Asheville’s new City Council takes office

NEW COUNCIL: Asheville City Council for the next two years. Back row, from left, Keith Young, Brian Haynes, Mayor Esther Manheimer and Julie Mayfield. Front row, from left, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, Vijay Kapoor and Sheneika Smith. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
NEW COUNCIL: Asheville City Council for the next two years. Back row, from left, Keith Young, Brian Haynes, Mayor Esther Manheimer and Julie Mayfield. Front row, from left, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, Vijay Kapoor and Sheneika Smith. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

Asheville welcomed its most diverse City Council in history, as new and re-elected Council members took the oath of office on Dec. 5 at City Hall in front of a packed chamber of family, friends and supporters.

Vijay Kapoor and Sheneika Smith join Keith Young as Council members from minority communities. And for the first time, Asheville City Council is majority female, with the re-election of Gwen Wisler and Mayor Esther Manheimer adding to the ranks of women that also includes Council member Julie Mayfield.

MAYOR AGAIN: Esther Manheimer, surrounded by her family, takes the oath of office administered by Judge Alan Thornburg. Manheimer won re-election to a second term as mayor in November. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
MAYOR AGAIN: Esther Manheimer, surrounded by her family, takes the oath of office administered by Judge Alan Thornburg. Manheimer won re-election to a second term as mayor in November. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

Kapoor and Sheneika Smith replace outgoing Council members Gordon Smith, who did not run for re-election, and Cecil Bothwell, who did not amass enough votes in the primary to continue.

Throughout the evening’s proceedings, speakers celebrated the new diversity of Asheville’s city representation. Council member Brian Haynes welcomed the new members and acknowledged the body’s demographic shift. “It’s not yet proven if this will be a truly progressive Council, but by looking at the makeup of this Council, we certainly have seen progress, because I’m the only white male up here,” he said to applause and laughter from the audience.

Manheimer, who won a landslide re-election for a second term as mayor, said Asheville saw the greatest voter turnout ever in a municipal election. “The people also elected the most diverse Council in the history of this city. And for the first time ever we have a majority woman Council,” she said, prompting cheers.

SOLEMNLY SWEAR: Sheneika Smith is sworn into office surrounded by her family. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
SOLEMNLY SWEAR: Sheneika Smith is sworn into office surrounded by her family. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

Manheimer went on to say Council faces a great deal of work in addressing the issues of long-term, sustainable affordability and equity, and encouraged that work to happen through collaboration and respectful disagreement. “This means that this community must exhibit the kind of civil discourse that we are desperately needing today in our city, our state, our nation and our world. Let us lead by example,” she said. “Let’s discard destructive rhetoric and saber rattling to make our community a better place tomorrow than it was yesterday.”

A turning point

Kapoor, a businessman from South Asheville, garnered the most votes in the primary and general elections. He alluded to his Indian and Polish heritage in remarks to the audience at the swearing-in ceremony. “I was the first in my family to be born in this country and I grew up here in Asheville,” he said. “I owe so much to the city and to this country and I’m very thankful to be in a position to be able to give back and to be able to be sitting up here.”

Kapoor acknowledged the broader context of political turmoil and socioeconomic challenges. “This Council takes office at a time that’s very difficult in our nation’s history. Many in Asheville are struggling, and the issues we face are incredibly complex,” he said. “These are not normal times, and I want this Council to be remembered as one that when called upon, didn’t let our community down, didn’t let our nation down, didn’t let our families down.”

TAKING THE OATH: Gwen Wisler was re-elected to City Council in the recent election and at the Dec. 5 organization meeting and swearing-in ceremony, Council re-elected her vice mayor. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
TAKING THE OATH: Gwen Wisler was re-elected to City Council in the recent election, and at the Dec. 5 organizational meeting and swearing-in ceremony, Council re-elected her as vice mayor. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

Sheneika Smith, an African-American Asheville native, told those in attendance how she’s seen the city’s transformation firsthand. She said as a girl, she would ride the bus downtown past boarded-up buildings and gangs of pigeons, and though the city is now flourishing, “a great fraction of our community is suffering, homeless, children who go to school every day who can’t focus on their learning because they are hungry.”  

Sheneika Smith said she’s familiar with the communities who are struggling through her work at Green Opportunities. “Together we can fight for justice, because we’ve been doing it the whole time. We were born fighting, a lot of us, because we were born marginalized and some people a victim of circumstance,” she said. “We will fight for equity and fairness. … We are history makers. We going to make some things happen here.”

As part of the proceedings, Council members unanimously voted in Wisler as vice mayor for another term. Wisler said she looks forward to working with the new faces on Council. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I can’t wait to get started,” she said.

Work still to be done

Young apologized for getting emotional as he reflected that it’s been decades since two African-Americans served on Asheville City Council together. “To hear people say that our community is gone, you don’t have jobs, you don’t have homes, there’s a lot of poverty, there’s a lot of violence sometimes, and to see people think the community is dying, I want to say here today that that is not the case,” he said. “This is a new renaissance. This is a new birth.”

OLD AND NEW: Vijay Kapoor, left, now joins Brian Haynes on the dais at in the City Council chamber. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
OLD AND NEW: Vijay Kapoor, left, now joins Brian Haynes on the dais in the City Council chamber. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

Mayfield welcomed the new Council members and addressed her remarks to the two departing members. She recognized the contributions of Bothwell, who was not in attendance at the ceremony, and highlighted the accomplishments of Gordon Smith on transit, food policy and affordable housing. “On each one of those issues, you moved the needle noticeably, and the city is in a fundamentally different place on each one of those issues than we were when you started,” she told him. “If I can be half as effective as you have been, I will be very happy with my tenure on Council.”

Gordon Smith expressed deep gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve on City Council for two terms. He shared sentiments of support to the new Council members, gave thanks to his wife, and recognized the hard work of the press and city staff. He also offered a lighthearted take on the feedback he has received while serving on Council. “There are 90,000 people in this city, and I have heard from most of you. There were three people who called to say nice things — thank you,” he joked.

STEPPING DOWN: Outgoing City Council member Gordon Smith thanks the community — both those who supported him and those who did not — at the changing of the guard on Dec. 5. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
MOVING ON: Outgoing City Council member Gordon Smith thanks the community — both those who supported him and those who did not — at the changing of the guard on Dec. 5. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

On a more serious note, Gordon Smith acknowledged community members who are strong advocates for the issues that are most important to them. “I’ve worked with so many people who are really just trying to make a life, to make sure their kids are healthy and safe and getting through school and have enough food and have a good place to live,” he said. “I have run into people who were less than happy with me, and again and again what I’ve been struck with is even to step forward and express that requires so much passion and care for your community.” He thanked those who have brought their hopes, desires and needs to him and said they have helped him grow as a person over his eight years in office.

The new City Council will not have long to rest on its laurels. The next Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES: Asheville City Council's seven members now include three members of minority groups and four women. From left, Keith Young, Julie Mayfield and Sheneika Smith. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe
DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES: Asheville City Council’s seven members now include three from minority backgrounds and four women. From left, Keith Young, Julie Mayfield and Sheneika Smith. Photo by Carolyn Morrisroe

 

SHARE
About Carolyn Morrisroe
Carolyn Morrisroe is the news editor and city government reporter at Mountain Xpress. She can be reached at cmorrisroe@mountainx.com. Follow me @CarolynMorrisro

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

15 thoughts on “Asheville’s new City Council takes office

  1. Jake

    I’m glad our Council is starting to look like America: 3 people of color and 4 women.

  2. Alan Ditmore

    It’s about time! The lame duck council had time to do a lot of damage since the election! which will cause a lot of homelessness.

  3. BMacAVL

    Maybe they will start making decisions based on the good of city/state tax payers vs. kickbacks for themselves by ONLY supporting corporate partners gain…probably not but one can dream I suppose…right?

    Short Term Rentals: The current STR topic is all about $$$ for the the tourism folks to keep bringing in more tourists but refusing to acknowledge the lack of infrastructure improvements necessary to help relieve morning and evening traffic.

    Corporate Cronies & AVL elected officials: Just say NO to Corporate businesses downtown is a total crock-of-sh*t…they continue to allow corporate hotels, restaurants, and retail spaces into downtown after all the BUZZ about how city council is working so hard to keep them out to keep more space for locally owned and operated businesses in downtown. What we are witnessing now and will continue to see get worst as more and more property is sold to folks outside of the area who simply make more money when working with corporate entities. This will eventually squeeze local businesses out who are renting space and don’t have the capital to purchase the real estate.

    Crime: Have you ever driven by the hot spot on Cox & Hillard Ave. downtown? Ever notice that the police simply allow dealers to pull up and sling product in the open air or the fact white collar crime is committed everyday elected officials through handshake deals with hotel tycoons with “part-time residency” or how jail is 100% full of non-violent female drug offenders?

    Education: While so many in our community suffer from drug addiction beyond clean needle give-a-ways at Orbit video, Narcan distribution & Mountain Area Health Education Center…most of those now using opiates started with a legal prescription and got hooked…now we have a larger population demanding supply to these products which has caused a huge increase into supply hence more petty crime…the cycle is never ending until our federal, state, and local government entities start working towards a new policy regarding our prohibition and war on drugs. We the tax payers are losing the war and big pharma/organized crime is winning!

    Wake up…let’s come together and stop the current cycle of taxpayers paying for problems not being addressed by our governments!

    • bsummers

      Maybe they will start making decisions based on the good of city/state tax payers vs. kickbacks for themselves

      You’re suggesting that current or previous City Council members are corrupt, receiving “kickbacks” for their official actions? Please do enlighten us with specific examples and evidence.

      • BMacAVL

        Why so many hotels? Taxes and incentives generated from corporate entities.

        How do the same hoteliers keep “somehow” winnng every bid?

        Basic economics you may say…previous relationships you may assume?

        Proof enough by the fact they ban all STRs.

        • bsummers

          So you alleged personal corruption by City Council members (“kickbacks for themselves”), but all you really have is “Why so many hotels?”

          Thanks for confirming that you’re merely committing libel.

          I’m not a fan of “so many hotels” myself, but let’s try to look at it in some way other than alleging criminal behavior by elected officials without any proof.

          • Alan Ditmore

            This is not a court so bigshots are guilty until proven innocent.

          • BMacAVL

            No names mentioned so….yeah, whatever you say b…

          • Lulz

            LOL worried about libel but not the corruption of Wanda Greed. Quick, let’s forget about it before people demand accountability. Or even start to ask how and why Newman became wealthy while in office. After all, if someone totes the leftest line they too can do the same. Big question is how long did Wanda Greeds spending go on for and just how many knew but kept quiet. They are accessories to it and need to be prosecuted. Even the current Buncombe County Sheriff has incriminated himself and yet the man is still in office. It pays to be a crook. Oops I mean democrat.

    • ApePeeD

      Have you ever WALKED by the “Hot Spot” by Coxe ave? It’s a lot better than it was several years ago. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly improved.

      • BMacAVL

        I’m sure the activity around the hot spot is “better” today vs. “several years ago” but still a major problem and eyesore for residents who live or drive through the area daily. I pass Aston Park on my commute twice a day at it is very common in warmer months to see gals still working the corner…why not have patrol cars swing by and check out why they are just hanging out at 8am? Especially with YWCA and Asheville Middle School just down South French Broad. Hot spot has a wall on the hillard side where lot’s of folks are just hanging out…why would these folks all be congregating at the same time of day….makes you wonder what they are all waiting on!?!? Right?!?

  4. James L. Smith

    I have something nice to say about Gordon Smith. While Esther Manheimer talked out of both sides of her mouth about AirBnB motels in our residential neighborhoods, Gordon consistently denounced them as toxic to our city and voted against them.

    • BMacAVL

      …and I respect that…just tough to see our even our local government continue to disregard property owners rights and push the corporate crony agenda!

    • Lulz

      What’s toxic to neighborhoods is over taxation that pushes people out. So while you take away the rights of property owners and thus force then out, you gain wealthier homeowners or renters who can afford the higher prices.

  5. bsummers

    I’m looking forward to seeing how this new Council responds when they realize that Chuck McGrady is going after Asheville/Buncombe’s water and sewer infrastructure again.

Leave a Reply to Jake ×

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.