WILLIAMSBURG — When city voters look at their ballots for City Council May 3, the one known quantity they'll see is Paul Freiling.
A member of Council for 12 years and vice mayor for the past six, Freiling will be the only incumbent on the ballot. That's due to the retirements from Council of Mayor Clyde Haulman and City Councilwoman Judy Knudson, who have formed an unofficial ticket with Freiling in his last two runs for office. In 2012, with three incumbents and a number of challengers on the ballot, Freiling was the city's top vote getter. With three seats up for election this year, Council is assured of at least two new faces.
Although he'd have seniority and experience as the vice mayor were he to be re-elected, Freiling said that doesn't necessarily mean he'd want to be mayor.
"There are two other councilmen [Doug Pons and Scott Foster] with six years of experience," he said during a recent interview with the editorial boards of the Virginia Gazette and Daily Press designed to determine which candidates the newspapers will endorse. "So we'd have to see. If it's a way that I could serve the city I wouldn't say 'no'."
Freiling, who grew up in Fredericksburg, is a College of William and Mary student who came for college and never left. By the time he graduated in 1983, he was already working for Colonial Williamsburg and has now been with the foundation for more than 30 years. He's director of major gifts programs in Colonial Williamsburg's fundraising arm.
His employment with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation means that there are usually several issues per year where Freiling has to recuse himself from discussion or voting because they directly affect the foundation.
If Freiling remains on Council there's likely one thing for certain — he would continue to the most inquisitive of council members. It's rare that Council takes up an issue where Freiling doesn't have at least a couple of questions for staff or of the applicant on special use permits..
Here are his comments on some of the topics addressed in the meeting:
On the budget: Asked about what the city should do with the expanding revenues related to increased property assessments, he was straightforward.
"It's not like the things that we use that revenue to pay for are getting any cheaper," he said, pointing out that just replacing one emergency vehicle is a huge investment for the city.
And he says the city's enviable financial situation, a high credit rating and more than $20 million in cash reserves, is the result of careful and conservative budgeting.
"We've been able to provide a high quality of service and to keep the tax rates low," he said.
On economic development: Freiling supports the city's policy of buying up older, no-longer-viable motel properties and holding them for economic development opportunities.
"Do you remember what the Tioga looked like?" he asked of a Richmond Road property that was widely regarded as an eyesore before the city bought and demolished it.
"Now Councilman Pons, he's found another way to go that seems to be working for him," Freiling said. Pons got permission from the city to turn half of his motel into affordable apartments, The Flats at Quarterpath.
Freiling would also like to see the city pursue sports tourism, in cooperation with surrounding localities. For instance, he thinks York County should be involved in any discussions of building a news sports venue.
And, he said, there's one lesson he learned from Fredericksburg that he'd like Williamsburg to avoid.
"There came a time when the suburbs were booming, but the core city was just withering because everything was moving out from the center. I think that's something we want to guard against in Williamsburg."
On education: With two children in the WJCC Schools, he's also a supporter of the school system and of a fourth middle school on the James Blair Middle School site.
"I don't think there's any question about that being a location for a school, it served this community as a school for decades," he said.
Having served on the city's Beautification Advisory Committee and the Architectural Review Board and as a member a chairman of Planning Commission, Freiling has a good grasp on land-use issues affecting the city.
Currently he serves as Council's liaison to the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority and Virginians for High Speed Rail. He's long been an advocate of greater use of passenger rail on the Peninsula.
Reach Vaughan at 757-345-2343..
Occupation: Fund raiser for Colonial Williamsburg
Education: B.A. in Classical Civilizations from the College of William and Mary
Family: married, with two children, 17 and 14.
This is the first of a series of profiles on Williamsburg City Council candidates
The following will run on these dates:
Greg Granger – April 9
Elaine McBeth – April 13
Barbara Ramsey – April 16
Benny Zhang – April 20