Brian Pinkston hopes to rise to the top of the Democratic field in next week’s primary race for Charlottesville City Council.
The 47-year-old will compete with four others for the party’s nomination to fill three open seats in a citywide primary on Tuesday.
Pinkston has focused his campaign on bridging gaps in the community and creating compromises in the city.
On affordable housing, one of the biggest issues of the race, Pinkston said “lots of people want to live here” as the University of Virginia and the city have grown.
“I think in a lot of ways, Charlottesville is moving from a sleepy, Piedmont Central Virginia town to one that needs to modernize,” he said.
Rapid growth over the past 20 years, Pinkston said, has left the city government and infrastructure playing catch up.
He said it likely will take 10 to 15 years to effectively solve the need for more affordable housing, but the city can take measures in the short term to ease the burden.
Pinkston advocates for zoning reform to allow higher density, pushing UVa to keep second-year students on Grounds and improving the Department of Neighborhood Development Services.
“I think [these changes] would make a really significant impact on the housing market,” he said.
The city also needs to continue to invest in public housing for low-income residents through redevelopment and maintenance, Pinkston said. But that shouldn’t be the only focus, he said.
“Really, it’s housing affordability for everyone,” he said. “Many people who are professionals are struggling to pay rent.”
Another campaign issue is civilian oversight of the Charlottesville Police Department.
Pinkston is in favor of a “strong” Civilian Review Board, which he said would increase transparency, accountability and trust of the department.
He said he couldn’t provide insight on its organization because the initial CRB has floated several ideas and none has been finalized.
“I just think if we can get past some of the drama, a lot of which seems to be personal, we can find a reasonable solution,” he said.
Pinkston said that whoever is elected needs to be ready for what can be volatile council meetings and public backlash, which he says he can handle.
Regarding dysfunction on the council, whether real or perceived, Pinkston said his experience as a project manager allows him to work with people of different background to accomplish goals.
“You don’t get to sort of say, this is how it’s going to be; you have to compromise. You’re always trying to figure out tradeoffs or sensible ways to move forward,” he said.
Pinkston has met with Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who has at times been a vocal critic of sitting councilors and candidates, and said the two of them could work well together.
“It’s important to me to love my neighbor and just sort of go the extra mile trying to understand someone,” Pinkston said. “The two of us won’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. But I respect her fierceness advocating for a group of people who she feels like have been given short shrift for a long time.”
As an elected official in local government, Pinkston said councilors need to be focused on getting the city’s work completed.
“I don’t see the role of city councilor as being an activist. We should be an advocate for the things that we campaign on and for broad social justice issues and things brought up by the community. But I think we need to be careful when that turns into a cause celebre of setting an example for the whole nation.”
“Even if the goal is laudable, you have to think about what the job is. The job is providing oversight, providing governance of the city, getting the city’s business done.”
Pinkston also said it’s important to remember that although council meetings and gatherings may be filled with passionate, vocal residents, a majority of the population stays at home.
Those tense situations can sometimes sway council opinion, Pinkston said, and not always in a good way.
Pinkston highlighted a failed deal to restart construction on the Dewberry Charlottesville, formerly called the Landmark Hotel.
In 2017, city officials were poised to approve an agreement providing more than $1 million in tax breaks and guaranteeing 75 spots in the Water Street Parking Garage. It would have required investment of at least $20 million and substantial construction to be completed by fall 2020.
The framework for the deal was approved in March 2017, but nine months later, Councilors Bob Fenwick and Wes Bellamy flipped to vote against the proposal.
The vote came after a protest by the Democratic Socialists of America. Fenwick, whose term expired after the vote, also is running in the Democratic primary, as is Michael Payne, who participated in the protest.
“Most people just can’t get down there [to council meetings] or don’t want to be loud and vocal. I think keeping that in mind is really important. And that may mean in the moment you take a lot of flak,” Pinkston said. “Making that decision on the Landmark, moving forward with an imperfect deal, would have been better than what we ended up with.”
The three Democrats selected Tuesday will move on to the ballot in November. Bellamy Brown and Paul Long, who are planning to run without party affiliation, have until Tuesday to submit the required number of signatures to get on the ballot.