At 23, Yasmine Washington is the youngest candidate this year to announce a run for Charlottesville’s City Council — but that doesn’t mean she’s a political neophyte.
Washington, an Albemarle High School graduate and entrepreneur, is the third Democrat to enter the race. She joins city School Board Chairman Juandiego Wade and University of Virginia project manager Brian Pinkston in vying for the party nod.
Washington said her interest is a result of growing up in a family committed to social causes, including PACEM, a local organization that provides shelter for homeless people through area faith congregations, community groups and volunteers.
She said she honed political skills working on the successful election campaign of Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley and the recent unsuccessful effort by Cameron Webb to win the U.S. House of Representatives 5th District seat.
“I was working for Cameron Webb in the community and I realized there was not much direct involvement in politics, especially among the younger residents,” Washington said. “I felt a lot of folks were like, ‘we vote, but we’re not involved.’ There needs to be more involvement, especially by younger people.”
That idea suited Washington well.
“I wanted to go beyond organizing,” she said. “I wanted to be more active in making decisions, setting policies and making sure our money is being properly spent. I wanted to help look out for the people and for the city, and this is the best way to do that.”
Washington has worked with PACEM and other organizations and founded Rocket Science Integrated, which uses art in marketing, communications and public relations.
Her decision to run comes when the city is facing several serious situations, including pandemic-related setbacks, a series of city managers in the past four years, personal clashes on the council and several large capital spending projects that are hanging in limbo.
She said those issues need to be addressed.
“I think it’s important for the people on council to be able to put personal feelings aside and focus on the community and the city to be effective,” she said. “It’s local government’s job to reinforce a sense of security and structure in efforts to make Charlottesville safe and sustainable.”
Personality clashes don’t inspire a sense of stability, she said.
“If our local government isn’t working together and they can’t function, how can we actually get important things accomplished?” Washington said. “When you see that happening, it doesn’t promote a sense of security; it makes the local government seem questionable, and it’s not reassuring.”
Washington says it’s important to set clear financial goals and not promote big projects to the community that later are put on hold for lack of funding.
“When projects are introduced, we need to make sure there’s enough funding to support them so we’re not getting people excited and fired up only to wind up with nothing going on. That doesn’t build confidence and it doesn’t build support,” she said.
Washington said she supports equitable education efforts, environmental sustainability and focusing on criminal justice reform at the local level.
“I want the council to provide support for the Police Civilian Review Board, making sure they have what they need to hold law enforcement accountable,” she said, adding that the board provides citizens a way to pass on concerns about police actions without calling the police.
“I think that would help law enforcement do its job better by having this board doing its job because they would know what is expected,” Washington said. “It’s also comforting for the community to know they have somewhere to go with their issues about law enforcement where there are civilians who are listening.”
Washington said the city’s issues are reasons to get involved.
“Most of the response to my decision to run has been supportive, although one or two people said, ‘are you sure want to do this right now?’” Washington laughed. “I think it’s important. Now is an important time. I created my company, Rocket Science Integrated, to be about bringing people together to work for a common purpose. That’s what we need to do in the city.”
Washington will face fellow Democrats in a June 8 primary to choose nominees for two councilor slots that are up for grabs. The four-year terms of Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill end this year.
Walker, an independent, has announced she will seek re-election. Hill, a Democrat, has not yet made her intentions known.
No Republicans or independents have announced they’re running for the council.
The general election will be held Nov. 2.