On a rainy primary Tuesday, Asheville voters came out in record low numbers, giving candidates Marc Hunt, Chris Pelly, and Lael Gray the highest number of votes and eliminating candidates Tim Peck and TJ Thomasson from the race.
Voter turnout was barely into the double digits — a new low — but Hunt, Pelly and Gray took considerable leads. Incumbent Council member Jan Davis came in fourth, with just over 500 votes separating he and Gray. Mark Cates came in fifth, with Saul Chase a distant sixth.
Hunt did well in districts in the core and west of the city, while Pelly had his strongest showing in East Asheville, where he’s long been a community leader and activist. Gray took Montford, while Davis won districts on the outskirts of the city and Cates took part of South Asheville.
In a relatively unusual development for city races, the organizations People Advocating Real Conservancy and the Sierra Club not only endorsed Hunt, Pelly and Gray, but actively campaigned for the three. PARC also launched an attack ad against Cates, highlighting his past connections with the Asheville Tea Party.
After visiting 25 precincts in the rain during the day, Hunt met with supporters and volunteers in the evening at Asheville Pizza and Brewing on Coxe Avenue where he watched votes roll in from the primary. Hunt received the most votes of the candidates with almost 22 percent. Though he received the most votes, Hunt told Xpress that earning the most votes in the primary guarantees nothing.
“It’s not over,” Hunt said. “We’ve seen in past City Council elections that things can change dramatically from the primary to the general election. I think there is a challenge, and I feel challenged to work really hard to make sure my message continues to flow.”
The message he said he thinks voters resonated with the most is his dedication to finding commonalities instead of differences. “I’ve continually said that, with the variety of political interest in our community, we have more in common than meets the eye. We can start with what we agree on, what we know to be good for this community, what our opportunities are, and build from there,” Hunt said. ” I’d like to think that we can move forward with electing three great members of city council that can work together.”
Talking to a knot of supporters at Asheville Pizza and Brewing on Merrimon Avenue, an exuberant Gray, who said she’d been up since 4 a.m., told Xpress that “I am so excited” about the results.
“I’m so happy,” Gray said. “I’m just thinking about the possibilities of the future, it’s very thrilling.”
Going into the general election, she said, “I’m going to be working like crazy to communicate the things I care about, get to as many voters as I can, to help them understand what I care about.” She added, however, that she was worried about the low voter turnout.
“We can do better.”
Talking to Xpress by phone, Pelly touted his showing in his East Asheville base and said his campaign’s themes had found broad appeal.
“It’s always good when you’re your strongest where they know you best,” Pelly said. “The campaign theme of ‘Neighborhoods United,’ of people working together to articulate a vision, is something that I’ve tried to do, and I think that message resonated pretty well. Some of the other candidates didn’t really put forward a vision of the future, of what they wanted to do.”
He added that his emphasis on sidewalks and infrastructure improvements tapped a citywide concern.
Here’s the candidates in order of the votes they received. All the candidates except for Peck and Thomasson will now go on to compete in the Nov. 8 general election, when they’ll vie for three open seats.
Registered Voters: 64,989
Ballots Cast: 6,546
Voter Turnout: 10.07 percent
Lael Gray 20.33 percent / 3,545 votes