by Sonia Montalvo | Photos by Eze Amos
After finishing an interview with Vinegar Hill Magazine, A city worker walked up to introduce themselves to the newly elected Mayor, Juandiego Wade. After niceties were exchanged, the employee asked, “What would you like to be called? Mayor Wade? Mayor Juandiego Wade? Or-,” Wade politely interrupted and replied with, “Juan is fine. Just call me Juan.”
With over three decades of Community investment, Juan is no stranger to Charlottesville and its needs. A Richmond native, he moved to Charlottesville for graduate school in the late eighties. A member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and a graduate of Norfolk State University and the University of Virginia with degrees in Urban Planning, Wade moved back to the area in 1991 after a brief stint away. He has since dedicated his work to relationship building and community collaboration.
Wade’s unwavering devotion to the community has manifested through various roles in the Greater Charlottesville area. With a career spanning almost 33 years in the Albemarle County Planning department, he has also taken on multiple responsibilities, contributing as a member to various boards and committees within the city. These include, among others, the Charlottesville Urban Design Committee, 100 Black Men, A 16 year run on the Charlottesville City School board, and a previous term as Vice Mayor from 2021 to 2023. “I always had the intention of serving. I had always had all the basic needs that I needed. My father was a schoolteacher, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. We were never rich, but we always had what we needed. So, when I got here, I had a “nice government job” as they say, and my wife was employed so we had what we needed and I then said, “OK I’m going to start giving back,” and so I did that.”
As the newly appointed city leader, Juan expresses the positive aspects of his current role. He states, “It is good to be in this position where, for years and years I have been kind of in the trenches and now I am in this position of leadership that I can have an impact on some of those policies, programs, and people that I’ve worked with over the last 30 years.”
Q: Can you share your vision for the city’s future and the issues you plan to address in your term?
Juandiego Wade: When I came in as Mayor, I did not say, “This is my platform on A, B, and C,” but I do have a vision and things that I want to get accomplished this year. There are several things that I want to really help the other councilors and the City Manager push forward. One is we’re in the depths of collective bargaining, essentially, having unions in the city and that is a big deal. We are trying to figure out what that is going to look like, how it is going to impact the budget and we are in the middle of that now. I want to continue to look for opportunities to provide affordable housing all the way from zero of the AMI (American Median Income), which is unhoused in the community, to 70 and 80% of the AMI. In this community, you can have a good paying job [making] forty to sixty thousand a year and there’s no opportunities for you to purchase a home and I want to change that. I want to continue to identify all the areas where we can provide equitable services and programs. Things like the Home to Hope program [as well as working with] the nonprofits in the community. They have the reach and opportunities that maybe we don’t, but we can support them because they are supporting the city.”
Juan’s commitment to community engagement, actively listening to the community to inform his decisions during his mayoral term, is fundamental to his role. This dedication has played a crucial role in shaping him as a community servant. He emphasizes that while his primary objective is to ensure Charlottesville residents feel heard, he acknowledges the possibility of differing views. Juan aims to engage with individuals, offering them insight into the responsiveness of the government and demonstrating that leaders are genuinely attentive to the concerns of the community.
Q: Being the leader of this city does not come without public opinion. How do you plan to deal with the scrutiny that comes along when people do not agree with your future decisions?
Juandiego Wade: “We all kind of want to be loved and accepted. I know that I have made a lot of decisions already that people have not been happy with. So, there are a couple of things. One is that I’m not overly present on social media; I’m fine with it because I’m not connected. I know about it, but I don’t read it. I know that in this position, a lot of people are not going to be happy, and, man, if I base my decisions and things on that, we will get some really bad policy. How I make my big decisions— I mean, really big decisions— is that I listen to the staff, listen to my colleagues, I pray on it, and I can talk it over with my wife; then, I make the decision. I’ve been doing that for 17 or 18 years now, and sometimes it works out perfectly fine; sometimes, it doesn’t. I think because of the process that I go through, most of the time, people understand it, but I haven’t had any big outcry of it because I’m doing it, whether right or wrong, for the right reason, and that’s for the betterment either of the students and now of the city of Charlottesville.”
Outside of being a father, husband, and a political official, Mayor Wade also serves as a mentor to several young people in the community through multiple organizations such as Computers 4 Kids. When asked about what long-standing challenges he would like to address, he believes in the need to address issues faced by young Black men. Despite the existence of commendable programs like Abundant Life Ministries and Boys and Girls Club, he emphasizes the ongoing struggle to reach young Black males who may need constructive influence. Wade wants to advocate for the expansion and support of existing programs and the introduction of new initiatives to effectively engage and guide the aforementioned demographic. He stresses the need for continuous financial and emotional investment in these programs to ensure a positive impact on them as future leaders of the community.
Q: What keeps you in the game of politics, and what impact or legacy do you aim to leave behind when you step down from your role as Mayor?
Juandiego Wade:” What keeps me going is my wife, Claudette Grant. We got married in June of 1993, so I think, her support of that, but it is also the young people that I see that look up to me, to see me as a role model, that really keeps me going. I think that the legacy [I want to leave behind] would be that in two years, we would have established how we’re going to deal with the unhoused in the community right now. It’s kind of a patchwork of a program, and I would like to have that settled. The neighborhoods like Fifeville and 10th & Page, that we have a plan in place for those, that it will help preserve those and have really robust community input. But if someone, somewhere were to say 30 years from now, ‘Do you remember Juandiego Wade when he was the mayor in 2024?’ And they would say, ‘He was a really good mayor. He really listened and he acted on what he listened to.'”
To find out more about Mayor Juandiego Wade, and the Charlottesville City Council, please visit https://www.charlottesville.gov .