Monday, October 5, 2009

The Szakos family
my mom, Judith Layng, daughter Anna, 20, me,
husband Joe, and daughter Maria, 18

Szakos endorsed by Virginia NOW PAC

Virginia NOW PAC, sponsored by the National Organization for Women, has endorsed our City Council candidate Kristin Szakos.

"It's a pleasure to inform you that the Virginia NOW PAC has endorsed your candidacy, with high praise for the responses to our questionnaire," Wednesday's announcement said. The questionnaire asked candidates how they would support policies that benefit equality and welfare of women in Virginia.

The NOW PAC generally endorses candidates for state-level office. "I'm delighted to have their support," Szakos said. "The decades of work by the National Organization for Women have helped to make it possible for me to run for office. My mother became a member in the first years of NOW, in the mid-60s, and my own ideas about what is possible for women was shaped in large part by her participation in that organization."

Virginia ranks 41st in the nation for women in elected office. If Szakos wins a seat on the Charlottesville City Council, it will be one of the few times the Council has had more than one woman at a time. (Councilor Holly Edwards is in the middle of her four-year term.)

Kristin has committed to accepting no funding from organizational PACs, so the endorsement carries no financial award, but local NOW president Kobby Hoffman said the organization will "inform our members of our endorsements and urge them to volunteer and contribute."

To contribute to Kristin's campaign fund in honor of the NOW PAC endorsement, send a check to Kristin for Council/City Dems '09, P.O. Box 916, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sierra Club Questionnaire Response

I recently completed a questionnaire for the Piedmont Sierra Club, and thought I'd share it here as well.

Survey of Candidates for Charlottesville City Council

1. What is your position on the preservation of McIntire Park in its entirety?
a. Do you support construction of the parkway in McIntire Park?

I believe the Meadow Creek Parkway was ill-conceived and should never have been approved in its current design. Had I been on the Council at any time in the past 40 years, I would have voted against running the Parkway through McIntire Park, and would have insisted on a bypass for Route 29 and a connector to Route 20 and 64 as a prerequisite for any north-south cut-through. However, I was not on Council when these issues were voted on, and a majority of councilors throughout this period have repeatedly voted to approve the project, resulting in the current design. I plan to work hard during my term on Council to mitigate the effects of the road both on McIntire Park and on the neighborhoods downstream from it, both through an ongoing commitment to preservation and expansion of park space in the city and through reducing traffic with safe and efficient alternatives to single-car use. I will continue to push for a 29 bypass and/or connector to Route 64 to reduce the traffic load on the urban 29/250 corridors.

b. What is your position on the proposed YMCA in McIntire Park?

I fully support the placement of the YMCA in McIntire Park. I believe this is exactly the kind of facility that belongs in a public park, and am delighted that we have reached a cooperative agreement with the Y to provide positive, healthy, constructive activities for our community’s young people. As I’ve listened to people in Charlottesville’s neighborhoods, a common theme has been the need for recreational activities for the older youth. The YMCA’s location within walking distance of the high school will make these activities accessible to the very population that needs them most.
On a philosophical level, I believe that urban parks like McIntire should serve the community. Unlike rural wilderness areas, whose value lies in their remaining in a purely natural state, urban parks are meant to be used for recreation and leisure activities while providing access to green space. If that use involves the construction of a building that furthers these same purposes, I believe that is well within their mission. Community recreation centers at Tonsler and Washington parks show the value of this model. At McIntire Park, the golf course has a far more “un-natural” impact on the environment than will the new YMCA.

2. What would you do to encourage alternative transportation and to improve pedestrian and bicycling safety?

Buses: The current system of public transportation in the City is one where all buses meet at a central location and most drive hourly routes. I support planning to develop a system of “trunk lines” with feeder routes, in which buses on main routes run frequently, while smaller buses bring people from outlying areas as often as ridership demands. This more urban model is needed if we hope to encourage people who have cars to leave them at home and ride the bus, critical if we hope to reduce traffic congestion in the city. I would also love to see regular buses running between Charlottesville and nearby communities like Crozet, Earlysville, Lake Monticello – even Staunton and Waynesboro, where many of our city’s workers live. In the short term, we need to add routes to areas not currently served by the city buses, including McIntire Park and Greenbrier.

Sidewalks: Parts of Charlottesville are very walkable while others are not. We need to make sure that all our City’s children can walk in their neighborhoods without having to walk in the street. Becoming a truly walkable city will allow Charlottesville to further reduce traffic congestion and protect the lives of our children. In addition to city funding, we need to continue accessing programs like Safe Walk to School as well as new funding sources.

Bike lanes and trails: Bicycles provide exercise and quick transportation without polluting the air or crowding the parking lots. We need to encourage people to ride bikes by ensuring that all major streets are bicycle-friendly and safe. I also want to continue exploring off-road bike trails, such as along rail lines through the city and expansions of the trail system in place, to allow bicyclists – and pedestrians – to get through the city safely and quickly.

Encouraging use of alternative transportation: In addition to the infrastructure improvements, we need to continue – and improve – our messaging and encouragement for using non-car transportation. We can increase publicity for programs like Community Bikes and Ride Share’s Guaranteed Ride Home program, as well as bike safety and walking fitness programs for kids.

3. The City of Charlottesville has sought to promote marketing of locally produced foods. Are there any steps you believe the City should take to support local production and sale of healthful foods.

The City Market is definitely outgrowing its space, and we should do all we can to make sure it grows and thrives. In addition, Buy Fresh/Buy Local initiatives should receive the city’s full support. I also will advocate for community gardens, urban farming (chickens, bees) and compost sharing.

4. Do you believe the City Council should support the determination of an optimum sustainable population size, such as the one proposed by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, and use this information for future planning?

No. I believe we should reduce the ecological footprint of each resident in our region rather than trying to limit the number of people we will allow to live here.

5. The City of Charlottesville is surrounded by Albemarle County and the environments of the two localities are intertwined. Is there any environmental issue in which you believe additional City-County cooperation should be sought?

I hope that the city and county can collaborate on some of the green jobs and green energy initiatives coming from the federal level. Regional collaboration makes these projects more efficient, more effective, and ultimately more attractive to funding agencies. I would also love to see a strengthened collaboration between city and county in buy-local initiatives and community composting. Of course regional public transportation and infrastructure planning are always critical, and should be supported. As a greater community, we need to emphasize the intersection of ecology and economy, making environmental issues important to everyone – not just environmental activists.

6. Would you support reconsidering the Community Water Supply Plan if the dredging study shows restorative dredging is economically and environmentally feasible?

I already support reconsidering the Community Water Supply Plan, though I don’t at this point advocate starting completely over. I believe that two of the critical figures in the initial plan – demand in light of conservation and the cost and efficacy of dredging the South Fork reservoir – must be reassessed before we can move on with a decision on the size of the Ragged Mountain dam and reservoir. I don’t think we should revisit the decision about abandoning the pipeline from the Sugar Hollow reservoir, and I believe the Ragged Mountain reservoir is an appropriate place to look for increased capacity and storage, but if dredging is economically and environmentally feasible and we are serious about conservation, I believe it will reduce the scope of the dam at Ragged Mountain.

7. Will you work to increase parkland acquisition in the City?

Absolutely. Ideally, every child in Charlottesville should be able to comfortably and safely walk to a park. Neighborhood parks can increase the amount of time kids spend outside engaged with each other and the natural world, and can serve as focal points for neighborhood activities.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We did it!

Dave Norris and I are the Democratic nominees for Charlottesville City Council after an amazing turnout (more than 1,600 voters) yesterday. Thanks to all who helped and voted. I will work hard to earn your trust and support. I look forward to hearing from all Charlottesville residents about your visions for our city.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A liveable city for all

The Charlottesville City Council recently adopted a vision statement for the city - a goal of what we want our city to be: “Charlottesville: A Great Place to Live for ALL of Our Citizens”. This vision statement is intended to provide a framework for all we do in city government, a compass to direct our decisions, a commitment to creating a place where everyone can share in what makes Charlottesville a great place to live.

And Charlottesville is a great place to live for many of us. But we can do better.
  • While our median income is rising, a quarter of our residents live in poverty.
  • While our unemployment rate remains better than in neighboring localities, many who do have jobs are forced to look outside our borders for affordable housing.
  • While our bus system is blessed with a fine transportation center, it still doesn't offer an attractive alternative for most commuters.
  • As we work to make our city greener, our streets are choked with cars while pedestrians and bicyclists take their life in their hands on some of our roads.
  • Behind the beautiful main streets lined with flowering trees and lovely homes, we have neighborhoods where parents are afraid for their children's safety, and where gang members trade in drugs and guns.
  • Our schools nurture our youngest learners, and turn out high numbers of college-ready graduates, but our dropout rate is rising, and our achievement gap remains shamefully wide.
So who has the solutions to our city's lingering inequalities? Who knows how to make our city more responsive to the interests of ALL its people?

You do.

I believe that many of the solutions lie in our own community. We need to do a better job of listening and welcoming citizen input in our decisions. We need to make sure our solutions have buy-in from the people affected by them.

That's why I propose to hold City Council meetings at elementary schools and other locations around the city, serving pizza and providing childcare so that residents know their voices are valued. That's why I propose that we support the strengthening of neighborhood associations through leadership development and resources. That's why I believe we need to recruit a wider variety of stakeholders on our boards and commissions, particularly those that make critical decisions for our community. That's why I will insist that city staff improve their customer relations and responsiveness.

We need people on our City Council who are committed to realizing our city's vision - making sure that everyone has a chance to be heard and to lend their energy and wisdom to making sure that everything we do is aimed at making Charlottesville a great place to live for ALL our citizens.

I am committed to being that kind of City Councilor. I'm counting on your vote on May 9 to make it happen. Please vote on May 9 at Burley Middle School on Rose Hill Drive. Make your voice heard.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Read Kristin's positions on key Charlottesville issues by pressing "Positions on Key City Issues" at right.

To learn more about Kristin's positions and ideas, come to the Democratic Breakfast on Saturday, April 18, at JABA on Hillsdale Road for a question-and-answer session with the candidates over bagels and coffee. Starts at 9:30 a.m.

Or come to the Charlottesville Democrats Rally on Wednesday, April 22, at 7 p.m. at Burley Middle School, 901 Rose Hill Drive. All the candidates will talk about what they envision for Charlottesville. Another great chance to hear the candidates and ask your own questions is on May 6 at the Candidates' Forum, time and location to be announced.

If you'd like to help elect Kristin to the City Council, here's what you can do:

Saturday, April 18 -
Democratic Breakfast at JABA on Hillsdale Road. Come cheer on our candidate at the question-and-answer session with the Democrats over bagels and coffee. Starts at 9:30 a.m.

Earth Day Eco Fair: Come work the Kristin for Council table on the Downtown Mall. Call Jim at 987-1042 to help.

Canvassing: Go door to door to talk to Charlottesville Democrats about Kristin for Council and let them know about the election. 1 pm and 4 pm at 1132 Otter Street. Call Kristin at 984-4022. (You can also canvass any weeknight; just call for walk sheets and literature.)

Tuesday, April 21 -
Charlottesville Tomorrow hosts a candidate forum at 6 p.m. at Burley Middle School, 901 Rose Hill Drive, where the voting will take place on May 9 on issues of interest to the business community.

Wednesday, April 22 -
Come cheer for Kristin at the Charlottesville Democratic Party Pre-Election Rally at 7 p.m. at Burley Middle School, 901 Rose Hill Drive. Let's make this a Kristin for Council party!

Weekends, April 25-26 & May 2-3 -
Canvass: Go door to door to talk to Charlottesville Democrats about Kristin for Council and let them know about the election. 1 pm and 4 pm Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at 1132 Otter Street.

Wednesday, May 6 -
Charlottesville Democratic Party Candidate Forum at 7 p.m. Location to be announced.

Tuesday, April 28 - First opportunity to Absentee Vote in Person, for folks who won't be able to vote on May 9. At City Space on the Downtown Mall, 100 5th St. NE on the Parking Garage balcony 6-9 p.m. (Ballots can be brought to home-bound voters. Call five days ahead to Becky Thomas, 434-973-5054.)
Thursday, May 7 - Second opportunity to Absentee Vote in Person, for folks who won't be able to vote on May 9. At City Space on the Downtown Mall, 100 5th St. NE on the Parking Garage balcony 6-9 p.m. (Ballots can be brought to home-bound voters. Call five days ahead to Becky Thomas, 434-973-5054.)
Voting Day - Charlottesville Democratic Party Unassemble Caucus
Saturday, May 9 - VOTING DAY - Democratic Unassembled Caucus at Burley Middle School, 901 Rose Hill Drive, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (Ballots can be brought to home-bound voters. Call five days ahead to Becky Thomas, 434-973-5054.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kristin for Council Campaign gearing up

The Kristin for Council campaign is gearing up to reach out to Charlottesville voters one by one. I will be going door to door around the city, as will many volunteers, letting folks know that the Democratic vote to nominate City Council Candidates will be held on May 9 at Burley Middle School and asking for their support of my candidacy. If you'd like to participate, e-mail Jim Nix at or fill out the volunteer form on the right side of this page.

I've also posted an initial summary of my positions on key issues facing the city. You can view them by selecting "Positions on Key City Issues" in the top right corner of this page.

If you have any questions about issues not mentioned there, please e-mail me at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kristin Szakos announces candidacy at public rally

On Valentine's Day, I formally announced my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the City Council of Charlottesville. You can watch it here:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kristin for Council

Who am I?

I’m a writer and editor, an activist, singer and animal lover, a wife and a mom. I have held a variety of positions with area nonprofits in the local area and co-written two books on community organizing. I most recently served as Volunteer Coordinator for the Obama campaign. My husband, Joe, is Executive Director of the Virginia Organizing Project, chair of the Region Ten Community Services Board and an avid softball player. We have two daughters, Anna, 19, and Maria, 17.

Why now?

Our family has lived in Charlottesville for 15 years, and Joe and I plan to live out the rest of our lives here. This community has been good to us. Our daughters have grown up in the Locust Grove neighborhood, attending the city schools. I served as president of the Burnley-Moran Elementary PTO when they were younger, and later sat on the Special Education Advisory Committee. The girls played in our city parks, danced at Fridays After Five, and competed on the city swim team and basketball leagues. Our older daughter volunteered with the city’s therapeutic recreation program, and our younger daughter has interned with the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad and the city Fire Department. My husband has played softball on our city fields, and we’ve all enjoyed walking our dogs on the trails along the river near our house. We drink city water, read by the light of city power, and take the city bus downtown to shop in city stores. My mother recently moved here from Washington, D.C.

My youngest daughter is graduating from Charlottesville High School in May, and I feel that this is the perfect time for me to start giving back to the community that has done so much for my family. I also recognize that there are many families for whom our city could be doing more. We need to talk about why there are still such great gaps in opportunity and education in Charlottesville - and work hard to close them.

The next few years will be a challenging and exciting time for the Charlottesville City Council. Budget constraints, the housing crisis, long-standing inequalities in income and opportunity - all these challenges demand a City Council that is creative and flexible in adapting new solutions to new realities. But it’s an exciting time as well; we need to be ready to respond to opportunities presented by economic stimulus spending, green energy development and a changing economy. I believe I have a lot to offer in the face of these challenges and opportunities.

Why me?

As a journalist, I am trained to look at every angle of an issue. My job is to synthesize what I learn about a wide variety of issues in order to make them understandable to everyone. After I earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, I worked for a short time for the Associated Press, but quickly discovered that my heart lay in local communities. I left the AP to become a reporter at the Appalachian News-Express, a small town newspaper in Kentucky. There, I was able to have a real impact on the community with my work – recognizing unsung community heroes, exposing illegal coalmines, calling attention to the need for services in rural areas.

Since then, I have worked for small journals and nonprofit organizations, trying to use my gifts to make the world a little better. I’ve learned about and written about national and local budgets, environmental issues, conflicts over race and class, and the efforts of ordinary Americans to make their communities better.

During the past two years, I immersed myself for the first time in national politics, serving as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Obama campaign. I helped to build an active volunteer force of more than 7,000 people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and worked hard to make sure everyone had a role and a voice in the campaign. I was elected to represent the Fifth Congressional District as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Most recently, I served as statewide coordinator for the National Day of Service sponsored by the Obama inaugural committee.

Barack Obama expressed the political sentiments that I had always felt: that we must act more out of hope than of fear; that we need new solutions to our problems – while holding to the old values of responsibility and respect; that government should be open and transparent to all; and that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

I hope to carry that spirit with me into the City Council.

I am running in the May primary for the Democratic nomination. I hope you will help me. I will be posting positions on particular issues facing the Council, as well as answers to your questions, on this site. In the meantime, if you would like to help, or have questions, please e-mail me at