In upset to Democratic candidates, Walker wins seat on City Council

Nikuyah Walker to be the first independent on Council in decades, Democrat Heather Hill also elected

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Independent candidate Nikuyah Walker greeting supporters at the Jefferson School on Tuesday evening. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

In an upset to the city’s Democratic Party, Nikuyah Walker led at the polls Tuesday to become Charlottesville’s first independent candidate elected to the Charlottesville City Council since the 1940s. Democratic candidate Heather Hill was also elected to a four-year term on Council.

The two open seats on City Council went to Walker and Hill, who won with 29.13 percent and 28.57 percent of the vote, respectively. Democratic candidate Amy Laufer fell just short of winning a seat on Council, trailing Hill by 55 votes. 

In total, Walker won 7,906 votes and Hill received 7,752 votes. 

Walker’s campaign was defined by the issues of affordable housing, local government transparency and addressing racial inequality in the Charlottesville community. She is currently employed by the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2004 from Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her campaign raised a total of $24,522 as of Oct. 26, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. 

“There are so many people who are brilliant and talented and they never make it because of the conditions of this city,” Walker said at her election celebration at the Jefferson School Tuesday night. 

U.Va. Students United and the Black Student Alliance had endorsed Walker’s campaign. 

Hill has served as the president of the North Downtown Resident’s Association and is a member of the Belmont Bridge Steering Committee. Hill structured her campaign around transparency and accountability in local government, economic progress and community equity, as well as safety and infrastructure. Hill’s campaign raised a total of $37,838 as of Oct. 26, according to VPAP.

“Obviously, I imagined it alongside Amy [Laufer], being part of our Democratic ticket,” Hill said at an election night watch party. “I really commend her for all of the effort she has put into this race. I learned from her, and I’m sorry not to work with her, but I am so committed.”

Laufer, who placed third, is in her second term on the Charlottesville School Board and raised a total of $33,382 as of Oct. 26. 

Other candidates in the race included independents John Edward Hall, Paul Long and Kenneth Jackson. 

The University Democrats originally endorsed Hill and Laufer for City Council. Virginia Chambers, a second-year College student and University Democrats communications coordinator, said while the organization was happy about Hill’s win, they were disappointed to hear about Laufer’s concession.

“We are excited to see that [Hill] appears to pulled out a win and we are interested to see what Charlottesville will take in its next term, what this will mean next year and down the line for how City Council interacts with the City of Charlottesville,” Chambers said.

Adam Kimelman, a third-year College student and the chair of the College Republicans, said that although the College Republicans did not specifically endorse any candidate for City Council, that it was telling that an independent candidate won over a Democrat. 

“The fact that an independent won and not a Democrat shows that people are tired of Democratic total control of City Council,” he said.

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Incumbent David Toscano (D) was also reelected to the Virginia House of Delegates to representing the 57th district of Virginia with 98 percent of the vote. Toscano ran unopposed for his seat and is currently the Minority Leader in the House.

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Erin Monaghan — Toscano’s communications director — spoke about the Delegate’s goals for the upcoming General Assembly Session.

“He definitely wants to work on … raising the minimum wage,” Monaghan said. “It is something they've [Democrats] been working on and attempted to get done at the last several sessions [as well as] working on issues of reducing the debt load students have to take on for higher education or vocational training.”

Monaghan also cited climate change and nonpartisan redistricting as major concerns of Toscano’s moving forward.

“[Working on] reducing how we are contributing to climate change and working on trying to get the House of Delegates to take a vote on nonpartisan redistricting since redistricting will be coming up in just a few more years,” Monaghan said.

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Elections for all of the city’s constitutional officers and the Charlottesville School Board were uncontested Tuesday. The constitutional officer positions include the Commissioner of Revenue, treasurer, sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Many of the candidates running for these offices were Democratic incumbents. 

Commissioner of Revenue Todd Divers, Treasurer Jason Vanderver and Sheriff James E. Brown III will each continue to hold their respective offices. 

Divers received 99 percent of the vote, Vandever received 99 percent of the vote and Brown III received 99 percent of the vote. 

Democrat Joe Platania was also elected Commonwealth’s Attorney with 98 percent of the vote.

Divers said it was important to vote for constitutional offices in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.

“I think it's important that constitutional offices be elected,” Divers said. “I think they're important checks on the other branches of local government in the same way you have checks and balances at the the state and federal level.”

Vandever also said it was important to vote, even though some elections are uncontested.

“I think this election is a very important one, even though I am running unopposed,” Vandever said. “Most of the time, people aren't aware that the treasurer is an elected position, so the election cycle provides an opportunity to speak about the office and it's role in our local government.”

Vandever emphasized that the election of constitutional offices such as treasurer is crucial to local governance.

“The treasurer’s independent status as an elected official ensures that local funds will be collected, invested, safeguarded and spent by an officer who reports directly to the people,” Vandever said. “This helps ensure that the duties of revenue collection will be performed by an elected officer who will be responsive and receptive directly to voters.”

Brown also identified a couple of key policy initiatives he is looking forward to as he continues his term as sheriff, including self-defense classes and facility renovations. 

“The Charlottesville Sheriff's Office offers basic self-defense classes and I am hoping we can begin to offer the classes to the community on a quarterly basis,” Brown said.  “We are also looking at a major courthouse renovation in 2018 for our Circuit Court which will include the Clerk's Office and Sheriff's Office.” 

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Three candidates for Charlottesville School Board were also elected Tuesday, running unopposed for three open seats on the board.

Current board chair Juandiego Wade and fellow incumbent Leah Puryear were both re-elected with 33.05 percent and 32.08 percent of the vote, respectively. First-time candidate Lisa Larson-Torres was elected to the board with 33.73 percent of the vote. 

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