At a ceremony this evening, outgoing Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy’s portrait joined predecessors on the walls of City Hall. In her final speech, Bellamy touted the city’s low unemployment rate and improved relations with Buncombe County government, thanking many of her colleagues. (photo by Josh Vaughn)
Bellamy sat in the mayor’s chair for the last time, flags behind her, as she spoke for about a half hour on her time in office.
“Asheville has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state; that didn’t get there by happenstance,” she said. “The city of Asheville has meant a lot to me.”
Bellamy had plenty of thanks to go around, including to her family, city staff, local business, nonprofits and neighborhoods, among others. She encouraged even those who disagreed with Council’s policies to remain involved as Mayor-elect Esther Manheimer takes over the leadership.
“Public policy is not easy. It is a lot like making sausage,” Bellamy said. “You really don’t want to see what goes into it, but at the end, it actually tastes pretty good.”
Indeed, Bellamy herself thanked the supporters of the downtown Business Improvement District, a controversial proposal that faltered due to a number of concerns. She encouraged them to continue the effort before a new mayor and Council.
Going forward, Bellamy said that Asheville will continue to face the challenges of a growing population, and asked the public to “please be gentle on the next administration.”
Her time as the city’s mayor has featured plenty of ups and downs, with the 2008 recession coming in its middle. Bellamy, the city’s first African-American mayor, pushed increased funding for affordable housing, encouraged public-private partnerships and dealt with tight budget times. She also encountered controversy for voting against most of Council on domestic-partner benefits, and in occasional disagreements over the budget and development issues. Earlier this year, Bellamy announced that she would not run for a third term as mayor.
But Bellamy noted that since she took office, relations between city and county government have improved. She teared up as she thanked Buncombe Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt.
“We’ve had some heart-to-hearts, and he’ll tell it like it is,” she said. “He doesn’t sugarcoat it to me, but he doesn’t do it in public.” She particularly credited monthly breakfasts Gantt has with mayors as improving local government relations.
Bellamy, who has served on Council for a total of 13 years as first a member then mayor, made it clear that she had no regrets. However, she apologized for those times when she may have “said things that were harsh, that weren’t said correctly, that could have been done better,” and asked the city to remember, “I tried to serve you all well: I love this city.”
She said her own life showed the importance of determination.
“You can be anyone you want to be,” she told the crowd. “Someone from Klondyke [housing project], whose grandmother used to clean rooms here, has been mayor here. Don’t let anything stop you.”