On Thursday March 8 a candidate forum was held at the Raleigh Court Child Development Center hosted by the Greater Raleigh Court Civic League. Mayoral candidates Democrat incumbent Mayor David Bowers and his challenger Republican Mark Lucas went toe to toe. Independent candidate Brandon Bushnell was also there to challenge incumbent Democratic council members Sherman Lea, Anita Price and Court Rosen.
In an interview prior to the forum Bushnell, 22, said he prefers being called a “progressive” candidate. He shuns party labels.
When asked why he didn’t enter the Democratic primary he said, “I don’t want to play the games.” He doesn’t like the idea of signing a piece of paper that says, “I will always vote for a Democrat and never anyone else.” As a matter of principle he says, “It is not right.”
Hot-button social issues are not the right priority that politicians should be focusing on. “They are issues used to get folks elected and gain partisan superiority.” Economic and education issues should be a politician’s priorities. You can’t politicize everything – “taking up the trash is not a hot-button issue.”
He attended Virginia Western Community College and is working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Library and Information Science online with the University of Maine at Augusta. His goal is to become a Medical Librarian.
Bushnell lives in the Wasena neighborhood of Roanoke City and has worked four years for the Roanoke Valley Library System. He was Head of Circulation at the Carilion Health Science Library System and is now the Librarian at Miller-Motte Technical College in Roanoke.
He takes his faith seriously. He is a worship associate at the Unitarian Universalist Church where he serves on the board of directors and co-teaches one of the church’s religious education programs.
Bushnell says he reads textbooks on anything that catches his interest.
Without a party machine behind him he will be running a financially modest campaign. “I think it’s very unfortunate about the influx of money in this election. Philosophically that is something I don’t agree with,” he said.
Bushnell plans small fundraising events like house parties and dinner events. He has no expectations of receiving thousands of dollars like the candidates from South Roanoke with party connections, he said.
He differs from all other candidates in that he believes that “it is irresponsible to let the meals tax sunset. Council is touting the line that a deal is a deal,” he said. “Lately they’ve been really ramping up their language saying the schools are fine with this little cushion.” Bushnell says that it is clear that the extra two-cent tax had no negative effect on business.
A financial presentation by Roanoke’s Director of Finance Ann Shawver shows an increase in the meals tax of 1.7% in fiscal year 2011 regardless of the added two-cent tax. Proceeds from the tax went to the city schools and will end in July.
Though there is a $12 million cushion Bushnell fears that state funding for education will again be cut. “In terms of competition in salary we are becoming less competitive with other school districts,” said Bushnell. Losing quality teachers translates to a lower quality education. “If we’re not careful about the quality of education that we have here it will translate to other problems we have in the city.”
As a real estate agent, his grandmother equated the degradation of the quality of education with lower property values. “There is a relationship between the two,” he said. City revenue suffers along with city homeowners. “It’s a vicious cycle,” said Bushnell.
Bushnell is concerned about “food security and food access.” Centralizing food production through urban farms and community gardens “takes the oil out of the equation,” said Bushnell. Food is cheaper when not trucked from faraway food sources.
“Centralized food production will give Roanokers better access to healthy food – it’s something that everyone in Roanoke could get behind if they look at the benefits.”
He will encourage volunteerism by skilled Roanokers in areas of code enforcement and home repair. He hopes to bring a younger perspective, energy and voice to City Council.
Although Bushnell participates in the Occupy Roanoke movement he does not want to be painted as an Occupy Roanoke candidate – “I’m a Roanoke candidate,” he said. The movement deals with broad national issues and his focus will be all on local issues.
His campaign slogan will be “Uniting the Star City.”