City residents met with all five announced candidates for Williamsburg City Council Monday at a forum hosted by the Williamsburg Democratic Committee.
College of William and Mary student Scott Foster ’10, Planning Commission member Sean Driscoll, Planning Commission Chairman Doug Pons, Student Health Center doctor David Dafashy and incumbent councilman Bobby Braxton were each given nine minutes to address two of the primary problems they believe the city currently faces and how they plan to resolve it. Candidates also shared personal information and qualifications.
All five agreed that increasing tourism is the key to boosting the city’s struggling economy, despite differing opinions on the method on how to accomplish this task.
Pons said that he would enhance the city’s tourism appeal by helping businesses that would attract visitors remain successful in Williamsburg.
“We need to understand why businesses outside of the city are not moving into the city, and why businesses in the city are moving outside,” he said.
Foster also emphasized the need for tourism growth and outlined his plan to use the College to promote the industry.
“My experience at William and Mary was as great as it was because of its Williamsburg backdrop,” he said. “Our city really stands to benefit from enhanced cooperation with the College. We’ve got some severely under-utilized tourism infrastructures like the Matoaka Amphitheater, the Kaplan Arena and Phi Beta Kappa Hall … Those things are great for conference services. They are essentially the infrastructure niche that the larger Colonial Williamsburg is missing.”
Driscoll said that the expansion of roads and the railway system was a necessary part of increasing tourism.
“We’re fortunate to have rail service right here, but that’s about all it is,” he said. “We have a track and a train station, but we don’t have dependable rail service on a very frequent basis … We need to have a serious discussion about what we are going to do to bring people down here.”
Driscoll also supported increased cooperation between the city and the College.
“We also need to look to do more with the College and see how can we do more to help [it] grow programs,” he said. “That can be to bring folks into town from a conference standpoint. It can be bringing more professors into town to run an expanded of new program.”
Dafashy said that environmental preservation would be the center of his improvement plan.
“We have to approach growth in an environmentally friendly way and in a responsible way,” he said. “The aesthetic beauty of Williamsburg is largely what draws people to the area. If we do things to negatively impact the attractiveness of the city … it actually adversely affects our economy in the form of worsening tourism.”
Incumbent council member Bobby Braxton said that his plan extends beyond the City of Williamsburg.
“Our city budget will demand intensive monitoring and adjustment during these trying times,” he said. “This will occur by cooperating with our regional partners in areas such as tourism and affordable housing. We have issues that must be solved regionally, not by one jurisdiction or another.”
After delivering their speeches, the candidates took questions from audience members.
The city council election will be held May 4.