Candidates Vie for Lynchburg City Council Seats
Lynchburg’s local politicians, entrepreneurs and community leaders are stepping up to join a crowded race for one of the three at-large seats on city council before the election May 1.
As of March 2, eight Lynchburg citizens are listed on the Virginia Department of Election’s candidate list for the Lynchburg City Council. The three seats are currently held by Mayor Joan Foster, Vice Mayor Treney Tweedy and at-large City Councilman Randy Nelson.
The candidates come from a wide political spectrum and a diverse set of backgrounds, but all hope to improve the city’s economy, infrastructure and educational system and give Lynchburg citizens a higher quality of life.
Many of the candidates come from a younger demographic compared with current council members and hope to bring a fresh perspective. Candidate Beau Wright, a former White House director for finance under President Obama believes that city council should better represent the interests of millennials in Lynchburg.
“Right now, over 50 percent of the Lynchburg population is under the age of 34,” Wright, a 29-year-old Lynchburg native, said. “And it seems to me that if council is going to be making big decisions about what Lynchburg’s going to look like 20 years from now … there should be a reasonably young voice on city council opining and representing people.”
Lynchburg is one of the few places in Virginia getting younger, according to a Virginia Public Access Project report. But while candidates like Wright believe the college town has potential for growth, Lynchburg still faces serious issues that city council candidates hope to combat —the first of these being the poverty rate.
Lynchburg’s poverty rate is currently at 23 percent, according to the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group — more than double the state’s 11 percent rate. City council has been working to address this issue through the Progress to Poverty Initiative.
Lynchburg Democratic Committee nominee Derek Polley hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the initiative and focus more on practical solutions to poverty. Polley, a financial consultant, calls himself a “serial entrepreneur” and is a graduate of Liberty University’s School of Business.
“We have enough data, we have enough research, we’ve had enough meetings, and we need to start some action items,” Polley said. “I give the city tons of credit for being brave enough to step up and talk about poverty to progress, but … we have to start changing that conversation to financial literacy and economic empowerment.”
Al Billingsly, the sole conservative candidate in a sea of progressives and independents, also believes the poverty rate is one of the most important issues facing Lynchburg today. However, he hopes to address it through reducing the city government’s role in Lynchburg and encouraging more business growth through lower taxes.
“One of the ways I believe we can get people out of poverty is to get them to work,” Billingsly said. “And one of the ways we can get them to work is make it easier for businesses to locate here and expand. That relates back to the tax structure that we have as well.”
Independent candidate Justin Barricks believes the Poverty to Progress Initiative has been ineffective in addressing poverty in area.
“It’s frustrating, the things that are going on now,” Barricks said. “I don’t like the way (the Poverty to Progress Initiative) is going. I’m calling it a show pony.”
The candidates also hope to address other citywide problems on council. Democratic nominee and Chair of the Lynchburg Democratic Committee Katie Cyphert would like to improve the infrastructure of the city if she is elected.
“I literally drove into downtown on Thanksgiving Day and found water coming out of the street,” Cypert said. “And that’s where they found a 188-year-old pipe that predated the Civil War. I think we got our money’s worth. But the pipes aren’t going to heal themselves, and we’ve got another 10 years of infrastructure replacement downtown.”
As a Lynchburg City School Board member, Polley believes that the educational system has a direct correlation with the poverty rate and hopes to facilitate educational programs to inform citizens on financial responsibility.
“We have a lot of issues in Lynchburg, and one of them is getting the information to the right people so they can begin creating their own solutions to their problems,” Polley said.
The final two candidates running for city council are current Vice Mayor Treney Tweedy and former Vice Mayor Ceasor Johnson. According to Tweedy’s website, she is running on neighborhood revitalization, educational solutions to poverty and innovative economic planning.
Natalie Short, who ran for Virginia’s House of Delegates in 2017, was running for city council as a progressive independent candidate before choosing to suspend her race.
Short posted on her Facebook page that she did not know Cyphert was planning to run for council, and since the Lynchburg Democratic Committee chose to nominate their own candidates, she did not want to run against her party.
“When she secretly filed herself as the Democratic nominee, it forced me into a position of running against my party, and I was no longer able to be endorsed,” Short said in an email. “If she had been open about the fact that she was going to file herself, I would have too.”
However, Cyphert said it was unfortunate that Short was suspending her campaign, pointing out that the LDC had posted publicly about the caucus Feb. 14 where she and Polley were nominated.
“The Lynchburg Democratic Committee advertised the nomination process via website, email, Twitter and Facebook to ensure the process was open, public and transparent,” Cyphert said in an email.
The other two at-large members of city council, Foster and Nelson, have not yet announced if they are running for reelection. The total list of candidates is still in fluctuation as the deadline for candidates to file for candidacy is March 6.
Even though Liberty students may only live in Lynchburg for four years, they are still active in the community as they shop, eat, work and pay rent in the city. Billingsly hopes that Liberty students will realize the importance of their vote and the impact they can make on local elections.
“I see (Liberty students) in all aspects of our community, and if you’re going to be that involved, I would hope that they’d be involved enough to want to vote as well,” Billingsly said.
If students are not registered to vote in Virginia, the deadline for registration is April 6, according to the Dean of Students Office. For more information about voting as a student, email firstname.lastname@example.org.