The Harrisonburg Republican Committee will run a candidate for City Council in November’s election — the first time the local party has sought a seat since 2014.
“You can wait for somebody to stand up or speak up for you, but why not be the one that does that?” GOP nominee Kathleen Kelley said in a Wednesday interview.
Kelley is a physician who specializes in alternative and integrative health and has lived in the city since 1997.
Kelley said several people encouraged her to run for council before she was approached by the Harrisonburg Republican Committee chairman, Jeffrey Mayfield.
“I had to really think long and hard about it,” she said, referring to learning even more about the city and the time commitment required in the election and if she wins a seat.
She said what pushed her to run was the response by state and other officials, such as Gov. Ralph Northam, to curb the new coronavirus that had closed businesses and impacted employment, as well as the recent unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“So many things start on the local level, and that’s where you have the opportunity to make the most improvements,” Kelley said.
She said one goal would be to make the city “crisis-proof.”
“Right now, [the city] depends a lot on students, so one of be things we would need to do is to expand other businesses in the city so there’s a stronger base,” Kelley said.
That would include making the city more friendly to small businesses, such as providing opportunities for affordable rental space, according to Kelley.
“We also need to attract more, bigger industry,” she said.
Kelley said such businesses would be able to provide more stability to the city.
“I just want Harrisonburg to be a center for optimism and a rebirth of the American spirit that built the country to begin with,” Kelley said.
Another aspect that would strengthen the ability for such businesses to establish themselves in the Valley is to grow and strengthen school to employer pipelines, such as for trades.
“Trades are so important and people tend to look down on them, but boy, it takes a lot of skill to be an electrician, to be a plumber, to be a millwright, to be a pipe fitter,” she said. “Those people are super smart. They’re not given enough credit, and we don’t promote the trades enough in our schools.”
As far as the second high school, Kelley said the city needs to make sure it can afford to build it, no matter how necessary it may be, especially as city revenues and taxpayers’ funds are hit by the pandemic’s damage to the economy.
“It’s a good time to re-examine this and maybe get some other ideas,” she said.
City Council approved the roughly $105 million plan for the construction of the second high school in early December. The bonds to pay for it were slated to be covered by a 13-cent increase in real estate tax, rising from 86 cents per $100 of assessed value to 99 cents per $100 of assessed value. However, City Manager Eric Campbell did not include a tax increase when he introduced the budget for fiscal year 2020-21. Council approved a budget with no tax increases at the May 26 meeting.
“If you raise taxes too much, your tax base will move out,” she said. “We need to keep them here and then we need to create new opportunities for the city to make revenue.”
She said partnerships with businesses, which need a steady supply of educated, trained workers, could also help fund school-related projects and construction as it would also be in the employers’ interest to make sure locals are prepared to fill available jobs.
“I don’t think Heritage Oaks has been utilized [to] its full potential,” she said.
Kelley said more partnerships with local businesses could increase the number of events at the course, as well as keeping some hours or days available for the public to walk around, while also preserving hours or days for golfers.
Promoting hope is part of her campaign and part of why she’s running for council, according to Kelley.
“I want to see us unified because we’re all Americans,” she said. “We all live here and we want to create whatever [those] dreams are and give people the opportunity to do that.”