Sure, Council elections aren’t partisan, but there are many Democrats in Asheville, and five of the nine candidates vying for City Council seats made their pitches last night, Aug. 2, at a Young Democrats meet-and-greet. The event was the first of the campaign season to get multiple candidates at the same event.
Gathering upstairs in the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, about 30 Democratic Party members watched as the candidates came up, one by one, to make their pitch.
Council elections are non-partisan, meaning that there’s no party primary and the party affiliation of candidates isn’t noted on the ballot. Nonetheless, in a heavily Democratic city, the importance of party is inescapable. This year, only one Republican (Mark Cates) is running for three open seats on the seven-member Council. Mayor Terry Bellamy, who isn’t up for election this cycle, and five of the other six Council members are all Democrats. Once Council’s lone Republican, incumbent Bill Russell switched to unaffiliated last year.
First to make his pitch was T.J. Thomasson, who declared that, as an openly gay man, he would have an “openly gay campaign” and wanted “to see a healthier, safer Asheville” that focuses on such celebrated causes as improved sidewalks and bike lanes. He also wants the city to move faster in implementing an anti-bullying resolution promised in the equality resolution Council passed in February.
Next up was Lael Gray, who essentially presented a résumé in her remarks, citing her experience with local activism from environmental causes to education to helping design plans for the I-26 connector and anti-racism work with Building Bridges.
Marc Hunt, former chair of the Greenways Commission, touted his commitment to environmental preservation along with economic development. He also said that “finances are a particular specialty of mine,” leaving him suited to addressing the city’s budget issues.
Chris Pelly has run twice before, and during his short pitch he quickly got in a plug for his history as a “proud Democrat” along with his campaign’s slogan — “neighborhoods united.” He promised to push to address “unmet needs” like better sidewalks and parks.
Russell went last, jokingly referring to himself as a “Republican in recovery. I’m an independent, I see things from a neutral view.” Russell plugged his conduct so far as seeking to improve things “progressively and remain fiscally responsible.”
After the my-pitch-in-a-nutshell part, the attendees encircled the candidates, making introductions, asking questions and, in some cases, just sharing memories or stories (it’s a small enough city that many of the attendees and candidates swapped personal stories).
The Asheville-Buncombe League of Women Voters will hold the next major meet-and-greet on Sept. 20 in Pack’s Tavern, and aim to have all nine candidates there.
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