The Williamsburg City Council election stands to be a turning point for local politics, due in large part to students at the College of William and Mary. The number of students registered to vote in Williamsburg — now at 2,800 — is the highest it’s ever been. No candidate can hope to win without courting that student vote. As a result, we’ve recently seen concessions to students that would have been unimaginable in years past. But those minor allowances are a far cry from true representation. We need a student voice on city council, and voting is our only legitimate avenue to gaining that voice.
On election day, voters will have the ability to select two of the available candidates, but we think only one candidate deserves students’ singular attention: We urge all students to vote for Scott Foster ’10, and only Foster.
The decision to support Foster is far from automatic. We would feel uncomfortable voicing support for any candidate we thought unprepared for the office of city councilman purely to include a student voice on the council. Foster is not that candidate. On the contrary, his campaign has made significant strides in the past few months from less-than-impressive beginnings. In the process, Foster has become a consummate and well-versed contender. Not only is Foster the most capable student candidate to have ever run for the position, but he’s also proved himself the most impressive candidate in the current election.
All candidates will admit that a partnership between the College and the city is necessary to tackle a host of issues — from student housing concerns to the need to attract commercial revenues. Foster, whose knowledge of the campus far exceeds that of the other candidates, has a unique perspective to contribute in order to maintain such a partnership. His position on the current four-person rule — that it is a step in the right direction but cannot be the end of the conversation — is the most progressive of any candidate. But perhaps most exciting are the actions he’d take immediately, initiating discussion on the Surry coal plant, which he’d oppose, and challenging the four-person rule. This is exactly where Foster’s presence in the council is desperately needed — in driving discussion of those issues the current council would prefer to ignore.
Our decision, to extend our support only to Foster, is based on the City Council’s electoral system. Selecting a second candidate makes the scenario that neither one will receive a plurality high enough to claim either of the two open spots more likely. The defeat of Matt Beato ’09 in the 2008 city council election proved just how easily that can happen. To select two candidates would be to divide the vote, and in this case, we think that would damage student interests.
Of course we’d certainly be in favor of a second candidate if we saw any of the other contenders as adequate representations of the student voice. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and we find no other candidate particularly worthy of that second vote.
Bobby Braxton represents nothing so much as the status quo. He offers little in the way of tangible solutions to student concerns, besides some frankly worrisome ideas to address housing restrictions. His positions on several issues, like current population density restrictions and student-friendly businesses, are couched and qualified to such an extent as to be either disingenuous or non-existent.
Aside from the environmental issues he has chosen to highlight, David Dafashy is the candidate least familiar with the city’s concerns. We have no doubt that Dafashy would be a passionate advocate for both the environment and the College, and hopefully in the future he will get a chance to be. This time around, however, he just hasn’t done his homework.
Sean Driscoll has made the defining objective of his campaign to increase population density, viewing that as the answer to a myriad of problems, including the aforementioned concerns with student housing and tourism. Even accounting for the current recession, increased density isn’t feasible — not to mention that many residents, including several city council members, would be entirely opposed to the idea.
Doug Pons, a member, along with Driscoll, of the Williamsburg Planning Commission, has been anything but a student advocate in city government in the past. Little appears to have changed on that front. His appeals to students, including a willingness to continue discussion on the four-person rule, are superficial at best. Like many of the incumbent candidates, his emphasis on increasing discussion merely attempts to mask the fact that his connection with students — and their current concerns — is seriously lacking.
Given his disappointing competition, it’s clear that Foster is the only viable choice, both for students and for Williamsburg.
Despite a recent spike in student political involvement, we may still lose the opportunity we’ve been given through inaction. Students may be registered, but that means nothing if they won’t go out and vote. It may be exam week, but polls are open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., and they will not have lines anywhere near as long as they were during the last presidential election.
But moreover, Foster’s campaign is the best chance yet for the city to get a student city council member, and if he fails, it may well be the last. Given the defeat of Beato and David Sievers ’06, yet another loss would set back student issues immeasurably. We cannot simply sit back, holed up in Earl Gregg Swem Library, and allow our voice to once again be stifled.
Students make up roughly half of the city’s population, but our representation has been nowhere near as sizeable, neither in person nor in spirit. We deserve a say in the politics of our city. That will not happen until we show the city council that we matter — not in the abstract, but in terms of actual votes.
You have the chance. Go out and speak.