Seven years ago this month, I launched my first campaign for Charlottesville City Council. I had never run for anything in my life, not even 4th grade class treasurer, and the conventional wisdom back in January 2006 was that it was not "my time." One week before Election Day, a noted political observer went on WINA radio and predicted that I would come in third place in the race for two Council seats. Instead I won the most votes on Election Day. (I think a lot of people are still in shock about that.) Two years later, in January of 2008, I was selected by my colleagues as Mayor and went on to serve two terms in that role. Serving as Mayor of Charlottesville for four years was a tremendous honor and an experience I'll always treasure. In 2009 I was re-elected to Council and in that campaign I was proud to receive the endorsement and support of a broad coalition of Democrats, Independents and Republicans.
Here we are in January 2013 and campaign season is upon us again. We have two Council seats up for election this year, the ones currently held by myself and Kristin Szakos. I have been urged by many people to run for a third term on Council and I deeply appreciate their encouragement. But for me, eight years is enough. It's time for some new blood on City Council and I am thereby announcing today that I will not be a candidate in the upcoming Council election. I look forward to completing my term this year and then turning my attention to pursuits of a less political nature.
I am very pleased with what I've been able to accomplish during my tenure on Charlottesville City Council, working with my fellow Councilors, City staff, community leaders, businesspeople and everyday citizens. It's certainly been a bumpy ride at times and my arguments haven't always prevailed, but I'm glad I set out on this adventure seven years ago.
I've been involved in many issues and projects over my time on Council, but am particularly proud of having played a key role on five specific fronts:
1. Establishing a dedicated affordable housing fund in the City budget and creating stronger incentives for development of affordable housing, which has allowed us to build, renovate or preserve hundreds of units of housing for local working families, the elderly and disabled, the chronically homeless, etc.
2. Promoting environmental stewardship through clean energy, alternative transportation, greenspace acquisition, tree-planting, recycling, historic preservation, smart growth and various other "Green City" initiatives
3. Creating or strengthening enrichment opportunities for our youth, including a tenfold expansion of our summer jobs program for City teens and new investments in early childhood education, after-school programming and dropout prevention in our schools
4. Devoting more attention and resources to issues of poverty and race in Charlottesville, including efforts to grow and attract more living-wage jobs, promote resident empowerment and workforce development, root out systemic and institutional discrimination in our community, facilitate inter-cultural exchanges with our new Sister City in West Africa, etc.
5. Ensuring sound management of the City's fiscal resources, to where we have weathered the biggest economic downtown since the Great Depression without having to raise taxes or slash basic services, all the while maintaining our AAA bond rating, expanding tax relief for moderate-income homeowners, and making significant strategic investments in our future (including all of the above-mentioned measures as well as improvements to our Downtown Mall infrastructure, park upgrades, transit and bicycle improvements, new recreation facilities, new sidewalks and trails, sewer and stormwater improvements, etc.).
In conclusion, I want to thank the people of Charlottesville for the trust they've shown in me and the gracious support they've given me over the years, even though they may not have agreed with every vote I made or position I took. Over the remaining months of my term in office, I will continue to be a voice for constructive change on Council, mindful of our obligation to our taxpayers while we seek to realize our high ambitions as a City and safeguard the liberties of our residents. I do not expect to play an active role in the upcoming Council election and am rather looking forward to stepping back from partisan activities and affiliations. In our country today we suffer from a surplus of partisanship and a deficit of solutions; that needs to change. I encourage the voters to research the positions of all the candidates in this year's Council election and choose the two, regardless of party affiliation, that you feel will best advocate for solutions that will help Charlottesville fulfill its vision as a "great place to live for all of our citizens" - "a leader in innovation, environmental sustainability, social and economic justice and healthy race relations" - "the cultural and creative capital of Central Virginia." These are lofty goals and I am convinced we have the capacity to achieve them, but only if we are willing to work across lines of party, ideology, race, class, faith, etc. to do so.
I will close with one of my favorite quotes from one of my political heroes, the late Senator Paul Wellstone: "Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people's lives. It's about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people."
Well-said Senator, and I agree.