By Hayley Benton, Max Hunt, Virginia Daffron & Able Allen
Fifteen candidates are vying for three open seats on Asheville City Council. After the Oct. 6 primaries, those 15 will be reduced down to six.
The three seats up for grabs mark the end of Marc Hunt, Chris Pelly and Jan Davis’ four-year terms. Davis and Pelly have been on Council since 2003 and 2011, respectively, and only Vice Mayor Hunt is seeking re-election.
The Tuesday, Oct. 6 primary will reduce these 15 candidates down to six. And the night of Tuesday, Nov. 3, we’ll have our three winners. Just a friendly reminder: Those who show up and vote during the primary will eliminate nine candidates for the general election. Don’t let your favorite representatives slip through the cracks!
Xpress asked the 15 candidates a long list of questions — some open-ended, some yes-or-no and, for others, we asked them to keep their answers brief, in 10 words or fewer.
While the open-ended and short answer questions blew by painlessly, candidates seemed weary about answering a solid “yes” or “no” without giving further explanation. Xpress wants to acknowledge that we understand these questions are much more complicated than a simple yes or no. Not everything is in black and white. These questions were our attempt to get to the candidates’ root beliefs on these topics — only allowing them to answer yes, no, unsure or decline to answer the question altogether. Xpress asks readers to take this into consideration while reading the yes-or-no answers.
Table of Contents:
Brief introductions, based on our 4×4 series. Be sure to visit each candidate’s full profile to view all answers by that individual — including our open-ended questions.
- Corey Atkins
- Joe Grady
- Brian Haynes
- Marc Hunt
- Rich Lee
- Richard Liston
- Julie Mayfield
- John Miall
- Ken Michalove
- Grant Millin
- Carl Mumpower
- LaVonda Payne
- Lindsey Simerly
- Dee Williams
- Keith Young
YES OR NO:
Click the image to view full-size.
For fun, Xpress also created a short quiz, so you, the voter, can compare your answers against the candidates. (It may ask you to log in at the end, but just click “View my result without account,” at the bottom, instead.)
Click the image to view full-size.
While on scholarship at American University in Washington, D.C., Atkins developed a passion for fields that support the public interest. The future attorney then returned to North Carolina to attend law school at UNC Chapel Hill, moving on to an assistant district attorney position in Charlotte.
A first-time candidate for Asheville City Council, Atkins writes on his campaign site that, although there are many issues facing the city, “the issues we must focus on, in particular, are sustainable economic development, a citywide anti-discrimination policy and the relationship of our police force with the community.
“By addressing these issues,” he writes, “City Council can ensure that Asheville is a safe and inclusive community for everyone that visits or calls it home — something that is very important to me and my family.”
On economic development, Atkins writes, “I want investment from near and far to continue, but without losing the character that built Asheville. I want to promote small business growth and provide incentives and training to those individuals seeking to establish new businesses here. The city should collaborate with local organizations like Mountain BizWorks and Asheville SCORE in helping small businesses get a smooth start and grow effectively.”
- Website: joegrady.com
- Employment: Sales specialist & Community Commander at Best Buy, Former Keller Williams real estate broker; former City Council member in North Canton, Ohio.
- Party affiliation: Registered unaffiliated, has voted in a democratic primary
- Previous candidacy: Not in Asheville; was top vote-getter for 3 years in Ohio
- For Joe’s full profile, click here.
Former real estate broker and former North Canton, Ohio city councilman Joe Grady has lived in North Carolina since 2000. Having served six years on North Canton’s City Council, 25 years in real estate and through his continuous work as a volunteer, Grady writes that one of his greatest passions is helping others.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science, American government and public relations from Ohio State University, Grady went on to earn a master’s in public administration from Phoenix University, where he wrote his thesis on affordable housing in Asheville.
“It is very clear that the affordable housing issue is a hot topic in this election,” Grady writes toXpress. “Is it the only issue? Absolutely not. … [But] I have worked with residential housing; I built residential housing for all income levels, including a senior housing development, and I studied affordable housing.”
Being a South Asheville resident, Grady writes that this is an area that has had “no representation on City Council for years. … When you look at South Asheville as the fastest residential growth area of the city, [it] concerns me that the entire Southern tier of of the city, that goes all the way to the airport, has no representation.”
In his spare time, Grady volunteers with his pet golden retriever, Beckett, a registered therapy dog, at Mission and Mission Children’s Hospitals, WNC Down’s Syndrome Buddywalk, Four Seasons Hospice, UNC Asheville and Deerfield Village Retirement Community.
Grady believes the biggest challenges facing Asheville are affordable housing, safety, city services, zoning changes, environmental concerns, taxes and beautification of the city.
Brian Haynes’ position is simple: to advocate for the people of Asheville and be “a good listener.”
“My family is my motivation for [running for Council],” says the lifelong Asheville resident. “I just want to see Asheville move in the right direction for [my children and grandchildren’s] futures.”
Former owner of the now-closed Almost Blue Records and The Basement bar, he and other like-minded entrepreneurs are credited with helping revitalize downtown, from a closed-up ghost town to a thriving epicenter for local business.
While Haynes cites affordable housing and the living wage as two of the biggest issues he hopes to tackle if elected, those two issues fall under one umbrella: “My biggest concern of all is that I think we’re growing at an incredible rate — and possibly too fast. … We invest more in growth than we do in citizens and the community and the town.
“We’ve still got huge infrastructure problems that aren’t being addressed,” he continues. “I just feel like we maybe need to slow the growth and take care of the problems that exist,” while still preserving “Asheville’s unique charm. It’s a unique city. If we bring in too many hotels and too many corporate chain stores, I think we could easily lose our charm and become just like any other city.”
Elected to Council in 2011 and serving as vice mayor since 2013, Hunt’s campaign site lists his accomplishments during his last four years, which include expanding the multimodal and greenway systems, supporting affordable housing initiatives and supporting economic development partnerships.
For the future, Hunt writes, “We must … renew what is already special [in Asheville] and add quality in new ways. This is especially true in regard to infrastructure: our parks, streets and sidewalks. We must reinforce the integrity of our residential neighborhoods, … continue to attract employers and great jobs that value community and … continue to elevate our commitment to the environment and [to] sustainability.
Edward Jones financial adviser Rich Lee is a member of the East West Asheville neighborhood group and the City of Asheville Greenway Committee, chair of Buncombe County Triad and more.
Now, he’s also a candidate for the 2015 City Council elections.
Moving to Western North Carolina in 1997, Lee attended Western Carolina University, earning bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish and a master’s in English. After graduation, Lee and his wife joined the Peace Corps, spending time in a small Jordanian village.
As part of his Council position, Lee advocates for bike lanes in West Asheville, installation of traffic calming lanes, Asheville’s affordability, job opportunities and social justice. His goals include growing the greenway system to connect underserved communities, taking back control of busy, dangerous roads, opening city-owned land for neighborhood uses (like trails and community gardens) and directing the hotel room-tax revenue to local needs.
On the last point, Lee writes, “Tourism should pay for the impacts of tourism on the community.”
Richard Liston is admittedly “new to the political jungle,” he says. “This is my first expedition. I tend to do well when I set my mind to something.”
Liston received his bachelor’s degree from the North Carolina School of the Arts, one master’s from Eastman School of Music and another nine years later in computer science from Wake Forest University. He received his PhD in computer science from Georgia Tech in 2004.
He’s been a musician in North Carolina and New York City, a computer scientist in Research Triangle Park, a professor at a small liberal arts college and, most recently, an educator focusing on adult education, raising funds for Sphere College Project.
Since moving to the area in 2012, Liston has “gotten to know people in Asheville from all walks of life and heard their concerns,” he said to Xpress. “I think we are not as conscious as we need to be about the direction we are taking Asheville and about how wisely we are spending our money. I’m currently studying the system of Asheville and the city budget to decide what specific changes I would recommend.
As for getting his name out there, Liston says he doesn’t “plan to spend much money on advertising. I detest seeing the signs and litter created by it all. I plan to run my campaign by building a solid social network.”
Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue, has worn many different hats in and out of the community. She’s an attorney, an advocate and a graduate of Leadership Asheville. She chairs the city’s Transit Committee and is a member of both the city’s Multimodal Transportation Commission and the WNC Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I am a problem solver and a leader,” she writes on her campaign website. “My job for the last 20 years has been to work in the place of uncertainty and conflicting views and to find ways to move forward. … My career has given me the depth and breadth of experience to make progress on the challenges Asheville faces — how we grow, how we invest scarce dollars, how we take care of people and the environment and how we work together cooperatively and constructively.”
Some of her goals for Asheville include shutting down coal-burning power plants, adding more bus, pedestrian and biking infrastructure and balancing Asheville’s growth with preservation of our people, culture and environment to “ensure everyone — young and old, rich and poor, black and white — shares in Asheville’s success.”
In 2013, John Miall went head-to-head with now-Mayor Esther Manheimer, seeking the mayoral vote. Now he’s looking for a spot on Council. Miall graduated from UNC Asheville with a degree in political science and worked as the city’s risk management consultant for nearly 30 years before retiring in 2005.
In a press release, Miall writes, “Asheville continues to be a community of many robust and diverse ideals and interests. I do not believe the monopoly of a single political view represented by recent City Councils reflects that diversity. A voice of reason, restraint and experience is needed.
“I have seen and been part of government that put the public interest first, avoided the pitfalls of scandal after scandal, and balanced budgets without biennial tax increases. I believe Asheville is capable of better and certainly deserves better.”
If elected, Miall says he intends to work on setting a tax rate that reflects priorities “consistent with the role of local government,” including policing, fire protection, trash collection, paving streets and sidewalks and making the community safe. “Only after these core needs are met … should any city consider spending millions and millions of dollars on new development.”
Miall writes that he also wishes to diversify Asheville’s economy: “Tourism historically made Asheville the destination it remains for all of us, and will forever be a part of who we are, but the endless support of that one single element of our economy will continue to suppress wage earners and fail to create genuine employment opportunities. We can and should have both.”
Other goals Miall mentions include supporting city employees, fiscal responsibility and accountability, working with other local governments to sort out the water issues in the region, stopping excessive government spending on consultants and outside legal costs and reducing an “endless stream of regulation that frustrates small business [owners] and developers.”
- Employment: Retired
- Party affiliation: Registered unaffiliated, votes in democratic primaries
- Previous candidacy: Former Asheville mayor and city manager
- For Ken’s full profile, click here.
Former Asheville Mayor and City Manager Ken Michalove’s resume includes four years as the executive director of the Buncombe County Planning Council, eight years as the city manager, four years as mayor and eight years total on City Council.
So, after a long run, why is he back? Michalove writes that recent Council actions have spent “an inordinate amount of time and money to satisfy [their own] special interest, … adopting tax increases that were not needed.”
He says he thinks that recent budgets were “not properly reviewed and challenged, … thus taxing the citizens of Asheville unnecessarily. … The current City Council touts their support of affordable housing but raises taxes and fees unnecessarily.”
This, along with the “significant number of properties that are tax exempt,” he writes, hinders Asheville’s growth. If elected, Michalove says he’ll work to “create and preserve a tax base that can provide basic services and infrastructure.” On the most recent property tax increase, he says, “there is sufficient proof that, through proper management, that increase could have been avoided.”
Grant Millin, founder of Innovograph, has a bachelor’s degree in sustainability and security studies from UNC Asheville and a master’s in project management and entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University. He is a GroWNC consortium member, City of Asheville Community Energy Plan member and a Leadership Asheville and City of Asheville Citizens’ Academy graduate.
In 1980, Millin’s parents bought the historic T.S. Morrison & Co,. hardware store, which today houses Lexington Avenue Brewery.
“A lot has changed in Asheville,” Millin writes. “I remember well the hard work it took to move from 1980 Asheville to where we are today.”
And, Millin tells Xpress, he hopes to keep pushing Asheville forward to a sustainable future.
Affordability, poverty and hunger make up the three sides of a single problem, he explains. And in order to address this and other problems, Millin’s “strategy is to create a more sustainable society.”
“For example,” he says, “the BB&T building was sold for a hotel condo project — that’s not sustainable tourism, there. We should have some good white collar, green collar jobs in that building. All those floors could be well paying jobs rather than a hotel condo.”
Some of his other goals include keeping government transparent, addressing issues of climate change and the environment and bringing tourists in to Asheville by passenger train, rather than clogging city garages with out-of-town cars.
Former vice mayor and city councilman from 2001 to 2009, Carl Mumpower has announced he’d like to make a comeback on the local political scene. Voted “best local villain” in the top two spots in Xpress’ Best of WNC poll for (at least) the last three years, Mumpower’s stark contrast to other council members’ views has made him the face of the ultra-conservative opinion in Asheville.
His Facebook campaign page, quoting Gen. George Patton, explains his view on the current Council’s often unified front: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Some of his main stances for city government include: maintaining property tax levels, rather than raising them; not supporting economic development tax incentives or tax exemptions; accepting that Asheville cannot both cultivate an elite city for the rich and famous and maintain affordable housing for the average person at the same time; getting rid of Asheville’s “drug culture;” supporting a less politicized police force and less government interference in wages.
While on Council, Mumpower created and chaired the Asheville Public Artist of the Year program, the Memorial Stadium Restoration Committee, the Asheville-Buncombe Drug Commission, the For-Our-Kids public housing initiative and the Top-A-Stop bus stop rain-covers program.
- Employment: Long-haul truck driver
- Party affiliation: Registered unaffiliated
- For LaVonda’s full profile, click here.
Xpress originally caught up with 23-year-old long-haul truck driver LaVonda Payne while she drove overnight through Ohio, making her way from Washington state to New York.
Payne sees herself as different than most candidates — for one, because she represents the youngest generation of Asheville adults, but also because she represents a demographic of citizens whose voice is not often heard.
“I’m really from this generation [of struggling locals],” Payne says. “I’ve taken the bus; I’ve been homeless. I’ve been hungry, and I had no one to help me. Sympathy and empathy only go so far in certain situations.”
She talks about people who ride the bus during multimodal initiatives, saying they “just did this as an experience.” At the end of the day, those people go home to their jobs, homes and cars. “Just because you took the bus, doesn’t mean you understand. You will never understand what it’s like. … We have all these people making decisions, but they have never had the experiences to make those decisions. They’re not even comprehending what’s wrong.”
And what is wrong?
“Asheville’s always been a tourist area,” she says, “but it’s gotten overwhelming. That’s the problem with upgrading: If your homegirl just got the new iPhone 6 and you’ve still got a flip phone, you’re going to feel the need to upgrade to feel equal. And that’s what’s happening with the city.”
Continuing her analogy, Payne explains, “Those flip phones never break, but iPhones do. Asheville was such a nice place back in the day. … Now we’re trying to compete with other cities, but we haven’t even taken care of our root-problems — our homelessness, our underprivileged kids. We’re sitting here trying to put on a front.
“I feel like people need to humble themselves and be like, ‘OK, we really do need to start taking care of our own before we start fronting for everybody else.’ … I feel like we’re losing ourselves and what we really stand for,” she continues.
Campaign for Southern Equality Campaign Manager Lindsey Simerly, who also chairs the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2007.
Back then, she was a student at A-B Tech and worked in construction, as a nanny and a massage therapist. Eight years later, she’s back, having added a lot to her resume. Simerly is a civil rights worker with experience in social justice issues and environmental and voter-rights advocacy.
“I understand why housing issues matter so desperately to families and working people in Asheville,” said Simerly. “I have 12 years of experience in policy making, organizing, collaborating and engaging the community right here in Asheville. Beyond this, I know what it means to struggle to get by in a city that’s becoming less affordable every day.”
Simerly is a campaign organizer for the Dogwood Alliance. And she coordinated and volunteered in campaigns for County Commissioner Brownie Newman, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, Councilman Gordon Smith and Commissioner Holly Jones.
Simerly says she also experienced what it’s like struggling to make ends meet in Asheville, and vows to “build upon my work as the chair of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, advancing affordability and opportunity and … addressing issues of fairness and equality for LGBT people.
“Together we will make it possible for teachers, firefighters, baristas, hotel staff — for all of our neighbors — to have the opportunity to have a fair shot at a decent living, a safe home and a better life for their kids,” she writes.
- Website: dee4asheville.org
- Employment: Small business consultant, real estate broker
- Party affiliation: Registered unaffiliated, has voted in both democrat and republican primaries
- Previous candidacy: Several unsuccessful bids for City Council, one for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners
- For Dee’s full profile, click here.
Dee Williams is another familiar face on the list, as she too ran for Council in 2007 with the campaign slogan, “building a bridge to the overtaxed and the underserved in Asheville.”
Currently, Williams coordinates the region’s Ban the Box initiative, which seeks to eliminate the criminal history reporting requirement on job applications so that those who have paid their debts can move forward in life.
With a bachelor’s degree in public administration and political science from Winston-Salem State University and an associate’s degree in accounting and business administration from Blanton’s Business College, Williams aims to bring a market-based approach to tackling social concerns.
“We have to get at the root issue of so many of our problems, which is basic economic security,” she says. Her core concerns are economic security, affordable housing, food access and transportation options.
“This campaign is going to be about much more than catch phrases and buzz words,” Williams explains. “We are about turning ideas into action. Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out a series of initiatives that will show (and not simply tell) how I will work for this community.”
Another “back again” candidate, Deputy Clerk of Superior Court Keith Young will be on the ballot this fall after running unsuccessfully for county commission in 2012 and 2014.
Young received a bachelor’s degree in communications and design from Virginia State University and has worked in marketing and advertising for more than 13 years.
Growing up locally in a political household, Young says his interest in local government sparked at a very young age.
“I remember sitting around with party officials — we always talked politics in our household,” he explains. “It’s always been an interest of mine, being able to see how things change in society due to politics.”
Though Young has worn many different hats — he’s been a business owner and worked for Disney out of college — he says politics is one thing he’ll never get bored with.
“It’s in me,” he says. “It’s in me to want to help folks. … I know where real change comes from: Real change comes from activism. Real change comes from people going to the polls and voting. Real change comes from people being interested in their community. Real change comes from politicians understanding the constituents that they serve — and serving them in a way that will create growth for everyone. I know you can’t be all things for all people, but we can sure as hell try.”
Young’s main stances for the community are social justice, improved transit systems, connecting the greenways, increasing the housing stock for affordable development and strengthening the Police Department.