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Local criminal defense attorney formally announces Democratic candidacy for City Council

Lloyd Snook says he wants to focus on affordable urban development, government accountability

<p>Local criminal defense attorney Lloyd Snook (right) receives a check from Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) during Snook's City Council campaign launch at Bashir's Taverna Tuesday.&nbsp;</p>

Local criminal defense attorney Lloyd Snook (right) receives a check from Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) during Snook's City Council campaign launch at Bashir's Taverna Tuesday. 

Lloyd Snook, a local criminal defense attorney and longtime Charlottesville resident, formally announced his candidacy as a Democrat for the Charlottesville Council Tuesday during a camping launch event at Bashir’s Taverna. 

In addition to Snook, three other individuals have already formally declared their candidacies as Democratic contenders for the Charlottesville City Council — local activist and community organizer Michael Payne, Region Ten board member Sena Magill and Brian Pinkston, a project manager at the University. Local design engineer John Edward Hall has announced his plans to run for a seat on the Council as an independent candidate. Paul Long also announced his candidacy Monday as an independent candidate, focusing on the issues of public transportation and local government accountability.

Snook has spent much of his life residing in Charlottesville, having graduated from the City’s Lane High School in 1970. He graduated from Stanford University in 1974 with a degree in economics and earned his law degree with honors from the University of Michigan in 1979. That same year, Snook began practicing law in Charlottesville and has done so ever since. 

He served on the City’s planning commission — as both a member and later chair — from 1981 to 1989. He also served on the board of the Piedmont Housing Alliance between 2005 and 2017. Snook said Tuesday that his wife, Sheila Haughey, recently resigned her position as a substitute judge for over two decades to help with his campaign. 

Snook said his campaign platform can be defined with three main points — increasing the functionality of Charlottesville’s government, reducing incarceration rates and addressing issues such as affordable housing, gentrification and transportation improvements. He added that he chose to run for a seat on Council to increase morale within City Hall and improve relations among all employees of the City. 

“There are things going on in the City right now that I want to be a part of helping to fix,” Snook said. “That starts with dysfunction at the top —  it’s not just City Council, and it’s not just the last year or two.” 

In particular, Snook said he was concerned by his observation that Charlottesville police officers feel unappreciated and unsupported by the local community and the City Council. As a criminal defense lawyer for 39 years, Snook said 97 percent of the cases he has handled have involved officers who were exhibiting good police work, adding that any instances of malfeasance were dealt with accordingly. 

Since the white supremacist demonstrations of the summer of 2017 in Charlottesville — culminating in the deadly Unite the Right rally of Aug. 12 —  relations between the local community and police officers have been increasingly strained due to the failure of law enforcement personnel to prevent violent clashes between demonstrators and counter protesters. 

Data released by the Charlottesville Police Department has also revealed that African Americans are significantly more likely to be subject to stop-and-frisk searches than white individuals in the City. 

As a result, City Council established an initial police civilian review board June 2018 with the goal of increasing law enforcement accountability and transparency in Charlottesville. However, Snook said he is worried that an increasingly negative climate for local law enforcement personnel could be damaging for police officers who exhibit proper conduct. 

“I know the police officers are very concerned right now — not just about the pay, though that’s part of the problem,” Snook said. “They are also concerned that they don't feel like they're getting support, and I want to be a part of not only remedying some of the problems in the police department, but also supporting the good police officers and giving everybody the sense that we value them as city employees.” 

However, Snook said the events of August 2017 have provided an opportunity for the Charlottesville community to reckon with its historically flawed approach to race relations, citing research from Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor of religious studies at the University and  local activist. 

“The ways in which our city and our country as a whole have dealt with racial issues needs to change, and it needs to change frankly more from the white side of things than the black side of things,” Snook said. “There’s a level of well-placed, deserved anger that we as white folks tend to not acknowledge, and we need to figure out a way to acknowledge that in a productive manner and to help everybody move forward.”

During the local political fallout in the months following the Unite the Right rally, activists began employing unconventional strategies of engagement — such as frequent interruption of speakers, shouting at councilors and speaking out of turn — at Council meetings to denounce the City’s flawed response to the demonstrations. 

Many speakers also advocated for a wide variety of issues relating to racial equality, including affordable housing, criminal justice reform and law enforcement accountability. At a meeting of the Council only days after the rally, activists halted the Council’s regular proceedings to allow for an all-night public hearing to take place.  

Snook emphasized that while he aims to mitigate dysfunction and conflict at City Hall if he were elected to the Council, he does not oppose some of the unorthodox tactics used by activists at Council meetings since the Unite the Right rally. 

“These are people that have been unheard for a very long time, and I'm okay with them being heard in ways that we may not think are conventionally the way people should be talking,” Snook said. 

Sena Magill, a Democratic candidate for City Council who announced her bid for election at a launch event Jan. 9, has also shown sympathy for the emotionally-charged climate at Council meetings in recent years. 

“Anger is not always a bad thing, anger can initiate great change,” Magill said at her campaign launch. “But we do have to be careful that our anger doesn't become revenge.” 

On the issues of affordable housing and rapid urban development in Charlottesville, Snook said there needs to be a fundamental transformation in the way city residents think about future development to allow for more affordable living conditions. Snook’s Democratic competitors have also prioritized the issues of affordable housing and development as central components of their platforms. 

“We [in Charlottesville] have thought of ourselves as a 20th century town when we’re a 21st century city with 21st century problems,” Snook said. “Problems like affordable housing, problems like gentrification, problems like transportation planning — that all require to a certain extent hitting a reset button and thinking about things differently.” 

A housing needs assessment commissioned by the City in early 2017 detailing the scope of housing needs in the city found that 1,750 households spend more than half of their income on housing. The report also concluded that the City will require more than 4,000 affordable units in the coming decades. 

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Snook said the University needed to play a greater role in the area’s affordable housing crisis by increasing on-Grounds housing options for students. 

“I’ve been fussing at the University for 35 years since I was on the planning commission trying to get [the administration] to take responsibility for housing more students on Grounds,” Snook said. “Basically they don't want to take the economic risk, [but] that has to be part of the solution, and I hope that they will come to understand not just because we want you to be nice, but because it is in fact good for the University to house more students on Grounds.” 

However, University President Jim Ryan has established a community working group with the aim of improving the relationship between the University and the local community. The group recently identified affordable housing as one of several issues which the University seeks to address in the near-future. The Board of Visitors also moved forward with plans last month for ongoing construction of new student housing on Brandon Avenue that is expected to provide nearly 1,000 new beds, many of which should ready for occupancy by this fall. 

During his campaign announcement Tuesday, Snook earned the praise of Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) who handed Snook a check for an unspecified amount of money, saying it was the first financial contribution to Snook’s campaign. Toscano said he and Snook were rivals in 1990 when they both ran in the Democratic primary for seats on the Charlottesville City Council, but added that Snook made the first financial contribution to his campaign after learning he had lost the primary election. Toscano went on to hold a seat on the Council from 1990 to 2002, serving as mayor between 1994 and 1996. 

“At the end of the process, which was a very emotional process, Lloyd … did something really classy at the time — which is consistent with all the things I know about Lloyd and have known about him over the years and all the reason he’d make a great city councilor,” Toscano said. “He's got wonderful values and terrific judgment.” 

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Snook has established a campaign committee but has yet to file any reports with the State Board of Elections. 

Three seats on the City Council are up for grabs in 2019 — those currently held by Democratic councilors Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer and Wes Bellamy. Galvin, owner of Galvin Architects since 1993, was first elected to the Council in 2011. Signer, a local attorney, has held a seat on the Council since 2016 and served as mayor until 2018. Bellamy, a local educator and community organizer, was first elected to the Council in 2015 and served as vice mayor until January 2018. 

Galvin, Bellamy and Signer have yet to publicly announce if they will seek reelection to the Council this November. If one or more of the current councilors do decide to run for reelection as Democratic candidates, they would have to first face off against the already-declared candidates during the June 11 Democratic primary in which the top three candidates will proceed to the general election ballot. 

The most recent City Council elections took place in November 2017 in which Nikuyah Walker — the first African-American woman to be elected mayor by the Council and the first independent councilor since the 1940s — and Democrat Heather Hill won the most and second most votes, respectively. Walker and Hill filled the seats of former Democratic Councilors Bob Fenwick and Kristin Szakos.