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Charlottesville City Council hears from six finalists vying for vacant seat

Selection to be announced Tuesday

The Council will vote on candidates to fill the vacant seat on February 21.
The Council will vote on candidates to fill the vacant seat on February 21.

Charlottesville City Council will select a candidate Tuesday to fill a vacant seat after previous Council member Sena Magill resigned. Six candidates — Alex Bryant, Kathy Galvin, Kristin Szakos, Natalie Oschrin, Lisa Larson-Torres and Leah Puryear — gave speeches during the City Council meeting last week about their goals for the City. 

Common themes across the candidates’ speeches includes the importance of affordable housing, school zone safety and community engagement with the City Council, all of which have been issues discussed in previous Council meetings. 

Alex Bryant, director of programs at First Chesapeake and Class of 2015 alumnus, is running for the position with the goal of improving diversity in Charlottesville. With a background in ethnomusicology and experience running the Harvest Fest Festival at Monticello, Bryant said he would focus on the City’s complicated history of enslavement.

“Our city is in a moment of transition,” Bryant said. “We have the opportunity to dismantle the harmful legacy of systemic injustices and build an equitable and thriving town. But we need strong and effective leaders to make this happen.”

Kathy Galvin, former University Architecture faculty member and Class of 1986 Architecture alumnus, has been a Charlottesville resident for 40 years. Galvin served on Charlottesville City Council from 2012-2020, as well as the Charlottesville City School Board from 2008-2012. 

Galvin has a background in architecture and currently works as a design principal at the Renaissance Planning Group, a planning, design, and policy development consulting firm. She said she will bring this unique background to her work on Council with the goal of improving housing.

“Adopting a new zoning ordinance is an exciting but daunting task, because the public framing to date has been largely reduced to one word — density. We can't assume that simply increasing housing density is the end all be all,” Galvin said.

Candidate Kristin Szakos has a history of experience on Council, working as a member from 2010 through 2017. Szakos also served as vice mayor to Charlottesville in 2012 and 2013, and said her previous experience working with the city would make her an asset on the council.

“As a former Council member, I am familiar with many of the processes and protocols required, and have been through some of the decision-making processes before, including hiring of a city manager and city attorney, updating zoning, and developing a city budget, which will be forefront in the coming year,” Szakos said.

Szakos also wrote in her application that she is most passionate about issues of social and racial justice in Charlottesville, particularly involving the housing market, and would approach every issue with a special focus on racial and social equity. 

Natalie Oschrin, former Charlottesville election officer and 2011 College alumnus, also spoke to improving housing equity in Charlottesville, as well as educational equity, efficient transportation and sustainable suburban development. 

“For all of our citizens and the quality of the environment in which they live, my mission should I be selected to serve on City Council for the rest of this term, is to champion access to work, schools, commerce and services, but also pushing for even more homes,” Oschrin said.

Most specifically, Oschrin said she would like to increase housing and reduce the need for cars in Charlottesville. 

Charlottesville School Board member Lisa Larson-Torres also emphasized her strong ties to the Charlottesville community in her application, referring to her work as a home health care and physical therapist in Charlottesville.

“With a little help from family and friends. I would describe myself as passionate, caring, thoughtful — relationship builder, empathetic, deliberate, consensus seeking and justice focused,” Larson-Torres said.

Larson-Torres is currently in her second term as a current member of the Charlottesville School Board, which she has served on for over five years. 

Charlottesville School Board Member Leah Puryear has worked as a higher education administrator for over 40 years. At the University, Puryear worked as director of the Upward Bound program — now called Uplift — where she gained experience coordinating with Council.

“I've worked with you on budgets, not only for the city schools, but also for some of the nonprofit organizations that I have worked with. I have developed relationships and these relationships will carry over. ” Puryear said. 

Council already conducted private interviews with candidates during a special Feb. 10 meeting, and will announce the results to the public Feb. 21.


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