A petition to force a referendum on the Asheville City Council’s June decision to switch to partisan elections has succeeded by a narrow margin. On July 31, the Buncombe County Board of Elections announced that it had validated 5,022 petition signatures—just over the 5,000 required.
As a result, this fall’s Council elections will be nonpartisan, City Attorney Bob Oast confirmed. “It puts Council’s previous decision on hold until the referendum,” he said. “Council will now set a date for the referendum,” which must be held between Sept. 16 and Nov. 16. City Council is expected to take up the matter at their Aug. 14 meeting. The primary election whill now be held on Oct. 9.
Meanwhile, it’s up to either a judge or the State Board of Elections to set a new filing deadline for Council candidates, said Deputy Director of Elections Max Gough. A July 21, which passed while the Council decision was still in effect, allowed only Democrats and Republicans to file. That’s because, under state law, partisan elections would have required unaffiliated and third-party candidates to collect more than 2,300 signatures in order to get on the ballot.
Those who worked on the petition drive were delighted by the results. “We’re ecstatic, elated and relieved,” grass-roots organizer Charlie Hume declared just after the announcement. “I think everyone in Let Asheville Vote is really pleased. It came down to the wire. We were working really hard this morning to contact folks, get their address information. We had people calling in and confirming information just an hour before.” State law allowed the volunteers to assist the Board of Elections in verifying that signatures were valid, and they were still working on it right up to the board’s July 31 deadline for validating the signatures.
In a tense meeting that afternoon, Board of Elections officials reviewed addresses and signatures, rejecting some and accepting others. As the 5 p.m. deadline approached, signatures were still being reviewed and passed on to the city clerk’s office.
Just after 5 p.m., Ben Bryson, the board’s systems administrator, announced the final tally. “There were 6,215 signatures submitted,” he said. “We checked them: 5,022 is the final number.”
At that, members of Let Asheville Vote (which spearheaded the petition drive) and other supporters in the room started shouting and cheering. The group, said Hume, will now focus on the wording of the referendum question and setting the date for the referendum at the time of the general election.
“Someone’s got to draft it, and I’ve asked the mayor to entertain the idea of having an unbiased third party word it,” he explained. “Obviously, Council is pretty polarized on this issue, and it might be hard for them to word it without introducing bias.”
As for the date, Hume later said that having it on the general election instead of the primary will make the decision more fair.
“Our feeling at Let Asheville Vote is that this should be decided in an election where the greatest number of people show up,” Hume said. “You also have a lot more even distribution of political views in the general election. The number of Republicans and Democrats voting is about even. In the last [council] primary, two-thirds of the voters were Democrats. We’re going to be lobbying council to do the right thing here.”
However, Council member Brownie Newman told Xpress that the decision “is not one we’ve had a lot of conversations on yet. We haven’t taken it up. The Mayor’s indicated she would like to have it on the date of the primary election and off the top of my head, I don’t see any reason not to.”
Activist Gilian Kearns, who was also on hand for the announcement, said the whole process had revealed how hard it is to get a petition through—and thus how difficult it would be for unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot under a partisan-election system. “I think it shows how many signatures are needed, with nearly 1,200 being rejected,” said Kearns. “[Council member Brownie] Newman has been saying how easy it is to get signatures; this shows that it’s not that easy.” The board rejected signatures because the signers didn’t live within city limits, weren’t registered to vote in Buncombe County, or had signed more than once, among other reasons.
This was an unusual situation, noted Director of Elections Trena Parker. “This is one of the larger petitions, and we haven’t had a city petition in some time—I’m just glad it’s done.”
Meanwhile, the actual Council races are just beginning. Although the new filing deadline hadn’t yet been set, at press time four unaffiliated and third-party candidates had announced their campaigns and will now just have to pay a $75 filing fee to get on the ballot. Here’s who they are, in their own words:
Name: Dwight Butner
Occupation: Restaurateur (Vincenzo’s Ristorante)
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated
Family: Married, four children (“fortunately all grown”)
Education: B.A. in history from Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Fla., trained paralegal
Civic experience: President, Asheville Downtown Association; Asheville Downtown Commission, board of directors Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce (Governmental Affairs Task Force), Downtown Social Issues Task Force (co-chair, panhandling subcommittee); first president and founding member, Asheville Independent Restaurant Association; Bele Chere board member (downtown liaison); former co-chair, Hospitality House (now Homeward Bound); former Merchant Action Committee board member (Parking Committee co-chair), Asheville Lyric Opera board member
Web site/e-mail: www.electdwight.org
Comments: “I was leaning against running for City Council this cycle because of personal business opportunities, satisfaction with the contributions I was making on a number of boards and commissions, as well as personal, family considerations. The events surrounding our local election over the last few months have caused me to reconsider and decide to seek office.
“I see three challenges and/or opportunities facing the community that will be addressed in this election. First, the citizens of Asheville will decide in this election how they want to be governed. Are we going to be governed from the top down, or are we going to govern ourselves from the bottom up? We have seen an upswell of democracy in action as the result of the Let Asheville Vote campaign. It was inspirational. … Second, the citizens of Asheville will decide over the next few years how we are going to capitalize on, receive and guide the influx of interest in our community as a place to live. … I want to participate with the community in those decisions.
“Lastly, how are we going to unite as a community to address our challenges? How are we going to treat one another? … Are we going to continue to be a tolerant, live-and-let-live community where everyone is allowed to pursue happiness as they see fit? Or not? I believe that those are the key questions we face. I have some things to say about them, and I want to be a part of creating real solutions for all of them.”
Name: Christopher Chiaromonte
Occupation: Street minister
Party affiliation: Yahweh and Cannabis Party
Family: Brother, John, 56
Education: “8 years of college, a year of seminary”
Civic experience: Frequent speaker at City Council meetings
Web site/e-mail: IamThatIamIam@yahoo.com
Comments: “I am running a zero-finance campaign. I’m taking no money in—if people want to put signs up supporting me, they can. I believe that part of the problem in politics is money. I believe, in a city like Asheville, running a zero-finance campaign is possible.
“Secondly, I want to put back First Amendment freedoms, to give back to people what’s rightfully theirs. It does bother me that three times Mayor Bellamy has tried to censor me. She’s told me I can’t prophesy; then she told me I couldn’t preach; now she’s told me I can’t use a puppet. I’m a court jester—my purpose to deflate the egos of those who have gotten too prideful. The court jester’s job was to keep the king on an even keel and use comedy to do it. That’s me.
“If you want to know more about me or my campaign, watch URTV [Chanel 20].”
Name: Tim Peck
Occupation: Food-service distributor
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated
Family: Single, never married
Civic experience: Ongoing participation in city- and county-government meetings and forums, Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, Buncombe County Libertarians, The Action Club, Mountain Voices Alliance, Citizens for Change and URTV.
Web site/e-mail: www.timpeck.org email@example.com
Comments: “I believe that City Council has gone off the rails, and I am running to provide the citizens of Asheville with an alternative. I will promote less government interference in the marketplace, a business-friendly economic environment, job creation, tax relief, rising market wages (consequently, affordable housing), lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, divestiture, deregulation and privatization, respect for personal freedoms, stiffer penalties for bad development, preservation of natural regional assets, land-value taxation, greater municipal autonomy through home rule, greater community participation of local government through neighborhood zoning authorities, continuous improvement of the UDO and its enforcement going forward, and an end to the dictates of special moneyed interests in our community.”
Name: Lindsey Simerly
Occupation: Massage therapist, nanny
Party affiliation: “Absolutely none”
Family: Girlfriend, Laura Friederich
Education: Currently enrolled at A-B Tech
Civic experience: Works with Food Not Bombs, Tranzmission and other nonprofits
Web site/e-mail: www.LindseyForAsheville.com Lindsey@LindseyforAsheville.com
Comments: “The three major issues that I want to focus on as a City Council person are development, public transportation and diversity. With each of these issues, I take a stand of “No compromise in defense of our communities and our land,” meaning that I firmly believe there is no need to sacrifice the very substance of Asheville to satisfy the needs of big business and development. It is time to stop thinking in terms of compromise—to start thinking in terms of the integrity of this place that we love.
“For too long, Asheville has been under attack by big-money developers who do not respect the environment or community members. Because of large, high-priced development, our city is rapidly gentrifying. Housing costs are rising beyond the standard of living, and there is widespread disparity of housing costs and a lack of affordable-housing developments. For the protection of the mountains, density is a better option than sprawl; however the new housing needs to be for our working-class community, not rich people looking for a vacation home. We need a moratorium on large development, so our city has time to come up with a holistic plan for growth in Asheville—including incorporating many aspects of the existing 2025 Plan. Because of our growing population, we need to begin improving our public transit and make biking a safer and easier alternative. We need to seriously examine the effects of racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, ageism and ableism on our housing and job opportunities in Asheville. It is important to open dialogue with the city about confronting social issues and expanding representation of Asheville’s diverse community.
“My ‘no-compromise’ stance is evident in the way that I am running this campaign. Campaign spending is one of the most wasteful uses of money there is, so from the beginning we set a budget of $250 maximum. … I want the way we are running this campaign to reflect how I would act as a Council member.”