2017 Asheville City Council and mayor primary election guide

Xpress presents its voter guide featuring candidate questionnaires with Asheville's mayoral and City Council candidates.

It’s that time again!

While it might not receive the fanfare of a presidential contest, this fall’s municipal election will determine who is making decisions on behalf of taxpayers and charting a course for the future of our communities. On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Asheville voters will go to the polls in a primary election to narrow the list of candidates for City Council and mayor. The election will whittle a field of 12 City Council candidates down to six who will compete for three seats in the general election on Nov. 7. Four mayoral candidates are vying for two slots in the general election.

Xpress presents answers to a questionnaire sent to all candidates for Asheville mayor and City Council. This election guide will help voters get to know the candidates and make an informed choice about who they want representing them in City Hall. For more information about the early voting schedule, voter registration, sample ballots, polling locations and more visit our voter resource guide. The information from this election guide below will also be available in Xpress‘  Oct. 4 issue.

Asheville mayoral candidates

The mayoral candidates answered open-ended and yes-or-no questions. You can view the more in-depth answers by clicking a candidate’s picture. There is also a grid below you can use to compare how each candidate answered the series of yes-or-no questions.

A fourth mayoral candidate, Jonathan Austin Glover, will appear on the ballot but confirmed with Xpress that he has withdrawn his bid.

Esther Manheimer

Martin Ramsey

Jonathan Wainscott


New Mayor grid

Asheville City Council candidates

The City Council candidates answered open-ended and yes-or-no questions. You can view the more in-depth answers by clicking a candidate’s picture. There is also a grid below you can use to compare how each candidate answered the series of yes-or-no questions.

Pratik Bhakta

Cecil Bothwell

Andrew Fletcher

Jeremy Goldstein

Vijay Kapoor

Jan (Howard) Kubiniec

Rich Lee

Kim Roney

Sheneika Smith

Adrian Vassallo

Dee Williams

Gwen Wisler




Editor’s note, Oct. 2: We have updated the yes-or-no candidate grids to reflect the design of our upcoming print edition of the voter guide.


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About Carolyn Morrisroe
Carolyn Morrisroe served as news editor and reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @CarolynMorrisro

Before you comment

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38 thoughts on “2017 Asheville City Council and mayor primary election guide

  1. NFB

    Any place we can get a little nuance and specifics to these “yes” or “no” answers?

    • Carolyn Morrisroe

      In this questionnaire, the candidates were specifically limited to answering only “yes,” “no” or “no answer” for those 10 questions. We asked them an additional six short-answer questions, to which they had the opportunity to respond with 50 words or fewer. Those short-answer questions and responses can be viewed by clicking on any candidate’s photo above.

      • NFB

        Thanks. I had missed the short answer feature.

        I do realize that with so many candidates it is difficult to allow for extensive elaboration but it would have been nice to have had at least short elaborations on the yes or no questions, but I thank MX for there regular City Council election coverage.

        • chad

          there are multiple candidate forums where you can meet & query candidates face to face… Asheville on Bikes is hosting one at the Wedge on foundry st tonight

          • Karuna

            as it was AVL on bikes, I am sure candidates were asked about alt transit, sidewalks, bike lanes and excessive car traffic. Who do you think gave positive responses on this? Also, chad, do you wrk at youngbloods?! 😀

    • Alan Ditmore

      That’s the same way they will have to vote on council, yes or no. The nature of their job is binary so the questions are accurate.

      • SpareChange

        Although true, once a question is framed it usually comes to a yes or no / up or down vote, the point is that as members of the council they get to shape the policy (question) they will be voting on. At no time will there be a vote on whether “current affordable housing strategies are sufficient?” There may, however, be votes on specific policies related to affordable housing, and neither this question, nor the yes or no answers, provide any insight as to what each candidate thinks should or should not be done about affordable housing, or what their overall view is on the appropriate role of the city in such policy.

        • NFB

          Well, I would like to hear those who answered “yes” to the question “Is the Buncombe County TDA contributing its fair share to help the city manage the impact of tourism?” explain why they answered “yes.”

          • bsummers

            Pratik Bhakta is a hotel owner who I think it’s safe to say would like to see more tourists come to Asheville; Adrian Vassallo is an accountant whose firm works for hotels; Jeremy Goldstein is a realtor who, let’s face it, isn’t going broke when another and another and another hotel comes to town. All those motivations are served by having every dime possible of tax revenue go towards advertising etc. that puts more “heads in beds”. If the City thinks they need more money for cops or potholes or whatever, that’s what local property taxes are for. Just jump them up a little when the residents aren’t looking.

            I have no idea why Andrew Fletcher answered the way he did.

          • SpareChange

            It’s a bit facile to simply look at a candidate’s profession and use that as a basis for assumptions and conclusions about their positions on complex policy issues. Witness Rich Lee — an Edward Jones investment advisor, and a self-professed Democratic Socialist. By the litmus test being applied here to some of the other candidates, one should assume that Mr. Lee would always side with owners and capital — which I do not believe is the case. Similarly, perhaps candidates Bhakta, Vassallo, and Goldstein should not be so neatly compartmentalized as a result of one “Y” of “N” on one question, about one issue, which does not even provide opportunity to explain their answer.

          • NFB

            “Similarly, perhaps candidates Bhakta, Vassallo, and Goldstein should not be so neatly compartmentalized as a result of one “Y” of “N” on one question, about one issue, which does not even provide opportunity to explain their answer.”

            Perhaps, but until another explanation is given this one isn’t exactly implausible.

            I knew about the backgrounds of Mr. Bhakta and Mr. Goldstein, but not Mr. Vassallo. His background might also explain why he was the only one to answer “no” to the question about whether or not the city should do more to mange the pace of hotel development.

            If I am not mistaken, as a musician Mr. Fletcher often performs at the Grove Park Inn — more “heads in beds” would not exactly be the worst thing for him.

          • SpareChange

            The fact that there is so much speculative discussion about what the candidates’ answers “might” mean speaks to the shortcomings of the format MX chose to use.

            I sympathize with their dilemma (lots of candidates with limited time and space to address questions in writing and in detail, lots of issues to cover — and probably lots of readers with short attention spans).

            Just as a for instance, regarding the question about whether or not the city should do “more” to mange the pace of hotel development: The first thing I thought of when I saw the question, was that the Council has already recently done a great deal to become more directly involved in these decisions, and just about exactly a year ago enacted new processes requiring their involvement and approval in any but the very smallest hotel projects anywhere in the city. That is what enabled the disapproval of the Embassy Suites project at Haywood and Montford last January. With the new process already in place, it seems reasonable to answer “No” on the question of whether more still needs to be done, and still be in favor strict scrutiny of hotel development. I have no idea if that would be Mr. Vassallo’s interpretation of the question, but it was mine.

  2. Patrick Hester

    While I appreciate the information presented here as a voter in this election, as a professor who teaches decision making I have to say that your method has flaws. Encouraging voters to vote for the candidate that they agree with the most seems logical, however, it assumes that each category is equally important, which is rarely the case. While it would complicate things quite a bit, having a weighting for each question would more fully capture a voter’s preferences as they sought to determine the candidate that most aligns with their belief system.

    • Able Allen

      As a matter of fact it is easy to weight the questions. Of course the weighting has to be assigned by the individual. So for instance I can compare my answers to the candidate answers and whenever a candidate agrees with me I could write a number between one and three (for level of importance) in the check boxes, then the candidate with the most points would be my top choice, in theory.

      In practice, how this probably actually pans out is that most people never even mark an answer down. I suspect people use their guts to apply weight to each question as they read the answers and when they see a candidate agrees with something they are particularly passionate about, they mark that candidate as a possibility. Then, I suspect most people cement their choices after reviewing the more subjective short answers.

      The goal of the format is to offer some interactivity and the chance for the reader to consider how they themselves would vote on the issues presented here.

      Thanks for your feedback, Dr. Hester.

  3. luther blissett

    After the primary, it might be useful to update the grid with the positions of the council members not facing re-election this year. With at least one change and potentially four (if you include the mayor) it’s worth knowing where Young, Mayfield and Haynes agree and disagree with the six remaining candidates.

  4. Lulz

    Here’s some actual questions you should ask:

    Do you believe that city and county government can merge some offices to save money?

    Do you believe it’s the job of government to ignore infrastructure maintenance in order to transfer money to causes and organizations that benefit only a few?

    Do you believe since the city residents receive no core services from the county, that they should pay the same tax rates as county residents?

    Do you believe it’s the role of government to ignore at all cost 2/3’s of its residents to funnel money into areas to benefit the wealthy few?

    Do you believe tenured government bureaucrats should be held up to standards and fired for misuse of funds? And that they should come up for review once a year and provide numbers and figures for how they spent money?

    Do you believe that imposing fees on services that should already be payed for via property taxes is nothing more than a scheme to make up for the bad policy decisions?

    Do you believe that those benefiting from tourism are paying their fair share and giving back?

    Do you believe that non-profits should continue to be excluded from paying property taxes even though some own and are continually buying up prime property all over the city and county? And that the billions exempted from taxation are a good thing? Especially as they also receive other tax breaks and or subsidies.

    • Rich

      I’ll take a crack at this.

      1. Sure, I’m open to that. Which ones do you suggest?
      2. I don’t believe those budget lines are in competition. And most city spending only “benefits a few.” If you don’t have kids in Asheville schools, is it fair that your tax money is “transferred” to them? If you don’t drive on South Asheville streets, should your taxes transfer there? I don’t think the role of government is to avoid any kind of transfer. (It would be crazy to make the homeless pay for their own services; if they could, they wouldn’t be homeless.) It’s more to make the transfers transparent and equitable.
      3. That’s incorrect. As city residents, we still receive county EMS, county health, county election services, county tax collection, are served by the county Sheriff and use the county jail. Our kids’ school buildings are built and maintained by the county, and so on.
      4. No.
      5. Yes.
      6. No. I believe fees are ways of making the current principal financing structure of the city more progressive. Cities in North Carolina are barred by state law from charging differential property tax rates, so I pay the same property tax rate as a Town Mountain McMansion on a steep slope, a downtown hotel, or New Belgium. Where cities *are* allowed to charge different rates are in fees. So, for example, New Belgium pays a different water and sewer rate than me. It has different stormwater impacts, being surrounded by parking lots and roofs, so it pays different fees. It produces more waste, and that waste fills our nearly-full landfill faster, so there’s a way of tailoring the fees to that, too. Unlike your property tax bill, which is beholden to the vagaries of your neighborhoods’ market and county assessors, and applies to all your neighbors more-or-less equally, you could grind up your driveway, replace it with pervious brick or gravel, and reduce your stormwater fee. Someday, god willing, you’ll be able to reduce your garbage at the curb and pay a lower trash fee. Fees are ways to differentiate between properties by the amount of city service they use, not just by how expensive someone calculated their house was. Isn’t that what we want? (Granted, I do think fee increases are becoming more used to hide tax increases, but I’m not against the idea of fees in general.)
      7. No.

      Hope that helps! As a reminder, you can vote for up to 3. Early voting is on from now until October 7th, and allows same-day registration if you need to update yours. After that, the actual primary is October 10th, but you won’t be able to same-day register. Top 6 vote-getters clear the primary and stand for a general election November 7th.

      • Lulz

        EMS charges 500 plus per a ride does it not? Again, why am I paying the same rate for Buncombe County as the city? And if the city does not provide such services then why do they need to charge so much? Can I not opt out of garbage pick up if I choose so? Trust me when I say I could take it to the dump for a whole lot less than what the city charges.

        County does not maintain city schools. You do know there’s a city school maintenance building in west Asheville do you not? And it’s not on Bingham where the old Square D plant was located. If the county is maintaining city schools, then why does the other building house all the equipment and personnel for the city to use? Buncombe County does not build nor maintain the city schools and I’m surprised you wrote that.

        Again, if fees are imposed on what should be property tax funded issues, then why are property taxes increasing? Oh that’s right, we’re building up the RAD for New Belgium and Biltmore.

        • Lulz

          And where you go wrong is New Belgium pays a lower fee rate. But they also get millions in subsidies including money being diverted from infrastructure to build up the surrounding roads around them. Again, why are fees being used to make up for misuse of funds by the city?

          If you really had the residents in mind, your first task would be to lower the taxes on them and start making New Belgium pay their fair share. But they didn’t come here because they’d pay. Actually they complete opposite is true.

          • Rich

            I’m positive the EMS system is subsidized with county taxes and not funded entirely by rides. The dump, likewise, is funded by taxes, not just garbage fees. When you drive your trash up there yourself, you are still contributing to its retirement in less than ten years, at which point the city will have to either obtain new land somewhere in the county for another dump, or (more likely) pay another county to take it.

            You’re incorrect about city schools. They’re built by the county, including the new Isaac Dickson my children attend. I’m not sure what transfer of funds between city and county pay for that. County builds and maintains the library system, too.

            You’re right that New Belgium pays a lower water rate as an industrial user than I pay as a home user. Someone could probably argue that’s a job-creating business incentive, or just some reflection of the different maintenance demands of residential lines and industrial ones, but I don’t know. Your mileage may vary on that. My point is that the rates are individually adjustable to reflect different demands and effect different outcomes, unlike property taxes.

          • luther blissett

            “I’m positive the EMS system is subsidized with county taxes and not funded entirely by rides.”

            That would be the combined fire/rescue/EMS tax for non-municipal parts of the county, which varies based on fire district, is generally lower for districts closer to Asheville, and is additional to the base millage rate. User fees represent about 45% of the $11m total EMS revenues. (Source: the Buncombe County budget.)

          • Rich Lee

            Good info. Consider my other examples of county services used by city residents to be severable from that example.

          • Lulz

            LOL, you best take a trip to Westside Drive and check out the ACS maintenance facility. Can’t believe you’re unaware or you’re making things up. Or oblivious.

            Buncombe County does not build nor maintain the city schools. If that’s the case, then why are there 2 separate school systems?

            Again, does the city of Asheville pay for EMS services? No, but they sure do have shiny fire engines.

          • luther blissett

            I don’t think it detracts much from your point: the fire/rescue/EMS component is rolled into city taxes, and looking at the city budget, I’d guess that if it were broken out into a separate line item, it’d be in the same range as what’s paid in the unincorporated county. Mutual aid means it all basically squares up.

          • bsummers

            And if I’m not mistaken, a large part of the sales tax re-distribution goes to support fire and EMS services in the county. That’s sales tax generated mostly within Asheville, it goes to the state, the state takes their cut, and the rest goes back to the county which then spends an ordinate percentage of it in areas that barely generate any revenue on their own. The City of Asheville winds up getting single-digit percentage of the tax revenue generated here, while supporting fire and EMS for everyone in the county.

            But please, do continue complaining about what a burden Asheville is.

          • Lulz

            LOL you’re making the case as to why city should not be taxed at the same rate as the county resident. Seems to me that I’m subsidizing county residents while they pay less. Shouldn’t they pay their fair share of the costs? Why should I pay the same county tax rates when I don’t use county services?

          • Lulz

            See Lee is telling me that paying double tax rates is a good thing. You are telling me that the county needs city funding even though the city residents aren’t using county services. So tell me again why a city resident should pay the same county rates as a county resident even though there are 2 separate school systems, MSD handles the sewer, the city has its own water system, their own garbage collection, their own public housing system, their own park system, their own road maintenance system, etc.? If city residents are expected to fund the county as the same rate as county residents, wouldn’t it be better to combine many of the offices and services and lower the city residents tax bill while increasing the amount paid by the county residents?

          • luther blissett

            “does the city of Asheville pay for EMS services? No, but they sure do have shiny fire engines.”

            “The Asheville Fire Department responds approximately 17,000 calls for service each year. About 55 percent of those calls are fire related, and 45 percent are for assistance with medical, special rescue and hazardous materials emergencies.”


            So the city FD, Buncombe EMS, and the various volunteer FDs work together based on where a response is needed. But maybe that’s just a huge deception to rip off city taxpayers, and when you see the Riceville or Reynolds paramedics show up in East Asheville, they’re doing it for fun.

            “Seems to me that I’m subsidizing county residents while they pay less.”

            Sometimes the blind squirrel finds an old nut. The denser bits of the near-county (Arden, Bent Creek, Candler, Royal Pines, etc.) benefit from proximity to city infrastructure, and there’s a strong case that the county should be contributing more in terms of transit and road management. The far-county (Sandy Mush, Alexander, Barnardsville, etc.) is in a different position.

            For your own peace of mind, perhaps you should sell up and buy a 20-acre compound over by Sandy Mush, because it sounds like you want all the benefits of county living, where things like trash collection are added extras. Maybe you should advocate that only households with school-age children pay the school system tax? Or have ticket booths and ID checks at parks? That’s the path that the elites who build gated communities and opt out of public services would like to take, which is why they’re good at getting working stiffs angry about supposed freeloaders.

          • Lulz

            LOL Lee is lying through his teeth when he states the County does maintenance for the city schools lulz. And also builds the schools LOL. And this is someone you want on council?

            The only elitist is the one who thinks 30 buck plates of food are cheap. And it ain’t me.

          • luther blissett

            It’s always fun to be accused of saying and thinking things that you don’t think and never said.

  5. Because the lifeblood of any city is it’s transportation system we need to elect Kim Rony who is the only candidate that doesn’t own a car and is on Asheville’s Multi-Modal Transportation Committee and Transit Committee. We will never break the stranglehold of our car centric policies if we continue to elect people that drive cars. Everyone knows we have an issue with traffic and parking yet people continue to drive their automobiles. She is the only candidate that adheres to the philosophy of “Be the change you wish to see in the world”

  6. Carolyn Morrisroe

    We have updated the yes-or-no candidate grids to reflect the design of the print edition of the voter guide, which will appear in our Oct. 4 issue.

  7. Andrew Fletcher

    Why did I say YES to “Is the TDA pitching in enough?” I didn’t! Fake News!? Nope, just a typo. In the MountainX’s candidate questionnaire published this week, they published one of my answers incorrectly. The CORRECT response to “Is the Buncombe County TDA contributing its fair share to help the city manage the impact of tourism?” is NO, they are not.

    The MountainX promptly fixed the mistake when I pointed it out to them. I worked for a newspaper for nine years and I made my share of typos, so I understand a simple mistake. But I want to be clear that I think Asheville needs to increase the effort with the TDA and Raleigh to route more funds to building the local infrastructure that visitors need. Tourists should pay for tourism.

  8. Deplorable Infidel

    Thanks to Mr. Wainscott for posting his now seasoned good solutions for managing this pathetically run ‘city’.

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