First debate between democratic candidates for city council held

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- On Wednesday evening, the three democratic candidates for Charlottesville City Council met at city hall for a debate over local issues.

Amy Laufer, Heather Hill, and incumbent Bob Fenwick talked about a variety of topics, including the current state of the city budget, and the parking discrepancies in town.

One of the major topics on the night was low-income housing and housing prices. All three said they would want to see changes in their own way.

"Housing I think is a stretch both for the lower-income residents and the working class. I think that we need to focus on how we subsidize or support existing housing structures so we can leverage those properties in a way that they can be used by the people who need them most," said Hill, who currently serves as the President of the North Downtown Residents Association.

Laufer says housing issues can be fixed with a couple of legislation changes.

"I think if anyone is issued a special use permit, they should actually have to build an affordable unit. I also believe, in lieu of building those units, no body should receive a cash compensation. We really have to start building housing, instead of taking the cash," said Laufer, a current member of the Charlottesville City School Board.

Fenwick says a major problem is that people focus on building new structures too much.

"Our city has a history of redoing the buildings that are already there. Monticello is a great example. There's a lot of things we can do around town to refurbish and renovate," said Fenwick, a current city council member.

All three candidates were also asked about their thoughts on the way current councilors handled the Robert E Lee statue debate, and whether or not they made the right decision in attempting a sale.

Hill says that the city has a long way to go before anything will actually get done with the statue.

"There are limitations within what we can do in the city, and what we can do with the statues. I'm really focused on dedicating our resources, both human and financial, to the things that matter most," she said.

Laufer says she agrees with a lot of what council did, and says a lot of her decisions came after attending a celebration of the day the Union Army marched into Charlottesville. She also says she would want to see more information about the issue before fully making a decision.

"I do agree with the recontextualization of the park. I did go to the freedom march on March 3, and it was really eye-opening. I think you truly can see how it was done from the prospective of white males. On the decision to move the statue, I think more homework would be needed to be done," she said.

Fenwick was the only person at the debate to be on council during the vote on the statue. Fenwick was the deciding vote in a 2-2 draw, and says that he knew what would happen if he voted for the removal of the statue. He says that's what led him to look for additional issues to be addressed in the decision.

"That's one reason I insisted on getting a solid sort-of a trade from my vote on the statue. The Tonsler Park field house, preserving the Jefferson Center, and having more community centers open," he said.

The next debate between these three candidates will take place on June 9 at The Haven. The debate will start at 6 p.m.

The three independent candidates for city council will also have a debate later this month at the Haven. That debate will take place on May 17 at 6 p.m.

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