About Our Guest
I have been very involved in efforts to enhance the quality of life in our community. In my professional life as a non-profit director, in my civic life as an advocate for affordable housing, social justice and the environment, and in my personal life as a father of two wonderful children (Eli, 12, and Chloe, 9), I have enjoyed being an active member of the Charlottesville community. My family and I feel blessed to live in such a caring, engaged and lively city.
I currently work as Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge to help children reach their potential through professionally supported, one-to-one relationships with measurable impact. In previous positions, I’ve served as Executive Director of PACEM, Associate Director of Madison House, as Interim Director of PHAR (the Public Housing Association of Residents), as founding Director of the Connecting People to Jobs Initiative (a joint venture between PHAR and Piedmont Virginia Community Colllege), and as Coordinator of the Virginia Economic Development Corporation’s Micro Loan Program for low-income, minority and female entrepreneurs.
Over the years, I have been honored to serve on a number of Boards, Commissions and Coalitions, including:
Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority Board of Commissioners
MACAA (Monticello Area Community Action Agency) Board of Directors
PHAR Advisory Board
Piedmont Housing Alliance Board of Directors
Westhaven Nursing Clinic Coalition
Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless
JABA (Jefferson Area Board of Aging) 2020 Community Plan for Aging
Friends of Equitable and Affordable Housing
Virginia COOL (Campus Outreach Opportunity League) Board of Directors
I am also the proud founder of the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival, which draws thousands of people to downtown Charlottesville each year to eat good food and support local businesses & organizations committed to peace, ecology and natural health.
Finally, I am a 1997 graduate of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “Leadership Charlottesville” program, a 2003 graduate of the Quality Community Council’s “Explorations in Excellence” leadership development program, and a 2006 graduate of the Sorensen Institute’s “Candidate Training Program.” I was named one of the “Distinguished Dozen” by the Daily Progress for 2005 and was honored as “Virginia Citizen of the Year” (for my work with PACEM) in 2005 by the Virginia Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.
On a personal note, I was born into a military family at Fort Belvoir, VA, in 1970 and spent much of my childhood in and around Northern Virginia. After graduating from high school in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1987, I received a B.A. in Politics & History from Curry College in Milton, MA, and an M.A. in Government from the College of William and Mary. Following a brief stint working in state government in Richmond, I moved to Charlottesville in 1995 and have lived in various parts of the city ever since. I bought an old house in Belmont in 2005 and am happy to call Belmont home.
Jan Paynter: Welcome. I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters. Our guest today, and I thank you, is our Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. Dave, thanks for being with us today.
Dave Norris: My pleasure. I’m glad to be with you, Jan.
Jan Paynter: People are their principles and politics should flow naturally from that but it often doesn’t. The original definition of politics was the entire body of citizens, those groups that make decisions. After the ’08 election there was a tremendous sense of passion and engagement. In Charlottesville we had people voting for the first time, we had people talking and really paying attention.
One of our sister cities, Besancon, which we’ll talk a lot about later on, described us as a city on the move and certainly we are that. We are, as the Mayor said a little while ago, at the epicenter of a lot going on. After the inauguration there was a renewed sense of community also. We felt it in D.C., people who went up there, there was a tremendous sense of pride in the country I think no matter which side of the aisle you were one. Then the recession hit hard, the market crashed and it was followed obviously, as everybody doesn’t need to be told, an economic slowdown and a lot of discouragement. Now Charlottesville is more fortunate than a lot of communities. We have roughly a 5.7% unemployment rate which is the second lowest in the state after northern Virginia. However, nationally the new unemployment figures indicate that it’s going to be another year really until August 2010 when unemployment starts to pitch up again. So we’re going to see some steady decline nationwide and we all have to be prepared for it. So one of the things we hope to do in this program is more than ever to get people to stay focused and moving forward with creative solutions. So therefore, the purpose of the program as we envision it is to stimulate people to think about political involvement more synthetically. In other words, to build on Obama’s idea of more than one thing at a time, focusing on healthcare, education, green jobs, job creation conservation, transportation infrastructure, just to name a few. Politics can be and should be at its best and community participation, a team sport. Everybody has integral value and everybody moves us toward our goal. Communities stay vital and healthy when they resist the linear thinking, again the one time—one thing at a time approach so national, state and local issues should be fully partnered concerns not distant, unrelated issues or as one…my favorite UVA law student—law professor used to say as we would sneak in from other departments, the most vital question for any citizen to ask is always, ‘Who cares? Does it matter?’ We feel more than ever before the answer is, ‘Yes, it does’. We look forward to our guest discussing the ways in which the national stimulus program will advance all Virginia communities. In particular, we’re interested in individual’s unique take on a full range of issues, like I said, green jobs, retraining for the unemployed—obviously no one needs to be told—updates on the bank bailout, strategies for energy conservation—we’ll hear Dave talk more about that in a little while. Infrastructure updates for Virginia, again, Charlottesville plays a part in that and particularly town-to-town partnerships, what are called sister city initiatives which is a way for both hopefully in state and internationally for cities to help each other find solutions together, again, aiding in commerce, conservation and job recovery, the biggies. In upcoming broadcasts we’re going to take a look at the Virginia gubernatorial race between Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell and we hope on the program to have politicians, community leaders, concerned citizens with a lifelong involvement in politics and public service. That could include people in the arts, writers, musicians, anybody and everybody that cares about politics. Why does politics matter to them is one of the questions we’ll be asking and then of course what are they doing about it. Charlottesville is a microcosm of the country as a whole. Everybody understands that. We have two major hospitals here, we have Martha Jeff and UVA. In education obviously we have Piedmont Community College and we have wonderful educational opportunities at the middle and elementary level and we have a very strong job community, particularly the small business people. People here are very obviously interested also in things green and in land preservation. There’s a strong real estate presence here. We have also a lot of retirees. So along with that our proximity to Richmond and D.C. means infrastructure is also kind of on the burner. So, Dave, thank you so much for being our guest today and being on the fledgling program. I really, really appreciate that.
Dave Norris: Happy to be here.
Jan Paynter: Very recently in The Daily Progress you were written and described as a man who is known for finding solutions without hurting anyone, which I think is a marvelous description. I was looking at your bio, you were obviously—you were born in Virginia, a military family, viewers would like to know that I think. You were a past non-profit director. You worked for PACEM for the homeless and for finding housing, microloan programs on behalf of people—businesses and low income families, minorities and women entrepreneurs. You’ve also worked on age related issues for job—for local businesses. It goes on and on. I’m very impressed. Healthy nutrition, you’ve worked to help people struggle with substance abuse issues and finally you were honored as Virginia Citizen of the Year. So obviously, Dave, you are a man on the move. And again, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about particularly now is that mayors are really at the water’s edge for community issues and a number of our citizens, I don’t need to tell anyone, are under water right now with respect to jobs and housing and the ability to get credit. Having said that, what do you see as some of the greatest challenges for our community in the city in terms of addressing those issues and what is of particular concern to you now?
Dave Norris: Well, there are so many challenges. You spelled out some of them before, access to healthcare, access to employment, access to skills. We have environmental challenges, we have infrastructure challenges, planning challenges. There are so many things going on. Charlottesville is a great place to live but we know that there are a lot of people in our community that are hurting. Our unemployment rate is twice what it was last—about a year ago. Still low compared to the rest of the state or the rest of the country but we’re keenly aware that there are people that are struggling, having problems keeping up with their mortgages, many people are stuck in sort of low wage, dead end jobs and we’re trying to figure out creative ways of helping people climb the ladder and it’s partly through increasing access to skills training, to job training, workforce development so that they can get the kind of skills that employers are looking for that can help them climb the ladder into a living wage career ladder kind of job so we’ve been partnering with the Piedmont Virginia Community College in that regard, trying to do more with our—with groups like Ktech with the workforce center on Hydraulic Road just to help people have access to better job opportunities so they can do better for their families.
Jan Paynter: How do you feel that this—that President Obama’s stimulus monies are funneling through? We obviously have $125 million to come to Virginia. What part of it are we going to get and what can we expect, what can we not expect?
Dave Norris: Yeah, right now the biggest chunk that we’ve gotten locally is for our schools and for some infrastructure improvements in our schools. We are about to receive some money from the stimulus package to create a—to help us fund this new clean energy financing program which is going to be a wonderful partnership which addresses several goals simultaneously. One is how do we get people access to good jobs in a growing part of the economy which is the energy economy and the green energy economy specifically and then secondly, how do we help our homeowners and business owners to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. So this is an economic development strategy, it’s also an environmental strategy. Oftentimes those two goals are at odds. In this case they actually work beautifully together. And the way that the program will work is we were able to get some legislation passed thanks to our State Senator Creigh Deeds who got a bill passed in the general assembly this year that allows localities like Charlottesville to set up loan programs that will help over—help our private property owners, homeowners and businesses to overcome the biggest obstacle to making their homes and businesses more energy efficient or installing renewable energy equipment on their homes and businesses which is the upfront cost. It’s a pretty substantial upfront cost but if you can finance that over a period of years, it makes it much easier for private property owners to participate and become part of this new clean energy economy. And the great thing about this program is we’re going to be using some of the federal stimulus monies to capitalize this loan fund. The businesses that are going to be actually doing the retrofits we are going to be working with them to have them hire residents from our community who are going to be getting skills training in this very skill set in terms of home retrofits and renewable energy equipment, etc., so you create this beautiful partnership where the federal government, the local government and then the state government through the enabling legislation are working together with our community college, with local businesses to help our environment, help our economy, help the unemployed. It’s not going to put hundreds of people back to work right away but it’s one step in the process of moving into this new clean energy era which has so much potential for all of us.
Jan Paynter: That was one of the things I was following up on. I know it’s not going to help everyone but I do realize—I wondered what your thoughts were about the loosening up of some credit from the banks around here. Has that helped?
Dave Norris: Well, it certainly is a big—we need to see more of that.
Jan Paynter: Right.
Dave Norris: It’s affecting people’s ability to start businesses. It’s affecting people’s ability to buy homes. It’s affecting the ability of our local economy to get back moving in the right direction again. But I’m hoping that as the national credit markets start to—the tension starts to ease a little bit and they start to open up a little bit more, then our local credit markets will follow. I’ve talked to a number of small business owners right now that are really struggling and because access to credit isn’t what it used to be and for understandable reasons. But we really need to move it in the right direction again. In the meantime we’ve stepped up our support for local small—locally owned small businesses in a variety of ways through marketing, through access to technical assistance. We’re working on trying to figure out how we can steer more city contracts to locally owned businesses. It’s a little bit of a difficult issue but we’re trying to do everything we can to help recycle more money in our community. That should be the goal.
Jan Paynter: Right. Yeah, that would be a power issue for some people to work on.
Dave Norris: Yeah.
Jan Paynter: One of the most creative things I heard about were groups of people who are unemployed coming together, and I’m sure that’s happening here and around the country, to give—to lend emotional support but also to help people say in the middle of their lives also who are not going to have such an easy time finding jobs to think about work related to their passion, to their avocations that might help. One guy had a whole singing career that he started up after being in marketing. So I wondered if things like that are going on in the city as far as groups–
Dave Norris: Well, I know a lot of people are pulling together right now to try to support each other and come up with some creative solutions for their family members, friends, neighbors that are struggling and I think if we all pull together—this is what makes Charlottesville a special place is that when—we are a community that really looks out for each other I like to think. We see it in so many different ways.
Jan Paynter: We do, it’s true.
Dave Norris: And this is the time when it really needs to happen.
Jan Paynter: It does and as we discussed on a previous program but it bears repeating, between $100,000 and $500,000 smaller loans for businesses are very hard to get and as you pointed out, Dave, a lot of these folks are saying, ‘Well, all these other stimulus ideas are great but I don’t know if I’ll make it through the next year”. So again, I think it’s important to let people know to try forming little groups in your community, support one another and brainstorm because it’s one area that can really help.
Dave Norris: It is and also for anybody watching at home, the city launched a campaign this year called Shop Charlottesville where we want people who are out making purchasing decisions to buy locally and think about locally owned businesses. Let’s recycle more dollars in our community rather than sending it out of our community.
Jan Paynter: Absolutely.
Dave Norris: And help out our businesses which helps out our employment base and helps out our tax base.
Jan Paynter: Sure. Tell me more about some of the educational initiatives that have been started in this area.
Dave Norris: Well, one of the things that we’re trying to do is work with Piedmont Virginia Community College to identify where the growth sectors really are in our economy and then to tailor training programs around those so that we can steer people into a career ladder living wage kinds of jobs. So for instance, the healthcare industry, that is a growing field and how can we do a better job of getting our population into healthcare related fields. It might start with a CNA but you move up from there and how do we help people move up from there.
Jan Paynter: Nursing certainly is an area that’s very critical.
Dave Norris: Nursing is a big demand. Construction—even though construction slowed down a little bit but we’ve been importing construction workers into Charlottesville which is really unnecessary.
Jan Paynter: It would make a lot of sense.
Dave Norris: We have people here who could use those kinds of jobs if they had the skills and had the work ethic. And work ethic is really important because when you show up for an interview, you have to present an image that’s going to sell you to the employer and so many times people show up for interviews and they’re not dressed appropriately, they don’t take it very seriously, they don’t convince the employer that they’d be a good risk.
Jan Paynter: They’re discouraged.
Dave Norris: It’s partly cause they’re discouraged and it’s partly because I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of exposing people from an early age to the job market, to the world of work so they know those sort of what we call soft skills that are essential to climbing up that ladder. And so one of the programs that I’m proudest of is our summer youth employment program which when I started on City Council was just a very small program, had 15 kids, it was targeting disadvantaged high school students, teenagers, giving them summer work in a positive mentoring relationship with a supervisor and a little money in their pockets, good work experience, something they can put on their resume and perhaps most importantly again exposing them to the world of work so they know what it takes to be successful on the job. And my goal each year that I’ve been on City Council has been to double the size of that program so that we can get to a point where every high school student, every teenager in Charlottesville who can benefit from that kind of an opportunity will have the ability to do so. And so two years ago we doubled it to 30 kids, last year it was 60 kids, this year in total we’ll have 120 kids involved in the program. 80 in the regular summer program and then 40 in a couple school based programs. So I’m very excited about that and it’s one step again towards helping those of our neighbors who otherwise might end up in a dead end job or low wage job or worse, end up taking some negative paths. We have too many kids that are dropping out of high school. 13% of our young people are not graduating high school and too many of them are following negative paths. We want to steer people in positive directions.
Jan Paynter: This was another idea that I think a lot of us were thinking about and that is again along the lines of what you’re discussing which is mentoring. A lot of kids fall through the cracks and it has to do also with issues of esteem, perhaps not having proper role models because everybody’s working, they’re busy, it’s not a fault finding issue and so finding a way perhaps with some retired people who have lots of juice going still to get involved in something. I was wondering if we were getting into that too.
Dave Norris: Absolutely. Mentoring is a big passion of mine, youth mentoring. It really is a great way to help steer kids in the right direction. We just two years ago now inaugurated our Big Brother Big Sister program. Charlottesville had been the largest municipality in Virginia without a Big Brother Big Sister program. We now have one. We’re expanding other mentoring programs.
Jan Paynter: Oh, that’s exciting.
Dave Norris: Yeah. Tutoring programs, after school enrichment, we’ve got new community centers opening up next to the high school with the YMCA and next to the middle school with the Boys and Girls Club trying to provide positive after school activities for kids rather than the negative activities that they too often get involved in on the street. So we want to—we want to do more to raise our kids in a positive way and to help those parents that are really trying hard and we have too many parents as you suggested who are having to work multiple jobs to afford the cost of living in this community and particularly the cost of housing in this community and that can’t be there for their kids which is why on a parallel track I’ve been—many of us have been pushing this whole idea of affordable housing is we’ve got to make sure that the people who work here in Charlottesville can afford to live here in Charlottesville and aren’t having to work multiple jobs which takes them away from their kids.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, that raises an issue also of homelessness.
Dave Norris: Sure.
Jan Paynter: It’s something that I think everybody has trouble dealing with. It’s very painful but it’s very necessary for people to look at. I noticed for instance on 29 and Bypass there was some clear cutting going where there was a camp and I do wonder—again, this is an issue I know that’s of great importance to you. Is there more initiative going on and perhaps some stimulus monies going to that.
Dave Norris: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. I hope we can get some stimulus money for it. There is one program in particular that our homeless coalition, the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless is applying for some stimulus dollars to create a what they call rapid re-housing program which will take people that are—have lost their housing because of eviction, foreclosure, loss of employment, whatnot and instead of having them end up out on the streets or in shelters for a long period of time, how do we transition them back into housing, stable housing. It’s a new program that they’re as we speak applying for some stimulus dollars.
Jan Paynter: Oh, that’s great.
Dave Norris: We have a major housing initiative directed towards the homeless. It’s called Single Room Occupancy housing, SRO housing, which will be a new building, basically an apartment building about 40 to 60 units of housing with small efficiency apartments that are affordable and accessible and will have support services on site so if—and many of them will be reserved for people that have been homeless, out on the streets and give them a place where they can hang their hat and it’s an apartment that they lease, a place they can call their own. And it’s permanent, they can stay as long as they pay the rent and follow the rules. It’s not like they can only be there for six months. We have a group in—based in Richmond called Virginia Supportive Housing which has built a number of these SRO facilities around the state and they’ve agreed to come and do one in Charlottesville and the city’s partnering with them on that and it’s very exciting.
Jan Paynter: It is extremely exciting and obviously vets, homeless vets are also a big concern.
Dave Norris: Oh, yeah.
Jan Paynter: And that’s something actually going forward we’d like to talk more about with you.
Dave Norris: Yeah.
Jan Paynter: The issue of a sister city.
Dave Norris: Right, right.
Jan Paynter: Let’s talk a little bit about that. You have recently come back from Winneba, Ghana.
Dave Norris: That’s right, yeah.
Jan Paynter: And I know you’ve dealt with that on your program Postcards from Charlottesville but I think people would be interested to know first of all why—why a sister city. Again, why does it matter, why should we care?
Dave Norris: Right. Right. Well, you talked earlier about issues and ideas and why people should pay attention to issues and ideas, things that are going on locally, nationally but it applies internationally as well. There’s so much that we can learn from other countries, whether that’s cultural, historic, economic, academic, you name it. There’s so much that we can learn from each other and I think we—when we expand our horizons and create these linkages with communities in other parts of the world, it really benefits our community but only if it goes beyond sort of government to government exchanges. Those are interesting but those don’t—ultimately what we want are people to people exchanges.
Jan Paynter: Sure.
Dave Norris: Ant that’s what makes a true sister city and so–
Jan Paynter: Well, what—excuse me. What are our four sister cities so people can know.
Dave Norris: So right now we have a few that—we have Poggio A Caiano in Italy and that’s a—there’s a historic connection there between Thomas Jefferson and a gentleman named Filippo Mazzei who was from Poggio. We have one in France, Besancon. We have one in Bulgaria called Pleven and fairly soon we’ll be talking about adding Winneba in Ghana. So we have three official sister cities now. But none of the three I think are at the point that I would consider them a true—truly successful sister city in that we have ongoing citizen exchanges back and forth, which I think really is what we should aspire to–
Jan Paynter: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dave Norris: –and have residents of Charlottesville be able to experience life in these other countries and vice versa–
Jan Paynter: Sure.
Dave Norris: –and learn from each other and with Winneba the opportunities are really tremendous and they are so excited to work with us and send people back and forth.
Jan Paynter: Well, I see our director signaling me.
Dave Norris: Okay.
Jan Paynter: And there’s so much to talk about. I wanted to before we close ask you about the Smart Grid event that happened last Tuesday with the governor and John Castellon, the president, and other notable political people.
Dave Norris: It was an exciting event. I was glad to see you there, Jan, and we—basically Charlottesville, Virginia is the first community in Virginia and one of the first in the nation to—where we’re going to have the infrastructure for what we call a smart grid which is basically energy saving technology. The first step is by installation of what they call smart meters in every building in Charlottesville. And—which will help people use energy more wisely, it’ll help make a more efficient energy distribution system and opens the doors to some really creative energy generation and redistribution kind of technologies that are really going to put us in the forefront.
Jan Paynter: Oh, I can’t wait to talk more about this. There’s a lot to talk about today.
Dave Norris: Yes.
Jan Paynter: Dave, I want to thank you very much for coming on and talking with us today on Politics Matters and I—in closing I want to thank all of you for being with us. Our website for those people who don’t know is politicsmatters.org. You can get information to us if you’d like us to include things, if there are things that were not on the program which is firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on Wednesday at noon, Saturday at 8:00 and Tuesday at 9:00 and again we want to thank you so much and we hope that you will come back and join us and we look forward to talking more with our mayor about issues of great concern to our community because it’s Charlottesville and politics matters.