The slate is set (well, sort of)

With Asheville facing the possibility of a citywide referendum on partisan elections, voters may be wondering who all is actually running for City Council. In the wake of the switch to partisan elections approved by Council last month, some confusion has reigned. According to Assistant Director of Elections Marvin Hollifield, only Democrats or Republicans could file, and as of the July 20 deadline, eight candidates had declared—four from each party.

But with the legal situation murky (see accompanying stories for details), it may be up to a judge to decide whether candidates not affiliated with the two major parties get extra time to file.

This year, three Democratic Council members—Jan Davis, Bryan Freeborn and Brownie Newman—will try to hold off a handful of challengers contesting those seats.

Once the partisan voting issue is settled and a final slate of candidates is set, Xpress will be bringing you candidate profiles and their views on key issues. In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of the candidates who have filed to run so far (in alphabetical order).

Name: Jan Davis (incumbent)
Age: 59
Occupation: Business owner (Jan Davis Tire Store)
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Ann; son, Rich, 38
Education: Attended Western Carolina University
Civic experience: chair, city Planning and Economic Development Committee; member, city Public Safety Committee; member, city Boards and Commissions Committee; member, Downtown Commission; Council liaison, WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, Historic Resources Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, Civic Center Commission and Tree Commission
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I consider it a real honor and privilege to serve the community. I feel like the average person—the average businessperson, the average hard worker who gets up in the morning and pays taxes—needs representation, and I feel like I bring a level of consideration to the office that keeps that person in mind.

“As far as accomplishments … I was pretty instrumental in the work we’ve done in improving the pay of public-safety officers, both police and fire, because when I came on they were woefully underpaid. Also, the dissolution of the Water Agreement has been a major time-consumer, but I think as the end of that nears, the system has been much improved and the amenities that we’ve acquired from the dissolution have improved. Also, I’ve been very strong on cultural and sports amenities. One of my accomplishments personally was a lot of hard work on the Civic Center, and we are today actively funding it, which has not been done in the past. I’m also a big proponent of the [proposed] Performing Arts Center. That’s something the city needs in the long term, and I feel very strongly that that’s an important issue for the city, and I’ll continue to work on that. My latest passion is working on homeless issues. … That’s a driving issue for me. And I also think we are making great process in building better relationships with the county and our state legislators … and tackling our issues with drugs.”

Name: Bryan Freeborn (incumbent)
Age: 30
Occupation: Consultant (media relations, P.R., public policy)
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Bridget O’Hara; daughter, Wild, 7; son, Emmett, 4
Education: B.A., history, Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash.; master’s candidate in Public Administration, Western Carolina University
Civic experience: Chairman, Asheville Regional Airport Authority; member, Young Democrats of Buncombe County; vice president, Haywood Road Market Board; member, International City-County Managers Association; city representative, French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I’m running again because young, working families deserve representation. We need to continue progress toward better planning practices that strengthen our neighborhoods and our city. We need to provide better economic support for local, small businesses and continue to provide support for innovation and economic development. We need to continue the good policies that have been implemented the last year and a half toward transportation policies for a healthier Asheville.

“And also, the citizens of Asheville have someone on Council in me that actually answers their phone and returns e-mails, and that’s really important to people. And I’m looking forward to knocking on doors.”

Name: Matthew Hebb
Age: 26
Occupation: Business owner (Caffiend coffee shop)
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Single
Education: B.A., Political Science/pre-law, University of Central Florida
Civic experience: None. Ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2005.
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I think we have a City Council right now that is completely out of touch with the will of the people. I think we don’t have a logical thought process in the way we’re doing things in our city. The first thing we have to do is get something that deals with fairness—where everyone is treated identically, regardless of whether they’re building a big development or renovating their house. … If elected, I’d do what I could to try to eliminate a lot of the more ludicrous things in terms of roads [such as traffic-calming devices and a city suggestion to reduce speed limits from 35 mph to 25 mph]; I’d make Asheville more business-friendly, so we can correct some of the underemployment problem in Asheville. Underemployment is a huge problem in this town—I’m tired of seeing friends with degrees in physics working at Best Buy.

“In addition, I’d like to see us have a fiscally responsible Council. I think we need to prioritize our spending. Our police officers need to be given more resources. I’d like to see a Council that does respect the environment around Asheville—I don’t agree with ridgeline development. I continue to support a retail- and restaurant-chain ban in a portion of downtown—that’s part of protecting the character of Asheville. However, I don’t think every development is a bad development. And I want to see a Council that listens to people and doesn’t fetter public comment. I want to see more openness.”

Name: Bobby L. Johnston
Age: 53
Occupation: Donations center assistant, Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Wife, Judy; son, Nick, 27
Education: Did not attend college
Civic experience: None
Web site/e-mail: Web site under construction
Comments: “I’m running because I’ve talked to many, many people, and everybody has said they think City Council needs a common man on Council, like the people of Asheville. [I told one woman] I was as common as pinto beans and collard greens. I’d like to run to be a voice for the people of Asheville. They can call me and express their concerns, and I can take it to the proper people and see if we can get something done about their concerns.

“What would I like to accomplish? I’d like to see us get a little more aggressive on trying to do something for the homeless, to try and help them and get them off the streets … and back on the right track.”

Name: Elaine Lite
Age: 58
Occupation: Publisher and Editor, Critter Magazine
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Daughter, Rachael Fisher, 19
Education: A.A. Paralegal Studies, Cecils College; attended University of Southern Florida
Civic experience: Member, People Advocating Real Conservancy; board member, Hope for Horses; member, Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County; founding board member, Mountain Voices Alliance
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I think we’ve reached a crossroads in Asheville and Buncombe County, and I would hope the city takes a path that ensures protecting and preserving Asheville for the many and not the few. It just seems development has spiraled out of control. I just think citizens deserve a Council that will make decisions that are in the best interest of the community and not a handful of well-funded stakeholders or the developers. And I think Council needs to be held accountable for its actions.

“I also feel it’s important not to make decisions that meet short-term goals but have long-term consequences. If we don’t control growth or have a plan for growth, no matter what we may think we gain in the short term, we will suffer in the long term.”

Name: Brownie Newman (incumbent)
Age: 35
Occupation: Director, Political Outreach & Education, Conservation Council of North Carolina
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Beth; daughters, Tess, 3, and Lizzy, 2 months old
Education: B.A. History/Political Science, Warren Wilson College
Civic experience: Chairman, city Finance Committee; member, city Housing and Community Development Committee; city liaison, Asheville Transit Commission; past President, Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “Over the last four years, we have made a lot of progress on issues that are critical challenges facing the community. In terms of growth and development, we’ve enacted the strongest rules for protection of steep slopes in WNC. We’ve significantly increased funding for sidewalks and greenways, and preservation (including creation of [the future Beaucatcher Overlook Park]). We’ve created a lot more innovative and effective transit system. When I was elected to Council, we didn’t have transit service in the evening; now we do. The ridership on the transit system has grown more than 30 percent in just two years.

“I think the central challenge facing Asheville is growth and development. I think we’ve made a good start in developing alternatives to the kind of sprawl development that has hurt so many communities, but there is a lot more to be done, and I want to be part of the City Council that takes on those challenges. … One of the things I can point to as an accomplishment is that we’ve enacted policies that make Asheville a model for environmental sustainability through green-building strategies and by committing to reduce Asheville’s energy use and carbon emissions by 80 percent. I think people want leadership that’s not only going to be beneficial to our community but also provides an example of what a community that really cares about environmental sustainability can do. And I think we’ve started providing that kind of leadership.”

Name: Bill Russell
Age: 37
Occupation: Business owner (State Farm insurance agency)
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Wife, Alison; son, Xan, 3; daughter, Kayson, 1
Education: B.A. Business and Marketing, Marshall University, Huntington, W.Va.
Civic experience: Volunteer, Habitat for Humanity; volunteer, Asheville High School
Web site/e-mail: Web site under construction
Comments: “I feel City Council needs representation from local business owners and families. I’m a very hard worker and I’ve been successful in the private sector and feel City Council is not getting a lot of things done due to lack of teamwork. My success in business is a direct result of just working together with employees and my team and listening to consumers and what they need. I think I can transfer those skills over to the city level, and hopefully get this team of seven working together.

“We need a new look, an outsider to politics coming in and taking a business-owner’s look. A $130 million city budget is pretty serious, so I think experience in business would certainly benefit the city.”

Name: Selina D. Sullivan
Age: 40
Occupation: Accountant, Biltmore Farms
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Divorced; no children
Education: B.S., Business Administration & Management, Shaw University
Civic experience: Former Planning and Zoning commissioner; board member, Children First; founding member and board director of the Hillcrest Enrichment Program; community-relations director, Knowledge is Power
Web site/e-mail: Web site under construction
Comments: “I’m concerned about the direction we’re going regarding our community. I’m a native, born and raised here. I’m concerned about taxes, which are too high. People cannot afford to live here—young professionals who want to be in this community cannot afford to. We’re losing a lot of people to Charlotte, to Raleigh, to Atlanta.

“This is not a friendly business environment. We do not provide the structure for small business. We’ve been talking about this [Unified Development Ordinance] and the red tape that’s involved. … There’s just things I want to do and be a part of to make our city better.”


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One thought on “The slate is set (well, sort of)

  1. Lindsey Simerly

    I am an independent running for city council, and even after speaking with the Mountain Xpress two separate times on Monday they still left out all independent candidates.
    This Mountain Xpress article represents just one more road block to an actual independent/ third part presence in the city council elections. If we cannot even get publicity in the Xpress, then where? Because I am not part of this new partisan system, does that invalidate my bid for council?
    It is obvious that through the new partisan system and the coverage of this upcoming election that all voices are not being represented. I am currently trying to get over 2300 signatures to get my name on the ballot (which we all know mean A LOT more than that), I, along with any other independents which may be running, need all of the publicity that we can get!

    lindsey simerly

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