News analysis: impact of city council election

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August 29, 2008

10:45 AM

Earlier this year, incumbents Paul Freiling ’83 and economics department chairman Clyde Haulman, as well as Judy Knudson, were elected to Williamsburg City Council.

The election marked a milestone, the first Williamsburg election to allow College students to vote without considerable barriers. Thus, for the first time, campaigns focused on issues such as public transportation, student-friendly businesses and student housing that are important to students at the College.

“The campaign last spring was … the first time candidates were put in a position where they had to discuss issues of student concern,”

Student Assembly Vice President Zach Pilchen ’09 said.
Although about 1,400 College students were registered to vote in the May election, only 382 students voted, according to a Flat Hat estimate reported May 6.

Final exams and the start of summer may have contributed to the low turnout, which appeared to adversely affect the campaign of Matt Beato ’09, who placed fifth out of the six candidates, behind former Williamsburg Mayor Gil Granger ’57.

“I think if the election had been two weeks earlier, I would have won,” Beato said. “My campaign underestimated the number of students leaving campus early.”

Over the summer, the council dealt with Williamsburg’s weakening economy.

“So much of Williamsburg’s revenue is meal and room taxes, and revenue is down substantially,” Knudson said. “We have to consider not only our local economy, but the state and national economy as well.”

Knudson mentioned concern about maintaining a good student-town relationship.

“We want to be as welcoming [to students] as possible … and student housing on a whole is a priority,” she said.
Student housing was the most contested issue in May’s city council debate in the Wren building, including the “three-person rule,” which allows no more than three unrelated people to live in a house together, and noise violations.

During their campaigns, each elected council member specifically acknowledged flaws with the three-person rule, saying that there was room for improvement. Haulman and Knudson said they supported more exceptions to the rule; Frieling wanted to change the rule to include specific requirements for determining policy.

The council recognizes that the three-person rule is a major part of the town-gown relationship.

Public transportation and the Williamsburg bus system are also large concerns for students. Recently, Williamsburg Area Transport has set up a group to analyze the current bus system, focusing on stops, schedules, and routes.

Students are eager for the arrival of student-friendly businesses. Freiling conveyed his support of student-friendly businesses during the Wren building debate.

“We’re very interested in doing what we can to develop businesses to appeal to the young adult demographic,” Freiling said in April. “If there’s something we can do, we will do it.”

Beato said changes in public transportation, student housing, and student-friendly businesses would mark the progress of those elected to council.

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