Al Whitesides, the incumbent District 1 member of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, is facing something new in 2022: a challenger. First appointed to the board by Democratic party leaders in 2016 to fill the vacancy created by Brownie Newman’s election as Board Chair, Whitesides ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections in 2018.
This time around, writer and activist (and erstwhile Xpress reporter) Bill Branyon is providing Democratic competition. Branyon has bashed Whitesides for his vote to approve county subsidies for Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace firm building a large manufacturing plant in the Bent Creek area, due to the company’s role in supplying the U.S. military.
The winner of the Democratic primary will run against Republican Anthony Penland, chief of the Swannanoa Fire Department and a former District 2 commissioner, in November. No other primaries are being held for board seats.
The name of each candidate is linked to their responses in the post:
Occupation: Former staff reporter and regular contributor to Mountain Xpress for over 30 years, novelist, hyperactivist
Previous candidacy or offices held: Chair of Operation Safe Return (the first Gulf War); Democratic chair of precinct 7.1, Kenilworth; residency officer at UNC Asheville
Key endorsements: WNC 4 Peace
Amount of money raised: Self-financed
Top three donors: N/A
What would you bring to the Board of Commissioners that other candidates do not? An understanding that Jack Cecil and the county commissioners plan to recruit many other weapons factories in addition to the Pratt & Whitney F-35 plant, subsidized by almost $100 million of your tax dollars. Also, a willingness to stand up to the treasonous Republicans of Raleigh and decriminalize most drugs, have a referendum on how much development we want, guarantee at least a $15 minimum wage and institute rent controls in areas such as the River Arts District.
Name three achievable goals you would champion in the next four years. 1) Decriminalize drugs. Use harm reduction rather than a punitive approach. Mass rehab, not mass incarceration. This will hugely reduce pressure on police, as well as greatly reduce violent crime. 2) Use the $100 million in subsidies given to Pratt & Whitney to subsidize green industry instead. 3) Rent controls in lower-income areas and in designated spots such as the River Arts District to keep from herding artists elsewhere, as they were herded from downtown. Freeze property taxes on low-income neighborhoods.
What one recent decision by the Board of Commissioners do you most disagree with, and what would you have done differently? Not only is it obvious the commissioners plan for more weapons factories, but the F-35 built with parts from the Pratt and Whitney plant can carry a nuclear weapon that’s 22 times more powerful than that which annihilated Hiroshima. The American fleet of 2,500 F-35s can kill almost everyone and everything on Earth, turning our economy into World War III County. Is that the economy you want? Subsidize peace, not violence. Subsidize our highest hopes, not deepest fears.
What one action you would prioritize to increase trust and satisfaction in county government? The Pratt & Whitney decision was shoved down the throats of Buncombe County. The commissioners announced it one meeting; the next meeting they had a very limited public comment, 95% of which was against the plant, and then ignored citizens and voted for it. I’ll call for an investigation of the whole process, as well as avoid such miscarriages of democracy in the future. I’m not alleging dishonesty, but am alleging very bad democracy and atrocious judgment.
How will you honor the perspectives of all Buncombe residents, including those whose political views aren’t represented on the board? I’ll call for referendums on the big issues, the biggest perhaps being whether we want more development. If not, I’ll zone accordingly. I’ll save Buncombe’s forests like the Big Ivy from clear-cutting and preserve our dwindling tree canopy from the travesty of “open spaces” now being debated. I’ll consult with local nongovernmental organizations regularly and incorporate as much as possible their views on homelessness, sex and race inclusiveness, and any other issues that are challenging Buncombe County.
Occupation: Retired banker
Previous candidacy or offices held: Buncombe County commissioner, former Asheville City Schools board member
Key endorsements: Sierra Club, WNC Central Labor Council, state Rep. John Ager, state Rep. Brian Turner
Amount of money raised: Did not answer.
Top three donors: Did not answer.
What would you bring to the Board of Commissioners that other candidates do not? I have 40 years of banking experience and my lifetime of experiences as an African American living in Buncombe County.
Name three achievable goals you would champion in the next four years. 1) Achieve universal pre-K education in Buncombe County. 2) Continue to support transparency in all of Buncombe County government. 3) Continue to support diversity and inclusion for all employees in Buncombe County government regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
What one recent decision by the Board of Commissioners do you most disagree with, and what would you have done differently? None.
What one action you would prioritize to increase trust and satisfaction in county government? Keep an open-door policy and make sure all Buncombe County citizens can easily contact me with any concerns.
How will you honor the perspectives of all Buncombe residents, including those whose political views aren’t represented on the board? Same as above.
Edited at 11:15 a.m. April 28 to reflect new endorsement information for Bill Branyon