the PCRB, but I don’t support micromanagement of the police department — they need to be able to do what they’re paid to do,” he said.
“If an action is done by an officer or department that the public says is not right, there needs to be some level of accountability … I’ll be willing to work with the CRB, the new executive director when he or she is hired, and the police chief and board to really figure this out,” he said. “I’m glad that we have one and that it’s there. We just need to figure out how it’s going to function.”
Wade said that in his vision for a reimagined police department, there would not be as strong of a need for the PCRB.
Wade supports diverting mental health crisis response from the police department. He said he is a fan of the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon, a mobile mental health crisis intervention system staffed by medical professionals, and would support creating a similar program in Charlottesville.
Wade says he thinks this could save the city up to millions of dollars and would keep police out of situations they may not be trained to respond to.
Wade said he is reluctant to support city employees unionizing until he gains a better understanding of the state code, but he is supportive of unions in general.
“I know the other localities have unions and they’re doing well. I think, generally speaking, unions are positive. They provide a great benefit to the community and to workers,” he said.
In terms of affordable housing, Wade wants to address all of the layers that go into the process of creating housing opportunities, including thoroughly updating the city’s land use map and zoning ordinances.
“We need to make sure that that land use change has the intended impact that we want it to,” he said. “We need to be real specific in the wording in the zoning ordinance.”
He also wants to work with partners, such as Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville and UVa, who are doing their own work to address the housing crisis.
“Charlottesville can’t do this alone,” Wade said. “We need to be more collaborative within regional localities in area … we need to take a regional approach to this, because the locality that’s 10 square miles can’t solve the whole regional homelessness problem.”