Much has changed since the March 3 primary for Asheville City Council. The fiscal fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has mostly scuttled candidates’ support for new taxes to fund city programs such as transit; existing concerns over racial justice and policing have come to dominate the conversation after months of street protests.
The political landscape of the Council race has also shifted over the past several months. Activist Nicole Townsend, who had finished fifth in a 10-way nonpartisan primary with over 9,600 votes, withdrew her candidacy in August, citing concerns over COVID-19’s impact on her family and city government’s role “in the continual perpetuation of systemic harm.” And on Sept. 22, attorney Antannette Mosley was sworn in to serve out the remaining term of Vijay Kapoor, one of Council’s most fiscally conservative members.
Amid these big developments, the race still promises to bring a significant shake-up to City Hall. With three seats up for election, even if incumbent Keith Young wins another term, he’ll be joined by two new colleagues out of the five-candidate field to replace outgoing Council members Brian Haynes and Julie Mayfield.
Two challengers, Kim Roney and Rich Lee, are familiar Asheville faces who have yet to win a seat on Council. The two placed fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2017 general election; Lee made his first Council bid in 2015 and finished fourth. Notably, Roney is the only unaffiliated candidate in an otherwise all-Democratic field.
New to electoral politics are Sage Turner and Sandra Kilgore. However, both have served on various appointed city boards and commissions, and both claim the endorsement of Mayor Esther Manheimer. Turner also led all other candidates in the March primary by over 1,200 votes; Kilgore narrowly made the cutoff for the general election, finishing in sixth over Kristen Goldsmith by about 650 votes.
The names of the candidates are linked to their responses in the post. Responses to five yes/no questions for each candidate are also presented below.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation: Real estate broker/owner
Previous candidacy or offices held: None
Key endorsements: Sierra Club, Former Asheville Housing Authority CEO Gene Bell, Mayor Esther Manheimer, Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards, Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides
Amount of money raised: $11,500
Top three donors: Realtors Political Action Committee, $2,500; Jon Sarver, $500; Kathy Kline and Donna Engley, $250
How will you manage the city’s budget to maintain quality of life in light of revenue shortfalls driven by COVID-19? I would recommend we reanalyze the entire budget with Council, the city manager and department leaders. Our goal would be to map out a strategy to ensure the city remains sustainable in light of our present state of uncertainty. The budget for essential services would have to be solidified before determining and prioritizing all other city expenses. It is important for the city to be frugal and maintain a healthy reserve as we move forward in repairing the damage caused by the pandemic.
What actions will you take to fulfill Asheville’s recent commitment to reparations for the Black community? First, I would reach out to the community to find out what are their most immediate needs and take actions to address those concerns. The community needs to feel that this is not another broken promise and that the city is devoted to reversing the damage caused by decades of systematic racism. We will not be able to change things overnight; however, providing assistance with basic necessities such as health and safety should be our first course of action.
How will you reduce the gap in opportunities and academic performance between white and Black students in the Asheville City Schools? Reducing the achievement gap must be addressed from many angles. My first step would be to restructure the oversight committee to provide more transparency and accountability. Improving early education and preschools is the foundation. We must use proven techniques, such as personalized learning, culturally relevant topics and more profound relationships with the parents. Benchmarks must be put in place to track and monitor student progress for the programs to be successful.
How will you ensure progress toward Asheville’s emissions reduction and renewable energy goals as COVID-19 stresses the city budget? I would like to see the city form more alliances with clean and renewable energy companies. By partnering with them, we can then provide more educational awareness, as well as product incentives that will thereupon increase community utilization. Forging these types of relationships would not only save residents money but would help in reducing emissions immensely.
What new opportunities for collaboration do you see with Buncombe County and state government? Buncombe County and state government have a great opportunity to work toward improving the split for the hotel occupancy tax. The hotel industry has offered a 67/33 split; however, I feel the city should pursue more favorable terms. This would also be a good time for the state to consider imposing impact fees on all new construction to assist in the funding of our dilapidated infrastructure while also easing the tax burden on our local residents.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation: Financial adviser
Previous candidacy or offices held: Two previous runs for City Council
Key endorsements: Asheville City Association of Educators, Buncombe County Association of Educators, WNC Central Labor Council, Sierra Club, N.C. Rep. John Ager
Amount of money raised: $12,000
Top three donors: My mom and I have each contributed over $1,000. After that, Bernard Arghierre at $800.
How will you manage the city’s budget to maintain quality of life in light of revenue shortfalls driven by COVID-19? These times need comprehensive fiscal management, and I think that’s my strength as a candidate. On Council, I would be open to new bonds for capital works, restructuring city departments, selling or leasing city-owned land, building affordable housing and transit partnerships with the county and finding new ways to access the tens of millions in hotel taxes collected by the TDA for local needs.
What actions will you take to fulfill Asheville’s recent commitment to reparations for the Black community? On one of the yes/no questions, I said I support reducing police budgets by as much as 50%. I think the evidence shows it’s possible, if done carefully, and a model of public safety that eschews violence and bias against Black Ashevilleans would be a form of reparations. Other forms should come from a citywide conversation, but I expect they would include a return of land taken during urban renewal, closing the opportunity gap in schools and a robust program of community investment.
How will you reduce the gap in opportunities and academic performance between white and Black students in the Asheville City Schools? Council can most directly impact the achievement gap by: 1) Moving to an elected school board. I’ve struggled with this for years, but I think it’s time. 2) Addressing factors outside school. That means housing security, community development, safer public housing that’s integrated into the community and building the Black middle class. 3.) Controlling the local school supplement paid by the ACS tax. We like to pretend the city’s responsibility ends with setting the tax rate, but it doesn’t.
How will you ensure progress toward Asheville’s emissions reduction and renewable energy goals as COVID-19 stresses the city budget? The good news is the shutdown has done more to reduce Asheville’s carbon output than lots of previous efforts. The bad news is with things reopening into recession, there’s going to be pressure to sacrifice environmental goals for economic ones. Asheville needs to see they’re the same thing. This is a chance to rebuild a greener and a better economy at the same time. Rewriting zoning, creating density around transit, planning trees and green spaces — those are all goods that can come from this.
What new opportunities for collaboration do you see with Buncombe County and state government? First on my list is transit. The only way to have a truly useful and sustainable bus system is with county support. That would allow routes to run more frequently and extend outside city limits. Next is jointly lobbying the state to redirect hotel taxes to local needs. After that, development standards around tree loss, pollution and stormwater runoff outside the city. A development in Swannanoa floods businesses in Biltmore Village, and it’s time for county zoning to recognize that.
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated
Occupation: Piano teacher, service industry worker, community radio producer
Previous candidacy or offices held: 2017 candidate for Asheville City Council, 4-year volunteer on Asheville Multimodal Transportation Commission and Transit Committee
Key endorsements: Council member Sheneika Smith, Council member Brian Haynes, Rev. Amy Cantrell, Sunrise Movement AVL/NC, Sierra Club
Amount of money raised: $16,497
Top three donors: Kendall Wright-Oliver, $2,000; Esther Cartwright, $2,000; Amy Mandell, $500
How will you manage the city’s budget to maintain quality of life in light of revenue shortfalls driven by COVID-19? To ensure a just transition through the pandemic, systemic racism, economic instability and climate change, we need to map all our local resources, including our city budget, hotel occupancy taxes and regional funding such as the Dogwood Health Trust. As a Council member, I will instruct staff, welcome public engagement, build coalition and be steady in the work to get our city budget in line with our shared values with healing as our focus, equity as our demand and resiliency as our goal.
What actions will you take to fulfill Asheville’s recent commitment to reparations for the Black community? In solidarity with intergenerational Black leadership, Black AVL Demands and the Racial Justice Coalition, I’ll listen and follow through with community-led solutions for healing and reparations locally while we work toward [federal reparations bill] HR40 nationally. Local efforts may include a moratorium on the sale of city-owned land acquired through urban renewal, investment in long-term safety strategies and ensuring organizational accountability by having our Office of Equity and Inclusion report directly to Council.
How will you reduce the gap in opportunities and academic performance between white and Black students in the Asheville City Schools? Because the opportunity gap is an outcome of systemic racism and implicit bias, we need investment in long-term safety strategies that serve students in every part of life, including housing, transit, expanded hours for community centers and mentorship partnerships, including Word on the Street, My Sistah Taught Me That/My Daddy Taught Me That, YTL: Youth Transformed for Life and Hood Huggers. To support culturally competent education with a trauma-informed approach, we must consider an elected Board of Education held accountable to equitable outcomes.
How will you ensure progress toward Asheville’s emissions reduction and renewable energy goals as COVID-19 stresses the city budget? Climate change is the biggest public safety issue of our time! We need a Green New Deal with a race and class analysis and to act on the Cadmus [100% renewable energy] report with appropriate urgency. I didn’t support the recent suggested tax increase because of potential impact on renters; however, I’m ready to lead our next bond program through public engagement and education, community partnerships and creative protections for renters and local businesses as we share in the work to heal the people and planet.
What new opportunities for collaboration do you see with Buncombe County and state government? We have to collaborate for a Green New Deal as we secure our food and water systems; support local, living-wage jobs; partner for resilient neighborhoods; restore our tree canopy; and increase accessibility to economic mobility. We’ll coordinate planning and zoning for deeply affordable housing on transit corridors, overhaul the TDA and reform our hotel occupancy tax and build coalition for community renewables legislation! Join the movement to Be ‘Bout it Being Better at kimroney4asheville.com.
Townsend will appear on the ballot but announced that she was dropping out of the race in August.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation: Finance and project manager
Previous candidacy or offices held: N/A
Key endorsements: Sierra Club, Mayor Esther Manheimer, Council member and N.C. Senate candidate Julie Mayfield, Asheville and Buncombe Associations of Education, former Buncombe County Democratic Party Chair Emmet Carney
Amount of money raised: $23,708
Top three donors: Russell Shuler, $5,400 (in kind), Keith Wright, $5,000 (in kind); Mack Pearsall, $1,000
How will you manage the city’s budget to maintain quality of life in light of revenue shortfalls driven by COVID-19? Safety first: Let’s get everyone through COVID-19 alive and well-positioned for good long-term health. Home in on our primary goals and take on only emergency initiatives. This means no more studies, consulting contracts or personnel expansions unless funded by external programs. Continue moratorium until lodging taxes are committing more to city needs. Continue to reimagine policing and divest/invest in community needs. Focus on spending down the bonds and building affordable housing.
What actions will you take to fulfill Asheville’s recent commitment to reparations for the Black community? Implement the Reparations Committee to better understand, plan and advocate for community goals. Increase prioritization of contracts and business incubation. Much of our past and lack of equity for Black Asheville is rooted in lack of access to housing and ownership or removal of such through redlining and urban removal. I will put my expertise with housing, affordability, homeownership, programs and funding opportunities to work to restore ownership and entrepreneurship and create equity.
How will you reduce the gap in opportunities and academic performance between white and Black students in the Asheville City Schools? The gap is about what happens at school and more. We need to work on the factors that bookend the school day and impact children’s ability to learn and be at their best, including housing and food security, access to the internet and assistance with virtual schooling. Continue to provide grant funds for orgs helping impacted youth. Move the school board to elected seats, reinstate joint meetings of Council and the school board and request quarterly updates on the gap, initiatives, results and needs
How will you ensure progress toward Asheville’s emissions reduction and renewable energy goals as COVID-19 stresses the city budget? Continuing to implement the Transit Master Plan and solar initiatives. Await changes in lodging tax legislation before changing hotel rules to assist in funding for transit and a workforce shuttle. Upzoning all residential zones within 0.5 miles of transit corridors to multifamily. Repairing and increasing electric vehicle infrastructure using available grant money. Updating the UDO to induce better planning and reduced reliance on personal vehicles. Fare-free transit periods to increase ridership.
What new opportunities for collaboration do you see with Buncombe County and state government? City and county partner on: return to paratransit and transit support pledge; on LUIG (Land Use Incentive Grants) to create affordable housing in the city; building of a new public housing community and redevelopment of existing public housing communities every 4 years; on policies for short term rentals. City/NC: Recovery funding; lodging tax and restrictions, vacancy tax on second homes, inclusionary zoning, municipal transit tax, banning plastic bags, tax increment financing, Green New Deal.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation: Deputy clerk of superior court
Previous candidacy or offices held: Asheville City Council
Key endorsements: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund
Amount of money raised: $4,400
Top three donors: Bonnie Matherson, $1,500; Albert Sneeden, $1,500; Self, $500
How will you manage the city’s budget to maintain quality of life in light of revenue shortfalls driven by COVID-19? In light of new revelations from our budget staff, our fund balance will not take as big of a hit as initially expected, thus remaining between 16%-17%. We are in a good position to weather the storm, as well as continuing to take advantage of federal aid that is currently covering a great deal of some of our COVID-related expenses.
What actions will you take to fulfill Asheville’s recent commitment to reparations for the Black community? My next initiative, which I’m currently working on, will be to establish a blended component unit and a permanent or restricted fund to establish a permanent funding solution that will fund reparations in perpetuity and take advantage of public and private donations from a myriad of parties.
How will you reduce the gap in opportunities and academic performance between white and Black students in the Asheville City Schools? By continuing to support the joint venture established by the city of Asheville, community and the school system. Also, by supporting our Community Development Block Grant/Strategic Partnership Funds funding process through an equity lens that suggests funding community resources specifically tailored to closing the achievement gap. (Since we are prohibited from funding the school system directly.)
How will you ensure progress toward Asheville’s emissions reduction and renewable energy goals as COVID-19 stresses the city budget? This is definitely tough, considering the tight squeeze on finances. However, I’m inclined to follow the recommendations of our sustainability department and listen to our partners in the community that have a foothold and track record for doing this type of work. Also, continuing to utilize federal funding to leverage upgrading our fleet of buses with hybrids that have better emissions standards. (Because of terrain and other factors, electric buses have sadly been a struggle here.)
What new opportunities for collaboration do you see with Buncombe County and state government? Civilian review boards for police accountability, reparations, public transportation, tax allocations, TDA structure and allocations and extraterritorial jurisdiction review.