Charlottesville School Board member Juandiego Wade has announced his campaign for the City Council, citing his local government experience and connections with the community.
Wade, 55, who is running as a Democrat, declared his candidacy virtually on Monday.
“I felt [the council] needed some new vision, some new breath of fresh air,” he said.
The four-year terms of Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill end this year. Walker has announced she will seek re-election, while Hill has not yet made her intentions known.
Wade received a bachelor’s in urban and regional planning from Norfolk State University and a master’s in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia.
He is entering his 30th year working with Albemarle County, where he was first a transportation planner and is now a career coordinator.
Wade, a Richmond native, was one of the first elected members of the city School Board. He was elected in 2006, a year after city voters decided to switch from an appointed board to an elected one. He has since served stints as board chair and vice chair and was president of the Virginia School Boards Association in 2015.
Leah Puryear is the only remaining board member from the first election. The terms of Wade, Puryear and Lisa Larson-Torres expire this year and the latter two have not announced their intentions.
Wade said his primary focus on the council would be listening to business owners, residents, city staff and other councilors.
“That’s the foundation for correcting a lot of the problems in the city,” he said.
While not offering specific policy proposals, Wade said he wants to focus on criminal justice reform, investing in affordable housing, supporting public education and economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.
One hot-button issue of the campaign will be police reform. Wade focused on his work with young people and said all sides need to come to the table to discuss policing to “mend that bridge that’s been broken.”
“I think that we need each other,” he said. “We just need to have some conversations.”
Wade was asked about a massive school reconfiguration project and how he would view the proposal as a member of the council in control of the funding for it. The council has allocated $3 million toward design of the project, which could run upward of $80 million.
Wade said having modern schools is a draw for the city, but funding avenues will need a thorough examination in the wake of lost revenue from the pandemic.
Wade said his work as a transportation planner and School Board member significantly cuts down on the learning curve needed for local government officials.
“It’s all about relationships, and I have those relationships,” he said. “I’ve kept them over the years and I would not be hesitant to call them up and see how they could benefit the citizens.”
If elected, Wade, who lives in the Locust Grove neighborhood, wouldn’t be the first to move from the School Board to the City Council. Former Councilors Kathy Galvin and Dede Smith were elected to the council after serving on the board. The two women were elected in 2012, with Smith serving one term and Galvin serving two.
It’s unclear just what state the city government will be in next year if Wade wins a seat. Leadership is in a fourth year of instability since the 2017 Unite the Right rally. The council has halted its search for a permanent city manager after a consultant hired to lead the search determined the city lacked stability to effectively recruit for its top appointed role.
Wade’s announcement came as the council was in the midst of its third closed session in less than a week to discuss leadership on Monday. No action was taken in open session after the five-hour meeting.
Wade declined to comment on the state of city leadership and council deliberations, pointing out that he and the general public are not privy to all of the information available to council. He did, however, discuss supporting leadership generally.
“I know that governing, leading under the best circumstances, is a really difficult job. We’re not in a perfect situation right now. They have some difficult decisions to make,” he said of the council. “We get in this field to make those difficult decisions. That’s why we were elected to do that.”
The School Board has not been home to the dysfunction that has plagued the council since the deadly rally, with in-fighting among councilors and criticism of elected officials getting involved in operational functions. Wade said board members have had difficult conversations and decision points, but are able to work together.
Wade noted that Superintendent Rosa Atkins, who was hired in 2006, is one of the longest-serving school division leaders in the state.
He said elected leaders can challenge administrators with questions and present ideas, but governments need to work as a team.
“When you get a good leader, you have to support them,” he said. “That’s something that I’m used to, that I understand.”