Sunday, June 03, 2007

Democrats nominate Huja, Edwards, Brown: challengers Seaman, McKeever to remain active

Charlottesville, Va.- Saturday afternoon three hundred residents determined the Nov. 6 election. The convention turnout of 431 registered (426 cast a ballot) favored the status quo symbolized by 30-year city planner Satyendra Huja, an urban renewal expert with a 1968 Masters Degree in Urban Planning from Michigan State University.

The attendees comprised mainly those with a financial interest, such as city employees and non-profits to whom Council allocates funding, and long-time city officials, former councilors and mayors, whose legacy is tied to Huja’s implementation of their vision.

Unable to list a single accomplishment in his nomination speech because it would stand in contrast to the negative achievements not mentioned, Huja skipped over the main plank of his political platform—Experience. He wants to focus on the future and not “dwell on the past.” His support was strongest with 304 votes.

Huja was nominated by former mayor Maurice Cox. Cox emphasized the theme of turning Huja’s “crazy ideas” into a positive. Cox said Huja’s racial status as a Sikh-Indian would bring more “diversity.” They met in 1996 when Cox was a freshman city councilor. Huja could see that Cox was not being effective so Huja offered this advice.

Three Rules for Success

(1) Think outside the box. Focus on the long-term, which is the only thing remembered in the end.
(2) Don’t be afraid to be controversial.
(3) Learn to count. You need 3 votes on the 5-member Council to get anything done.

Of course, the third rule made no sense because Huja’s best-known accomplishment, the downtown pedestrian mall, was passed with only 2 votes in Feb. 1974. Cox even cited the mall as one of Huja’s accomplishments, including the Rivanna Trails Greenbelt encircling the city and historic designation of all of downtown. He said Huja is the one most likely to solve the affordable housing problem.

Huja’s nomination was seconded by Ann Hemingway. She claimed Huja was instrumental in saving historic buildings, including the Levy Opera House, McGuffey School, Court Square, University Corner, and Starr Hill. Huja has listed cultural and historic preservation as part of his record, but has yet to share any history he has preserved.

Jennifer McKeever received the least votes at 149. She was the only candidate who strongly condemned the city’s 50+ years of urban renewal. She named Vinegar Hill as an example and said we “must make sure it does not happen again.” The exhortation received thunderous applause, but not as much as the status quo candidates received.

Huja has claimed innocence on urban renewal because Vinegar Hill was before he came here. Huja admits no role as city planner in the redevelopment of Vinegar Hill during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s or other urban renewal projects during his tenure.

To make it clear that her admonition is not exclusive to Vinegar Hill, McKeever rejected the practice where “housing that’s affordable is torn down and replaced with housing that’s more expensive. “ On Apr. 3 she criticized this publicly funded practice of the Piedmont Housing Alliance in the 10th and Page section of town.

Ironically Councilor Kevin Lynch, a supporter of unlimited eminent domain who is not running for a third term, nominated McKeever. He described her as a social liberal / fiscal conservative, a lawyer who follows the details, someone with an “engaging leadership style.” Richard Johnson seconded the nomination.

Incumbent mayor David Brown was nominated by former mayor Bitsy Waters and Planning Commissioner Craig Barton. Brown came in third place with 261 votes.

Brown said, under his leadership and for the first time in history, the Council is now providing a direct funding stream to its urban renewal agency, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

He listed other accomplishments. Starting Council meetings earlier at 7pm instead of 7:30 and ending the meetings by 10 or 10:30 so the news can make the morning paper. Council meetings are now podcast (a feature that does not function). Meetings are now more respectful and civil, or more “boring” as former councilor Blake Caravati has described the improvement. Brown also signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and wants the city to be more “walkable, bikable, bussable.”

Linda Seaman was nominated by Susan McGuiness, a local mortgage broker since 1975. The nomination was seconded by Mitch Van Yahres, city councilor 1968-1976, mayor 1970-1972, and Delegate 1981-2005.

Van Yahres described himself as a “future / past has been” who is “learning to live with that.” He thanked the party activists for showing up in large numbers and presenting a united front.

Seaman was the only candidate with signs outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center at Charlottesville High School. She came in fourth place with 188 votes. She stressed a theme of working together as one community and announced that a new park may be opening on the growing south side of the city, but she didn’t specify.

Finally, Holly Edwards, who came in second with 279 votes, was nominated by Leah Puryear. Puryear was elected to the school board last year. She transformed Edwards first name into an acronym.

H hard worker
O organizer
L leader
L lady who labors long and hard
Y yes

Holly Hatcher seconded the nomination. Hatcher moved here in 2001 to be a community organizer for the Public Housing Association of Residents and to maintain the status quo.

Edwards described a labyrinth of issues, tangled webs, layer upon layer, unanswered questions and questions we haven’t thought of yet. She related an Ethiopian proverb: When webs unite, they can tie up a lion. But it was unclear who was the lion in this analogy—the people or the government.

John Conover acted as convention chairman. David RePass was elected to count the ballots. Each candidate had a total of 8 minutes for speeches. The order was chosen at random: Edwards, McKeever, Seaman, Huja, Brown.

There are no Republican candidates and one independent so far, Peter Kleeman who sought the Democratic nomination in 2000. June 12 is the last day to certify 125 signatures to have your name on the ballot. The remaining option for change will be a write-in.


Other perspectives:

”Brown, Edwards & Huja nominated for Council”, Charlottesville Tomorrow Photo, podcast, breakdown by precinct

”Charlottesville Dems choose Council candidates”, Democratic Central

“Democrats choose three for Council”, The Daily Progress