Kristin Szakos discusses life after city council

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- At Tuesday's meeting, long-time Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos said she will not seek re-election, effectively ending her time on city council at the end of 2017.

Szakos said that she has enjoyed her time on council.

"It is an honor to be on council, and will continue to serve on council this year," she said.

She says she is most proud of her work on public engagement in Charlottesville.

"The Town Hall meetings were something I brought to council, the youth council is something I helped get going, and the Human Rights Commission as a way to help people feel heard," she said.

Szakos said that her background in journalism made her work harder on engaging the community.

"As a former journalist, I believe that citizen engagement and citizen knowledge is what strengthens a democracy," she said.

Szakos got her start in politics when she helped run the Charlottesville campaign for former President Barack Obama during his first campaign for the White House. She said that her time in politics taught her the need for community engagement.

"I think any five councilors aren't going to have every prospective, so I need to listen to people who are younger or older and may have issues with the way we do things," she said.

Many major projects have come before the city council during her tenure, including some that passed and some that failed.

"I am very happy with the infrastructure changes we made, the 50 year water supply at Ragged Mountain, and sidewalk infrastructure," she said.

A project that has lasted as long as her time on council is the Landmark Hotel, an issue Szakos says still needs to be addressed.

"The Landmark Hotel is to me not an important issue facing the city. It's important if you are a Downtown business owner, and it's been there an embarrassingly long time, but it's on private property so we can't make the owner do anything, but that is something that needs to play out," she said.

In the past year, the biggest issue to face the council is what should or shouldn't be done with the Confederate statues in town. The issue resulted in a third party study done by a Blue Ribbon Commission.

The commission recommended that council remove two statues from their current parks, but on Tuesday, the motion was denied due to a tied vote. Councilor Bob Fenwick abstained from the vote, which is why there was a tie.

Szakos says she has been vocal about her issue with Confederate statues for years, and she hopes something can be done about them in the future.

"I grew up in Mississippi, my parents were civil rights activists, and I saw a lot of people damaged by racial discord there. Knowing that those statues were part of a movement that really was about racial discord, I find them really jarring," she said.

She said she particularly has a problem with Robert E. Lee.

"He was the head of the army that fought for slavery. That would have kept half of my cities population enslaved at the time," she said.

Szakos says that she has no idea who would run to fill her seat, but she says that she hopes it's someone willing to listen to the people.

"I think Democracy proceeds no matter what. I think we see that as this interview is being recorded. I am hopeful that the voters will vote for the person who provides them with continuous leadership," she said.

Szakos has approximately 20 more city council meetings left.

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