PRINCETON — Five candidates are vying for three at-large seats June 4 on the Princeton City Council.

All five candidates appeared at a candidate forum Tuesday sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of the Two Virginias. Those in attendance included incumbents David Graham, Dewey Russell, and James Hill, along with two newcomers Chris Thornton and Timothy Browning. A sixth candidate, Leslie Hopkins, has withdrawn from the race but her name will still appear on the ballot as it was too late to remove her name.

During the meeting, the five candidates were able to introduce themselves and allow the community to ask them any and all questions.

Chris Thornton, one of the owners of Black Steel Arms and Coatings in Princeton, was born and raised in the city. After moving to serve in the Air Force he returned to Princeton to open his own business.

According to Thornton, he and his brother, the other owner of the business, knew that they wanted their business to be within city limits. When confronted with comments regarding businesses often failing due to being in city limits, Thornton said, “My brother and I, we’re very passionate about the city.”

David Graham, a life long resident of Princeton, is also the current mayor. According to Graham, the city has had some considerable success such as 30 new business waivers last year and the complete paying off of two brand new fire engines. According to Graham the city paid $1.8 million for the two engines.

As for his new area of focus, he is setting his sights on addressing traffic congestion and flood control in the areas of Thorn Street and Rogers Street.

Third, in the race, Dewey Russell is a long time resident of the city. Having attended Concord University, both before and after being drafted into the Vietnam War, Russell has had a love for the city ever since. “I never thought I’d be here 24 years and I’d like to serve four more,” Russell said.

Having served in a multitude of organizations, boards, clubs, and councils, Russell is familiar with the workings of the area. “I may not be a native of Princeton but I love it just as much,” Russell said.

The second newcomer, Timothy Browning, said his intent with running is to, “Bring a fresh perspective and a new voice to our city council and help shape our community.” Though Browning has not previously served on the council he said, “I will be a voice for our entire city. Public safety is the top priority and I’ll use my experience working with the public.”

The final candidate for the at large positions, James Hill, is a life long resident of the city. “I think the council should be a visionary.” Hill said, “As a first responder I see the in’s and out’s of this town.”

“When a business comes here, they’re not here to set a business down and make money, they’re here to build a family,” Hill said, “Sometimes you’ve got to think out of the box and sometimes you’ve got to step on some toes.”

During the open questions session, the candidates were asked by President of the Princeton Fire Fighters Union, Keith Gunnoe, when the fire department would be running on full staffing. As of now, according to Gunnoe, the staff is two men short.

To this, Graham stated that in previous council meetings this issue has been addressed but can’t happen at the moment due to funding. Hill answered in the same fashion that the issue is budget constraints but that the council is working to fulfill the need.

“I think there are probably some efficiencies that can get the city some extra money to spend,” Browning said of the question, “Like Mr. Hill said, there are serious issues to make sure that you can pay that person and not have to lay someone off.”

Thornton’s answer to the same question was, “I can tell you that public safety, fire, and police, have to be a top priority for this city.” Thornton also stated that the budget is something that needs to be taken into consideration but that he, “Would love to see the department fully staffed and I feel that the fire department needs to be respected just as much.”

Russell’s answer, similar to his fellow councilmen who are currently serving, was that the budget is the biggest constraint on this issue but that work is being done to fulfill the need.

When asked what they thought the biggest need in Princeton is and how they would address it, all had varying viewpoints.

Graham stated he believes the opioid crisis is the biggest issue at hand. “It’s going to take a lot of thoughts out of the box and a lot of money. We have to get people employed and trained and get them good jobs.” Graham also mentioned the city’s current work on a Quick Response Team.

Hill also mentioned the opioid crisis and highlighted the Quick Response Team as well. According to Hill, the team consists of health care professionals and counselors to touch base with individuals after they suffer an overdose.

Following the opioid topic, Browning stated he also believes that the opioid crisis is a big issue. According to Browning, the best way to combat the epidemic is to begin with educating the youth. Aside from proper education, Browning said that he believes the city should have a committee dedicated to combating this issue.

Thornton stated that once clean, those suffering from addiction must have the education to start their career path. “If we fix the drug problems there are still other problems that’ll come behind that,” Thornton said, “To fix one problem you have to fix others.” Of the education, Thornton believes this can include college degrees, technical training, GED classes, and other forms of education as well.

Russell’s thoughts on the city’s biggest issue is that too many structures within city limits are failing the required codes. In these shambling houses, Rusell said that addicts are using and living in the addiction environment. According to Russell, with stricter code enforcement, these structures will be required to be maintained which he believes will cause the addict atmosphere to be diminished.

 Contact Emily D. Coppola at