Mayor Esther Manheimer has enjoyed an unusually long term without facing a challenge. After her 2017 victory, former Democratic state Sen. Terry Van Duyn — at Manheimer’s request — got the N.C. General Assembly to change Asheville’s elections to even years, giving the mayor an extra unelected year in office.
That time is now at an end, and Manheimer finds herself amid four other challengers for the mayoralty. Only one of those hopefuls, Jonathan Wainscott, has previously run for the position; he was eliminated in the 2017 mayoral primary with less than 5% of the vote.
Coming at the incumbent from the right in the nonpartisan race is Dr. Cliff Feingold, a registered Republican who seeks to bolster the Asheville Police Department and make the city more accommodating to business. Challenging Manheimer from the left is unaffiliated City Council member Kim Roney, who has often voted against the mayor in decisions over police funding and development and has criticized the current administration’s approach to climate issues.
Also in the race is unaffiliated social justice activist Michael Hayes, executive director of the nonprofit Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice Collective. As part of his campaign announcement, Hayes aligned himself with former Council member Keith Young, saying he would drop out of the race if Young decided to run.
Wainscott declined to participate in the guide after multiple requests. Candidate answers to yes-or-no questions are shown in the grid below; click or tap the image for a larger view. The name of each candidate is linked to their long-form responses in the post.
Previous candidacy or offices held: N.C. State Board of Dental Examiners (nine years)
Key endorsements: Did not respond
Amount of money raised: Did not respond
Top three donors: Did not respond
What specific powers or responsibilities of the mayoralty make you seek this role rather than a regular Council seat? The mayor of Asheville has been a Democrat since at least the 1980s. The present city government is totally Democratic, and I feel that a change is necessary — from the top down. I have been the president of most of the organizations to which I have belonged, and the result has always been fiscal and organizational improvements.
What is the No. 1 issue Asheville residents are facing today, and how do you specifically plan to address that issue? Asheville has the dubious distinction of being the second-most expensive place to live in North Carolina. This is a direct result of the inefficient, spend-happy, special-interest-influenced present mayor and City Council. Fees and taxes charged to developers need serious scrutiny. Expensive and capricious city inspections during construction need revision. Since the 1800s, tourism has been our primary industry. The present city government has done nothing to bolster tourism, which negatively affects income to the city and its inhabitants.
What do you bring to the role that other candidates don’t? I was raised in a business family. In 1952, my father started the Army Stores, which expanded to all Western North Carolina over the years. I ran my own dental practice for 42 years. Knowing the principles of successful business is ingrained in me. None of my opponents have this type of experience. Asheville has not been run as a business for many years, and our city has suffered because of that.
Occupation: Founder, executive director of Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice Collective
Previous candidacy or offices held: N/A
Key endorsements: N/A
Amount of money raised: N/A
Top three donors: N/A
What specific powers or responsibilities of the mayoralty make you seek this role rather than a regular Council seat? Attitude reflects leadership, and leadership needs to change from the very top. Along with the communities I have been part of, I understand what it’s like to experience the negative consequences of decisions made by people in power who continue to uphold the status quo. As mayor, I can set the example to listen, particularly to those that feel they have not been heard.
What is the No. 1 issue Asheville residents are facing today, and how do you specifically plan to address that issue? The No. 1 issue we are facing is the lack of collective healing we need to move forward as a city. Many residents are left out of discussions regarding the future of Asheville. Healing and working through our past can start when we all get to share our authentic truth and know our leadership is hearing what we say. I will prioritize open forums and discussions for people to share their experiences and needs from our city.
What do you bring to the role that other candidates don’t? I was taught that the greatest thing we have to offer is the ability to listen. I have gone through some of the struggles that many in our community are working through, and I am in the process of overcoming them. My life experience allows me to understand things from a different perspective that is more personable and less political and to meet people where they are, regardless of circumstances. I don’t see Asheville as an us and them, only we.
Occupation: Mayor of Asheville, attorney
Previous candidacy or offices held: Mayor of Asheville, Asheville City Council
Key endorsements: Sierra Club, Asheville Fire Fighters Association
Amount of money raised: $4,400
Top three donors: Ken Brame, Aaron Manheimer, Bob Clifford
What specific powers or responsibilities of the mayoralty make you seek this role rather than a regular Council seat? An effective mayor is responsible for serving and working with our community, Council and city administration and building relationships with partners, funders, Buncombe County, other cities, the state legislature and the governor. The mayor’s role requires leadership, communication, collaboration, diplomacy, strong but respectful differences of opinion, and an ability to fight for what’s right and draw strength from those partnerships when necessary.
What is the No. 1 issue Asheville residents are facing today, and how do you specifically plan to address that issue? Our affordable housing crisis has a widespread impact, including pushing out locals, gentrification and homelessness. Building on my advocacy and action (Affordable Housing Trust Fund, incentivizing developers to build affordable housing, rebuilding public housing, leveraging city-owned property into affordable housing, emergency rent relief, funding home repairs, creating a down payment assistance program, property tax relief for income-qualified homeowners and fighting the legislature on laws that ban cities from regulating short-term rentals), I will make partnerships with neighborhoods our priority.
What do you bring to the role that other candidates don’t? I bring experience, partnerships and diplomacy. I have served as mayor since 2013. I’ve learned something new each day and applied it to better serving our community — the internal workings of the city, walking the halls of the legislature fighting for Asheville, working with county leadership, and knowing our community’s neighborhood, nonprofit and business leadership. It takes time, an open mind, listening skills and a collaborative mindset to develop critical relationships and create more opportunities for our residents.
Occupation: Music educator
Previous candidacy or offices held: Asheville City Council
Key endorsements: AFL-CIO WNC Central Labor Council, former Mayor Leni Sitnick
Amount of money raised: $4,625
Top three donors: Eleanor Lane, James Hemphill, Dr. Donna Page
What specific powers or responsibilities of the mayoralty make you seek this role rather than a regular Council seat? I’m inviting Asheville to move me from one hot seat to a hotter one, not because I can fix things by myself, but because I’m committed to a process that allows shared work and accountability around affordability, public safety and an improved public meeting process. I intend to end the Council check-in process, shift to a public pre-meeting process, increase accessibility of public documents, support our advisory boards instead of dissolving them and remain committed to an organizational equity audit.
What is the No. 1 issue Asheville residents are facing today, and how do you specifically plan to address that issue? Public safety. I remain committed to answering calls to invest in long-term safety strategies; diversifying our public safety response to address the opioid crisis, homelessness and mental health with partnerships, including the Buncombe Community Paramedicine pilot program; developing and acting on a plan designed to end homelessness and advance housing as a human right; working with Council on our new goal of greater neighborhood resiliency; following through with our commitment to reparations; and responding to our stated climate emergency.
What do you bring to the role that other candidates don’t? A fresh perspective, along with experience from my second year on Council, seven years in the chambers and time on advisory boards. I serve on the Governance, Public Safety, and Boards & Commissions Committees and am the liaison to the Neighborhood Advisory Committee, Urban Forestry Commission, Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee, Human Relations Commission, and Multimodal Transportation Commission. I’m a small-business owner with 22 years’ experience as a music educator and was station manager of 103.3 Asheville FM.