Three more candidates have filed their paperwork in time to be considered for the Democratic nomination for a seat on the Charlottesville City Council.
They are former councilor Bob Fenwick and political newcomers Natalie Oschrin and Dashad Cooper. They join incumbents Lloyd Snook and Michael Payne in seeking the important Democratic nod for one of the three seats that go up for election this November.
Conspicuously absent is Leah Puryear, who was chosen in late February to fill the unexpired term of Sena Magill, a city councilor who unexpectedly resigned in January, nearly a year before the end of her term.
“I have not heard anything from her,” Charlottesville Democratic Party Chair John McLaren told The Daily Progress on Monday.
The council chose Puryear, a Charlottesville School Board veteran and University of Virginia administrator, for the 10-month position from a pool of 20 applicants. Among the applicants vying for the unexpired term was Oschrin, the wedding sales manager at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards in the North Garden community of Albemarle County who has filed to run in the November election.
The 33-year-old Oschrin is a Charlottesville native who graduated from Charlottesville High School and the University of Virginia and lives in the Meade Park neighborhood. She has been vocal in supporting increased housing density and urban walkability to soften the affordable housing problem.
“Charlottesville needs more housing,” she said during a public hearing in October. “Anything we can do to increase supply will increase affordability.”
Oschrin, calling herself a progressive, contends that housing is key to fixing other local problems.
“For people who don’t have housing security, that affects everything else,” she told The Daily Progress. “There’s a feedback loop there.”
Fenwick, 78, is a self-employed contractor who is something of a political maverick, having twice attempted to gain a council seat as an independent. In 2013, he won a Democratic nomination and served a single four-year term on council.
Prior to joining council, the former member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urged dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir as a fiscally and environmentally prudent choice for local water supply. But that plan lost out to a proposal to expand the Ragged Mountain Reservoir and pipe in water from the Rivanna.
On council, Fenwick was known for criticizing the use of consultants. But his most famous move – infamous to his critics – was serving as the swing vote over the fate of Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. In a 3-2 vote in February 2017, Fenwick voted with the majority to remove the statue from downtown, an action that set the stage for ridding the landscape of Jim Crow-era artifacts as well as a summer of turmoil. The tumult included that August’s Unite the Right rally, a protest that culminated in the murder of an anti-racist activist named Heather Heyer.
Fenwick said he doesn’t regret his statue decision and said that vote, like all of his votes, were made after listening to residents.
“The reputation I had when I was on council that I showed up,” Fenwick told The Daily Progress. “It’s being involved, letting people see you. Sometimes those conversations can be very sharp and uncomfortable, but that’s politics.”
As for Cooper, at 29 he is the youngest of the candidates and has yet to formally announce his candidacy for council. Earlier, he expressed an interest in running for the 54th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
But a recent rise in gun violence in his hometown, Cooper said, has provoked his concern and compelled him to seek a more local office.
“My biggest issue is the kids not having anything to do after school,” Cooper told The Daily Progress. “When I was growing up we had [amusement park] Planet Fun, we had the skating rink. We haven’t had a block party since I was in fifth or sixth grade.”
With an ailing father and no available funds, Cooper said college wasn’t an early option for him. But he said he’s now studying at Piedmont Virginia Community College as he works for the city as a social services assistant.
“Right now, the younger folks do not have a leader to look up to,” Cooper said. “So having a young, African American man who grew up in the city and went to the public schools can show them that there is a way out.”
The Democratic Party will hold its primary on June 20.
In Charlottesville, where voters have chosen the Democratic presidential nominee by a greater than 80-20 split in the past two such elections, a Democrat nomination means an almost certain election victory in November.
Only twice in the past three decades has the local Democratic slate faltered: in 2002 when Republican Rob Schilling won a single term and in 2017 when independent Nikuyah Walker won her single term. Walker served as mayor from 2018 until 2021.
McLaren noted that the paperwork from the five candidates who have filed must be verified.
“Who will be on the ballot will not be certain until next Tuesday,” said McLaren. “It will take a few days for all those signatures to be verified.”
No Republicans filed paperwork by the primary deadline at 5 p.m. on Thursday, according to Charlottesville’s registrar, Taylor Yowell.
Yowell said that independent candidates can wait until June 20 to submit an application for listing as a City Council candidate on the Nov. 7 and early election ballots.