Vying for endorsement, 4 City Council candidates identify as socialists

SPEAKING ON THE ISSUES: From left: Asheville City Council candidates Rich Lee, Cecil Bothwell, Sheneika Smith, Dee Williams, Kim Roney and Jan (Howard) Kubiniec participate in a forum hosted by the Asheville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America on Sept. 13. Photo by David Floyd

Of the 12 candidates contending for a seat on City Council, six showed up for a roundtable discussion at the West Asheville Library on Sept. 13 to compete for the endorsement of the Asheville Democratic Socialists of America: Cecil Bothwell, Jan (Howard) Kubiniec, Rich Lee, Kim Roney, Sheneika Smith and Dee Williams. The event was attended by about 100, with late arrivers forced to stand. At the end of the evening, members of the Asheville DSA voted on a ranked ballot to decide whom they would endorse.

More broadly, the candidates are hoping they get the endorsement of voters in the Oct. 10 primary election, which will narrow the field from 12 to six, and in the Nov. 7 general election, when three of those six will be chosen to fill City Council seats.

At the beginning of the forum, the moderators asked the candidates: “Do you consider yourself to be a socialist and what does that mean to you?”

Four of the candidates — Bothwell, Lee, Smith and Williams — said they do indeed consider themselves socialists.

Breaking it down

Lee answered first. “Yes, I do. To me it means government providing a robust network of social services and social goods,” he said. “We’re looking for enhanced bus service, we’re looking for enhanced public housing, places that people can enjoy the outdoors, and we’re looking for a government that is a champion in relieving inequity and narrowing the gap between the people that are doing best in society and the people that are struggling or falling behind in society,” he explained. “In all those senses, yes, I’m a socialist.”

“Yeah, I’m a socialist, clearly, and have been for my entire political life, which goes back into the 1960s, I guess, late ’60s,” responded Bothwell. “It seems to me that we establish governments to provide for the benefit of all the people. And the governments that have worked best for the people across the planet have been democratic socialist governments, places like Germany, where workers are on the boards of all the corporations, and there are limits on the differential between the CEOs and the workers.”

Calling herself “a preacher’s kid” and invoking the Golden Rule, Smith explained her view of socialism: “Making sure that everybody has equal access and everybody is herded towards the best resources. And I think that takes leadership and it also takes what we call servant leadership to be amongst the people and to understand the needs of the people.” In conclusion, Smith said, “I do consider myself a socialist and I like to be among the people. And clearly here in Asheville, we have a disgusting wealth gap where there are clear winners and clear losers — or should I say clear beneficiaries and those who are outcasts.”

“Yes, I am,” declared Williams. “Let me just say that everybody should have health care, everybody should have affordable housing, a decent place to live. Everybody should be able to breathe clean air that’s not full of toxins. Everybody should have access to an education, not owe $100,000 when you get done. And everybody has a right to not be shot down by the police department because you are of color or because you love somebody or you look a certain way.”

Roney took a different tack in responding to the question. “I’m a longtime registered independent because I’m an anti-war advocate,” she said. At the same time, she said, “I share socialist values around wage, workers’ rights, access to health care, education and housing as a human right and I do believe it is time for us to represent people and planet over profit and party, which is why I’m asking folks to come together right now and address issues and dismantle systems of oppression so that we can start building a resilient community together.”

Kubiniec said she is unaffiliated, although she thought she could be considered a “militant moderate.”

Affordability’s effect on diversity

The high cost of living in Asheville wove through the discussion as a common thread.

“The diversity of people in Asheville is under threat,” Lee said. “Asheville is … losing its population of color. … Twenty years ago you could rent an apartment on Charlotte Street for 200 bucks. The idea now that you could get anywhere close to that as a service industry worker … is unbelievable.”

Smith runs an organization dedicated to enhancing black cultural identity in Western North Carolina called Date My City. She pointed to de facto segregation as one of the biggest problems facing Asheville. “When we shore up on housing to make sure there is access for people of color and people who are low-income, then I think we will see better outcomes across the board,” she said.

Smith said she favors a density bonus, inclusionary zoning and rent controls — all mechanisms that she believes could help ensure affordable housing for Asheville residents by encouraging developers to create more units for low- and moderate-income workers.

Williams, a local business owner and political activist, said it’s time to invest in local businesses, and she pointed to the community land trust model as an effective means of providing affordable housing. “The other thing we can do is start paying people a living wage,” she said. “Affordability is based on income. We all know that. … We need to stop inviting hoteliers and other people to pay our people subservient and slave-labor wages.”

Lee agreed with Williams that affordable housing is related to the need for a living wage. “We need to diversify the kinds of jobs we have here, make sure they’re jobs that have professional career tracks and that lead to high wages, and I think we need to do it by growing businesses that already have a presence here and industries that already have a presence here,” he said.

An active member of her community in Kenilworth, Kubiniec said one of the barriers to affordability appears to be the influx of people rushing into Asheville. “There seems to be this pitter-patter about affordable housing,” she said. “We should be putting the brakes on the advertising to send the entire globe here.”

Bothwell, the only incumbent at the roundtable, said the solution to the problem could lie in providing fare-free transit, which would allow people to get to work without spending money on their commute. “That really affects affordability and is within the reach of the city to do,” he said.

Bothwell believes the city should continue to use federal money dedicated to affordable housing but said he isn’t sure if the city should continue to use local tax money to incentivize developers to build new affordable units.

Roney, who was one of the founding members of 103.3 Asheville FM and helped start a news program at the station, said housing is becoming less affordable because of increases in property taxes, a trend she says will negatively impact renters.

“We’re going to have to do courageous work around housing,” Roney said. “That’s going to include land trusts, land banking, limited equity cooperative ownership, but I also realize that we need to stand up to the development that we don’t want so that we can stand up for the development policies that we do want.”

A member of the city’s Multimodal Transportation Commission, Roney is also an advocate for fair and free public transit.

Differing views on policing

VOTER TURNOUT: About 100 people attended a forum featuring six of the 12 candidates for the Oct. 10 primary election that will ultimately fill three seats on Asheville City Council. Photo by David Floyd
VOTER TURNOUT: About 100 people attended a forum featuring six of the 12 candidates for the Oct. 10 primary election that will ultimately fill three seats on Asheville City Council. Photo by David Floyd

Criminal justice proved a point of contention at the forum. In one question, the moderators referenced data showing that 18 percent of traffic stops in Asheville involve black drivers, even though black people only make up 13 percent of the city’s population.

“I know everybody hates the police,” Kubiniec said, “but if you watch some of the things that go on in my neighborhood and some of the things in juvenile court, you realize that you actually need a police department.”

In answering the question, three of the candidates at the roundtable made reference to work done by Williams, who chairs the Criminal Justice Reform Committee of the local chapter of the NAACP, to alleviate racial inequities.

“We don’t hate the police,” Williams said. “That’s our police department. We just want it to be a world-class, fair police department and want folks on both sides — civilians and police — to go home every day.”

Williams helped bring data in front of City Council showing that black residents of Asheville were subject to a disproportionate number of traffic stops by city police.

Roney believes the city missed an opportunity to adopt policies that could have started to rectify that imbalance. “We did nothing in the end,” she said. “We need courageous leaders who can do better.”

Bothwell, however, defended some of the recent actions taken by the city. “I think it’s easy for people who have come lately to the table to argue that they have picked up the ball that someone else dropped,” he said, “but I started in 2009 when I ran for City Council the first time advocating for Asheville to become a sanctuary city.”

In 2013, City Council unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by Bothwell making it clear that employers could not discriminate based on race, gender, gender identification, national origin, etc. Bothwell said as chair of the Public Safety Committee, he has also been pushing for improvements in police behavior. “Yes, there’s deeply seated racism,” he said. “Anyone who denies that is nuts, but we’ve been working on that. We’ve been working on that hard, and we will continue to do that.”

And the winner is

Late Thursday afternoon, the Asheville DSA announced its members’ pick for the organization’s endorsement: Dee Williams.

According to the organization’s announcement:

The endorsement ballot utilized the Borda count method with each member able to choose and rank their top three choices. First choice received three points, second received two, and third received one. Then, the points for each candidate were totaled, and the endorsed candidate was the one that received the most points. Dee Williams finished first, followed by Rich Lee in second and Kim Roney in third.

A video recording of the forum is available at https://www.pscp.tv/w/1nAKEeZvQzbKL.

The national Democratic Socialists of America, according to a statement on the organization’s website, “is a political and activist organization, not a party.” Further, “Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 6:28 p.m. on Sept. 16 to include more of the candidates’ own words from their responses to the opening question of the forum.


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David Floyd was a reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press.

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41 thoughts on “Vying for endorsement, 4 City Council candidates identify as socialists

  1. Lulz

    LOL rent controls. How are you going to impose rent controls when taxes are continually going up? And on top of it, and this goes to show the insanity of the left, getting into debt while using the taxes for fluff. You impose rent controls, all that does is ensure that you create slums in one area and no rentals in another. And in the end, segregates the area even more.

    As far as race is concerned, all one has to do is look at the culmination of years of welfare and entitlements and the type of person it results in. They neither work nor put effort in to get ahead.

  2. Let me try to decipher this:

    Candidates attending the forum sponsored by the Asheville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America:

    1. Rich Lee (D)
    2. Cecil Bothwell (U)
    3. Sheneika Smith (D)
    4. Dee Williams (U)
    5. Kim Roney (U)
    6. Jan (Howard) Kubiniec (U)

    “Candidate Kim Roney said she identifies as an independent. Candidate Jan (Howard) Kubiniec said she is unaffiliated, although she thought she could be considered a ‘militant moderate.’ ”

    “Four other candidates said they did indeed consider themselves socialists”:

    1. Rich Lee (D): considers themselves socialist.
    2. Cecil Bothwell (U): considers themselves socialist.
    3. Sheneika Smith (D): considers themselves socialist.
    4. Dee Williams (U): considers themselves socialist.

    • NFB

      “4. Dee Williams (U): considers themselves socialist.”

      And two years ago she was running on a slate with Carl Mumpower.

      She’s run as a Democrat. She’s run as a Republican. She’s run as an indpendent. She’s run as a CIBO candidate (trying to hone herself in on Chris Peterson’s attempt many moons ago to create a political machine) she’s run on a slate with Carl Mumpower. Now she’s running as a Green party candidate and self identified socialist. What will it be next time?

      And Rich Lee? Isn’t he a financial advisor with Edward Jones? How will his clients (not to mention his bosses) feel about his support of state control of the means of production?

  3. bsummers

    I’m really confused by this. The title of this article is fairly surprising, and so you read in depth for confirmation that indeed, four candidates “identify as socialists”. Nowhere in the body of the article is there any specific quote from any of them saying that they do. For such a loaded title, you want to see clear attribution for this “identifying”.

    Lastly, I notice that the original title of this article was “city-council-candidates-talk-affordability-racial-inequity-at-dsa-forum”. Look at the URL address of any other story currently on XPress. It’s basically the same as the title. How and when and by whom did this story get changed to the current title?

    Maybe four of them do “identify” as you claim, but I’d want to hear it stated unequivocally in their own words, thank you very much.

    • cecil bothwell

      I comfortably identify as being a Democratic Socialist, and remain a big supporter of Bernie Sanders (2020). The headline is misleading as Barry notes. And the story doesn’t make any distinction between Democratic Socialism and Socialism. Under DS workers often have representation on the governing board of a company, but not necessarily ownership, as an example. I’m very supportive of the creation of worker-owned businesses (like New Belgium, or, for a while, the paper plant in Canton.) I’m a big supporter of socialist policies like Social Security, Medicare, and universal single payer. I favor progressive taxation. Etc. All arguably Democratic Socialist positions.

    • Virginia Daffron

      Hi Barry, thanks for your comment. The Asheville Democratic Socialists of America live-streamed the forum and the video is available here: https://www.pscp.tv/w/1nAKEeZvQzbKL.

      I have listened to all of the candidates’ responses to this question and we will be adding more direct quotes on this point to the article. Since Cecil Bothwell has commented elsewhere in this thread, here is his response, in part, to the first question of the forum:

      “Yeah, I’m a socialist, clearly, and have been for my entire political life, which goes back into the 1960s, I guess, late sixties. It seems to me that we establish governments to provide for the benefit of all people. And the governments that have worked best for the people across the planet have been democratic socialist governments, places like Germany, where workers are on the boards of all the corporations and there are limits on the differential between the CEOs and the workers.” (Cecil Bothwell)

      • Lulz

        LOL, do they do that at BMW in Greenville?

        Problem with Bothwell is he’s ignorant of history. Germany prospered after WWII because the USA was its defense during the Cold War. All these leftist always say we should be more like Europe and yet they refuse to admit that without the USA, those countries wouldn’t be big socialist without someone else picking up their defense tab. And subsidizing their economies.

        • luther blissett

          “LOL, do they do that at BMW in Greenville?”

          No, because US law requires any works council to happen under the auspices of an existing union, and if there’s one thing the south is good at, it’s hating unions. (VW supported the idea of a works council at Chattanooga, but the local good ol’ boy pols and union-busters shut that down.) Is the self-proclaimed champion of the working stiff against unions too?

          “those countries wouldn’t be big socialist without someone else picking up their defense tab. And subsidizing their economies.”

          Yawn. That’s Fox News history there. And as if the military-industrial complex isn’t its own form of socialism, except for the rich. America: where aircraft carriers and foreign wars are free and universal healthcare is too expensive.

          • Lulz

            But the boy who cried wolf, social programs are by far the biggest expenditure.

  4. Deplorable Infidel

    hey richeylee…AVL is NOT losing its people of color…but if we are JUST MAYBE they are leaving for better jobs in REAL cities …

    Is Rich Lee a financial FIDUCIARY ? ? ? or just a sketchy broker ?

    BS, they don’t know how to explain socialism…they are too ignorant…’Socialism is the equal sharing of misery’ …

  5. Deplorable Infidel

    Time to answer questions Kim Roney…. if you want this vote…

  6. Rich Lee

    My bosses are fine with my politics. My clients appreciate my values and my trustworthiness as a financial planner and fiduciary who puts their interests first.

    As for socialism, as I said at the forum, I support social goods and programs like transit, sidewalks, parks, greenways, community centers, afterschool programs, arts and culture, paid for by tax dollars. That’s not a controversial idea in Asheville. It’s like JFK said about liberalism: If by socialist you mean someone who feels government should reduce inequity and raise the struggling in society, who believes, like Paul Wellstone said, that”We all do better when we all do better,” then I’m a socialist. If you don’t believe government is about providing services and solving problems, then why would you run for office?

    • Lulz

      LOL, except that none of that will ever happen. All you just said is higher taxes for everyone. But why is the city getting in debt for greenways to build up Biltmore and New Belgium? LOL, all the monies collected here are being funneled to the rich, Rich. For an area experiencing growth, only a small percentage are making the money. And they rely on a huge pool of cheap labor to keep it going. All thanks to government lulz.

      • Rich Lee

        So one side of this debate deliberately enriches the rich (and impoverished the poor) while the other side accidentally does it? Thanks, that’s clarifying.

        • luther blissett

          It is curious how one can argue that thousands of working stiffs are being oppressed by city government but never define who these people are. They’re not the rich, they’re not people of color, they’re not minimum wage workers who rent. Also, “welfare and entitlements” are very bad, though whether this includes the mortgage interest deduction is unclear. It’s almost as if it’s a demographic defined solely by the personal circumstances of one person that has very little to do with the actual inequality in the city and region.

          • Lulz

            City government spends millions to clean up downtown, build parks, give tax breaks, and promote it. Since these places are mostly located there, they are in fact subsidized by others who have nothing to do with it. And yet more fees and taxes are now needed to make up for it. Oh and when Tupelo Honey charges 30 an entree, which by your own words is cheap, and pays its cooks 12 an hour, something is wrong here. Especially as the front of their building is cleaned with tax money.

  7. Deplorable Infidel

    these candidates are ALL so FOS , having been clearly indoctrinated by government screwls who teach total government dependence…

    Which of these candidates will address the need for a separate PUBLIC HOUSING police force ? How about addressing some REAL effin ISSUES people ? ? ? ?

    again, Rich Lee, are you a legal FIDUCIARY in your business ? It’s a clear question to be answered.

      • Deplorable Infidel

        Rich, when are you going to address your support for required public housing police force and accountability from HACA and Gene Bell ? ? ? (OR Bell’s RESIGNATION? ) … it’s time for CITY to DO SOMETHING to protect the rest of us!

        WHAT will YOU DO about all the public housing CRIME that blights our whole city DAILY ?

        WHEN will you start talking about the REAL problem issues in AVL , instead of BS ? ? ?

        • bsummers

          When WILL Fred “FISHER” Caudle explain exactly WHY he’s so worked UP about public HOUSING?!!!?

          • bsummers

            I’m CERTAIN it has nothing to do with the skin COLOR of the majority OF public HOUSING residents. What is the real REASON…???

          • Deplorable Infidel

            Because its the BIGGEST problem in Asheville , bar none. I see the total lack of LEADERSHIP by the criminals who run that heinous blight on AVL! Gene Bell should be ASHAMED to show his face in this town!

            HOW can you people not see that ??? WHY does city council not address it ? WHY do they REFUSE to help the taxpayers and voters, the rest of us ???

          • luther blissett

            “WHY does city council not address it ?”

            One of the great things about America is that if you think issues aren’t being addressed by government, and enough people agree with you, you can become part of the government and attempt to address those issues.

            A $75 filing fee would have gotten you the chance to put your ideas to the public and a seat at that table. If you wanted to change things that badly, you’d have been up there, but you weren’t, so you don’t.

  8. bsummers

    Thanks for updating this story to include exactly how the question was framed, and more words from the candidates themselves explaining their positions.

  9. Deplorable Infidel

    CRIME bsummers….DUH! wtf did you think it was ? ? ? no mother should have to worry about her son going out to rob a store, right ?

  10. Deplorable Infidel

    and/or …how about we talk about the need to bring Buncombe Co schools into compliance with the dire requirement for DIVERSITY by consolidating our two antiquated schools systems that would SAVE taxpayers MILLIONs of $$$ ??? WHY do we allow these intown city screwl people the right to be so EXCLUSIVE when all we need is ONE system for the county ? ? ? City school RACIST bureaucrats are the ones who control this…fact.
    YOU know who they are, right ? Yes you do.
    Exclusive racists.

    • Rich Lee

      I thought county residents and others balked at the extra .13% property tax city-school-district residents pay, and that’s why we don’t have a unified school district. Nor, even, one that stretches to city limits.

      • Deplorable Infidel

        Im sure NOT if it brings more DIVERSITY! right ? AVL city screwls are racist and exclusionary… fact.

      • Lulz

        Why would that extra money be needed if schools are consolidated? Why would all the buildings remain especially if they are within close proximity to each other. No, more likely it’s just another welfare scheme and since no one in government is ever fired, let go, or downsized like THE REAL WORLD, why we have to keep the feedlot going.

      • Rich

        Assuming schools would need roughly the same amount of space if districts were combined, because they would have the same of students. Would a combined school system still operate under a magnet-school model for elementary grades, like Asheville City Schools does, or would my kids who currently attend Hall Fletcher and Isaac Dickson only have the option to attend Haw Creek Elementary instead? Would the school bus system be comprehensive like ACS’s, or spare like the county’s? Would there be universal free preschool and cheap afterschool programs like the city, or less extras like the county? All those things cost money that Asheville school district residents pay for. You could imagine both city parents balking at their liberal urbanist amenities being taken away, or rural parents balking at being charged for stuff they don’t want.

  11. Alan Ditmore

    It should have gone to Sheneika Smith. Only she mentioned inclutionary zoning as important for affordability. Dee probably has a decent policy too, but she failed this time to point at Asheville’s strict and elitist ZONING as a big part of the problem; Far bigger than wages.

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