HOTSEAT- Outspoken: Squeaky wheel runs for Council

Peter Kleeman

Peter Kleeman's decision to run for City Council has already cost him. For one, he had to give up his job as the Hook's "Squeaky Wheel" columnist. And he had to resign as vice president of the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation.

Now he faces the ordeal of challenging three candidates backed by the Democratic machine while attempting to elbow aside another independent, Barbara Haskins.

All that considered, Kleeman expects to be elected. "I believe I have a very good chance," he says, sitting at Café Cubano on the Downtown Mall. "I do my homework. I come to the table prepared. I think people trust me to tell them what I think."

The latter may be Kleeman's strong suit. The transportation consultant has been piping up in public meetings for the past 10 years. "As a citizen, I found it really difficult to be part of the process– even if I was standing at the podium," he says.

"I have good ideas," declares the former VDOT engineer and independent consultant who focuses on transportation and environmental issues. "I'm more involved in ongoing growth issues than many people, including incumbents."

Kleeman is one of those how-things-work men. "As a young lad, I loved to take things apart– old clocks, alarm clocks– and make them into something else," he says. That proclivity took him from Long Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he earned his undergraduate degree at M.I.T. and graduate degrees from Harvard.

His expertise is large-scale mathematical models, and he sees a natural progression from large-scale, complex systems, which he taught at UVA, to environmental and transportation engineering.

At VDOT he learned, "There's a lot of politics in the way transportation is done in Virginia." So he went over to the other side, becoming an advocate for citizens' groups.

Now, instead of taking things apart, Kleeman enjoys putting things together. He makes the costumes for the Albemarle Morris Men, a folk-dance group with whom he performs. And he made a campaign sign using mosaic tile and a discarded satellite dish.

"A few people with a little bit of knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm can get things changed," he says. Sounds like the makings of a campaign slogan.

Age: 60 years young

Why here? I came to Charlottesville in 1981 to teach in the UVA School of Engineering. It was my first choice among schools I applied to, and my only offer. Sometimes you really get what you want!

What's worst about living here? Charlottesville offers many challenges, but the heat and humidity in July and August stand out in my mind.

Favorite hangout? The Central Library on East Market Street 

Most overrated virtue? Silence. Only on occasion is silence golden.

People would be surprised to know: I was a research scientist for the Apollo Space Program my first year after college (although I am not nor have I ever been a rocket scientist).

What would you change about yourself? I would be about half my age, and twice as fast.

Proudest accomplishment? Changing the lives of former students by helping them identify and follow their true passions

People find most annoying about you: I do my "homework" before I speak out on controversial issues. Simply reading background material and asking relevant questions puts me far ahead of most other people in identifying available options.

Whom do you admire? James McNear– former mayor of Colonial Heights, Virginia, and the best public servant with whom I have ever worked.

Favorite book? Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I reread it every five years or so.

Subject that causes you to rant? Motorists talking on cell-phones while driving– especially in downtown Charlottesville

Biggest 21st-century thrill? The rapid expansion of knowledge and ready access to it

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Genetically modified food

What do you drive? A 1992 Saab when I can't get where I'm going on foot or on the trolley.

In your car CD player right now: It hasn't worked since about 2005. I generally listen to BBC news and commentary when I drive.

Next journey? A walking tour through the many neighborhoods of Charlottesville as part of my campaign for a seat on Charlottesville City Council. Perhaps I'll plan a trip to the Netherlands after the November 6 election.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Standing up for what I believe in, even if it's not a popular position

Regret: Never having studied or worked in other countries around the world 

Favorite comfort food: Natural vanilla ice cream

Always in your refrigerator: An Irish stout– Beamish, Murphy's, or Guinness (in order of preference)

Must-see TV: Local TV news

Favorite cartoon: For Better or Worse by Lynn Johnston

Describe a perfect day. A visit to City Market, coffee with friends at Café Cubano, an afternoon of discovery (a hike in the woods, visit to a craft or cultural festival, perusing the library reference collection), tasting wine at Market Street Wine Shop, dinner from a backyard barbecue, lively conversation on issues of the day, and a bit of fun reading before calling it a day

Walter Mitty fantasy: Getting appointed to U.S. Secretary of Transportation. I'd be terrific in that role if given the opportunity.

Who'd play you in the movie? Jon Cobb, who played Mozart in the recent Live Arts production of Amadeus. 

Most embarrassing moment? Missing a surprise party thrown for me on my 30th birthday. My friends did a poor job of "luring" me to the surprise party, and I didn't arrive until over an hour late and then only by accident.

Best advice you ever got? Nobody is going to read your mind. If you have ideas to share, you just have to speak out.

Favorite bumper sticker? Think Globally, Act Locally