David Swanson: Slim pickings for Charlottesville City Council

By David Swanson

david swansonThus far I’m underwhelmed by the candidates seeking to join Charlottesville’s City Council this year, as well as, of course, by the current members. In the wake of the fascist rallies, the electoral system does not seem to be responding particularly well.

I don’t go in for the usual moronic popularity contest wherein we’re supposed to figure out which candidate we’d most like to be friends with. Instead, I try to approximate direct democracy by figuring out which candidate will do the things I would do if I were in their position and engaged with every issue they will have the chance to deal with.

This idiosyncratic approach requires a bit of guesswork or a great deal of education. That is to say, I either have to take the time to determine the best position on every issue, including things I know next-to-nothing about. Or I have to give some extra weight to the few issues I know something about, find out the candidates’ plans on those matters, and extrapolate from there.

With U.S. presidents this is easy. They put up websites laying out lots of positions, some of which I know a lot about. And those positions are so hideous I could never vote for them (not the candidates most people have heard of anyway).

With Congressional candidates it’s a little trickier, because, even though they spend on foreign policy over half of the money that they choose to spend, their websites usually discuss only domestic policies, as if wars, peace, sanctions, treaties, diplomacy, and all questions international just don’t exist.

With Charlottesville City Council, it’s often possible to actually ask the candidates what they plan to do about particular things, so that even if their websites leave you scratching your head, you can find out some kind of position. Having asked each of them a few questions, here’s my run down. I cannot, on this basis tell you whom to vote for. I’m not sure I’ll bother voting.

Nikuyah Walker has the most substantive, informative website. That’s saying very little. Her positions are vague and general. But they are good ones. She favors an (unspecified) living wage. She favors hiring people who’ve been through the “justice” system. She favors better environmental policies of some kind. She wants to create affordable housing (somehow) and stop catering to the very wealthy (somehow). Under the heading of “Transparency,” she says that she wants to create citizen groups to oversee the effectiveness of city agencies. That sounds encouraging and democratic. More discouraging is that Walker was the hardest person to get any answers to my questions from. I sent her the same three questions I sent the other candidates. I emailed her repeatedly over five days. On the sixth day I asked if she could respond that day, and she finally replied, but only to say that no, she wouldn’t have time. Yet she might have given something of an answer in no more seconds than it took her to reply that she wouldn’t. This doesn’t strike me as the absolute apex of transparency.

Amy Laufer has the second most useful website. On it she proposes some actual concrete things, including free tuition for college: “If a student graduates from CHS with a GPA of 2.5 or better, and the student’s family resides in the city and earns the local median income ($63,000/year) or less, the city will pay the graduating student’s tuition to attend a certificate program or an associate degree program at Piedmont Virginia Community College.” On the environment, she wants to ban plastic bags, but only from city events. On affordable housing, Laufer is more vague. She did, however, reply to my questions.

Kenneth Wayne Jackson tells us very little on his website about what he would do if elected. But he did reply to my questions.

Heather Hill also tells us next to nothing about what exactly she would do — but she tells us next to nothing at much greater length. She did, however, reply to my questions.

John Edward Hall and Paul Long seem to be candidates without websites, and therefore without obvious means of contacting them. If someone would please point me toward their websites and/or email addresses I’d be most grateful.


Banning Weapons for Rallies in Charlottesville

The first question I asked was whether the candidates would support banning weapons for rallies in Charlottesville. Here’s an expert legal opinion that doing so (as is often done all over the U.S.) is legal. Not only does this seem obvious, but it was published prominently in the only daily newspaper in Charlottesville. The same paper has reported on Richmond, Virginia, actually doing this. Meanwhile, the current City Council apparently wants to ban rallies rather than weapons — an idea that is not just dumb but also a clear violation of the First Amendment, unless the idea is to ban rallies by those threatening violence, in which case wouldn’t you also ban weapons at rallies to cover those cases in which groups do not make open threats?

Amy Laufer replied: “I have heard that there are ways to do this with the permitting process and I would be interested in pursuing such angles. I believe what we witnessed on 8/12 showed an extreme example of open carry and it was frightening and not something we would want to see again in our streets. I would like to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Kenneth Wayne Jackson replied: “There are laws on the books which allows government to not allow weapons on local, state or federal areas; the city well aware of this chose not to enforce this, even when they knew weapons were going to be at these rallies. I would have used this law.”

Heather Hill replied: “I would absolutely support pursuing legislation or local ordinances to ban weapons for rallies in Charlottesville. I have also been interested to learn more about the efforts underway through a lawsuit seeking the court to order groups operating like private militias or military organizations not to return to Charlottesville or anywhere else in Virginia and engage in paramilitary activity.”

I rate the first two answers a bit higher than the third, as they propose using existing law responsibly, while the latter implies the need for new legislation before anything can be done and points to a court case that others are pursuing, and without suggesting that the city support the court case.

The second question I asked seemed to me like an extremely easy one. Boy was I wrong. I asked the candidates if they would support creating a peace monument to balance Charlottesville’s numerous war monuments.

Amy Laufer replied: “I would be interested in pursuing other monument ideas. We know that most/if not all history is written by and about white men and this leaves most of us feeling left out and we know that is not the full picture of our history and it is not a balanced view of history. Several community members have already suggested ways to include a broader view of people and topics of our history and I think we should investigate them.”

She changed the topic from war to racism and then didn’t even commit to anything on the topic she chose. All she had to say was Yes, a monument to peace would be acceptable to me. She couldn’t do it. What do people have against peace?

Kenneth Wayne Jackson replied: “I would have been more in favor of contextualizing the memorials we have now, with those who brought peace, ending these war; however this would be a joint private public funded endeavor.”

He didn’t answer the question either, and even came out against taking down the Lee and Jackson statues, and then went out of his way to say anything he did would be partially privatized, which is how we got the Lee and Jackson statues in the first place. I’d give that answer an F.

Heather Hill replied: “I also would support efforts to create monuments or incorporate other forms of art that express peace in unity in our community.”

Hill is by far the slickest adherent to Democratic Party liberalism. She changes peace, meaning the elimination of war, to peace, meaning unity in our community. And then she supports what she’s changed the subject to. Again, I have to ask, what do these people have against the absence of war? What is it about war that they cannot bring themselves to oppose?

Remember that Nikuyah Walker couldn’t manage even a one-word answer.

The third and last question I asked the candidates was whether they would support providing better internet on the Downtown Mall. The internet provider Ting has long said that the problem is that the city has very outdated equipment from Ting that Ting would like to update. The city has long told me they were looking into it. Meanwhile the public Downtown Mall internet continues to be lousy and unreliable. I don’t even attempt to use it anymore, getting my computer online through my phone instead. I just wanted to hear how the candidates would answer that kind of question — obviously not the most important matter they will face.

Amy Laufer replied: “I know that we installed free wifi several years ago and maybe it is time to update our system. We have grown by approximately 3000 people in the last three years. I am sure many people are accessing the service and this may be making it slow or unusable at peak times. I would be interested in seeking more information to come up with a good solution.”

Kenneth Wayne Jackson replied: “As for cell service; the whole city needs better and more reliable service; as it is intermittent, and faulty throughout the city. When asked to place a cell tower in UVa area to accommodate the increase from student population, our city said no..this was a mistake, as it is something we greatly needed.”

Heather Hill replied: “[A]s a regular user of internet on the Downtown Mall, I recognize this is an important amenity that is currently not meeting the expectations of its users. I am not certain who the current service provider is or if hardware is the limiting factor, but would support improving access and speed to public users along the Downtown Mall.”

Obviously I rank the first and last answers higher, as the second one chose a different subject that I hadn’t asked about.

Who would you vote for and why? I’d be interested to know.

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