And then there were nine

After a slow start, this year’s Asheville City Council race is heating up, with nine contenders vying for three seats.

With the mid-July filing deadline looming, a number of candidates jumped into the race, including longtime activists, political newbies and bloggers. In the end, incumbents Jan Davis and Bill Russell opted to seek another term, while Vice Mayor Brownie Newman is bowing out of politics (at least for now) to focus on his work at FLS Energy.

An Oct. 11 primary will narrow the field to six; the top three vote-getters in the Nov. 8 general election will win places at the Council table.

But City Council candidates don't just emerge from nowhere. Who are they? Why are they running? What do they hope to achieve?

Asheville residents will have a number of chances to listen to and question the candidates at upcoming events (see campaign calendar); voters can also check candidates’ websites and social media presence.

In the meantime, here's an overview of the folks hoping to claim a seat on City Council.

Mark Cates

Local engineer Mark Cates was the first out the gate, dramatically announcing his candidacy at the Buncombe County Republican Party’s convention in March. “We live in the heart of enemy territory,” he declared. “We have to strike a blow from the inside.” Cates remains the lone Republican in the race; the rest are either Democrats or unaffiliated.

The candidate has since spoken at several Council meetings, usually decrying steps he sees as unnecessarily hindering businesses.

Now striking a more moderate tone, Cates notes: “There's a lot of challenges the city faces. We need to focus on the core services and do those really well. My platform is about working on economic development and bringing quality jobs to Asheville. My focus is going to be on helping businesses help their employees to pay their bills. … We need to make it easier to do business in Asheville so each person, during these economic times, can make ends meet."

People should vote for him, says Cates, because "I'll bring that focus, with my background as an engineer, to Council." A survey earlier this year that rated Asheville the seventh-worst metropolitan area in the country for hunger illustrates the need for the policies he advocates, Cates maintains.

Saul Chase

Before moving to Asheville, Saul Chase served on Boone's Town Council for eight years. He boils his candidacy down to a single key issue: infrastructure.

“It's simple: I'm concerned about the deteriorating condition of the streets and sidewalks in Asheville,” Chase explains. “I ride my bike around Asheville, and I saw how bad they are. It was time to correct it long before now: It's almost 80 years of neglect. Asheville went on a decline after the Great Depression, and infrastructure got hit hard by that. It's time to fix it.”

Chase has released a flier listing six solutions to Asheville's infrastructure issues. They include: bumping up the fee for Bele Chere wristbands to $5, selling 30-year bonds to pay for sidewalk construction, and backing "Beautiful Block Parties" that would enlist residents in helping clean up their neighborhood.

Chase says he’s also concerned about Asheville's lack of political clout.

“We're under an onslaught from the state Legislature, and the thing we can do to combat that is to get bigger and tougher: That means registering more voters,” Chase maintains. “In my campaign, I want to register as many voters as possible.”

Jan Davis

Davis, who owns a downtown tire store, has a long history of civic involvement and has served on Council since 2003.

A centrist with a focus on economic development, he’s opposed raising taxes or pushing for a hotel-occupancy tax for fear of hurting local businesses and has supported new development, including the 51 Biltmore parking deck.

Davis won his last campaign decisively, breaking ranks with most of his Council colleagues in opposing a switch to partisan City Council elections.

After initially voting against domestic-partner benefits, Davis reversed his stance, supporting both the benefits and the LGBT equality resolution approved in February, which he said wasn’t about religion but “rights for people.”

The candidate says he’d been tempted to step down, but that with pet projects such as Civic Center renovations and River District redevelopment now coming to fruition, “I felt I had to be there.” If he and Newman left at the same time, notes Davis, “It would leave a pretty big gap.”

Davis says he’s running on his record, citing his support of 51 Biltmore and the Downtown Master Plan as cases where he's listened to differing viewpoints and then done what he feels is best for the city.

Lael Gray

With a history of activism on causes such as education and racial equality, graphic designer Lael Gray believes this is the right time to accomplish cherished goals.

“We're at a really exciting point in our city where we have a lot of great plans in place, and I want to be a part of seeing that through,” she explains. “I'm really excited about our plans on greenways, sidewalks, affordable housing and density.”

The candidate describes herself as “an incredibly driven and hard-working individual. I've been a small-business owner, I've worked in education, in nonprofit management. I've worked as an advocate for young children and on anti-racism and social-justice issues. I'm entirely dedicated to Asheville and my core beliefs and issues.”

Gray adds that her No. 1 goal is “environmental protection,” including “getting cars off the road.” Her platform embraces a broad array of progressive goals, including "retirees as vested participants in our community." Other objectives include "reliable, affordable and inviting public transit for travel" and "well-planned, neighborhood-sensitive, affordable housing."

Marc Hunt

Unlike some of his competitors, Marc Hunt jumped into the campaign early, announcing his run back in April. Hunt has served on the city's Greenway Commission for six years (two-and-a-half as chair). An avid cyclist, he frames his goals as balancing economic development and environmental preservation. Since 2005, he's worked for the Open Space Institute, a nonprofit land-conservation organization.

“I've put a lot of energy in over the years as an advocate, and I came to embrace the view that we need good people elected,” Hunt explains. “While on the commission, I also engaged on storm water, bike paths and the density bonus for development along transit corridors.”

Hunt says he's running on “environment and sustainability, well-planned growth, economic and social justice and strong neighborhoods. Tying all those things together is economic development: It's driven by livability.” A key component of sustainability, the candidate maintains, is more living-wage jobs.

“It's important that the people who sit on City Council have a perspective that enables them to accomplish the things they want to see," he notes.

Tim Peck

Libertarian activist Tim Peck has spoken out against what he sees as unjust government intrusion for years. Active online, Peck regularly comments on local sites and Twitter, as well as his own blog.

Peck has seen his share of controversy. He was banned from Scrutiny Hooligans (the political blog founded by activist Gordon Smith, who now serves on City Council) for violating the site's comment policy; Peck maintained that he was being excluded due to his political views. Peck also triggered a furor by placing insulting captions on photos, via Twitter, from a Drinks and Dialogue event spotlighting de facto racial segregation in Asheville. More recently, he's advocated allowing food trucks downtown and has criticized the recently announced economic incentives for the Linamar Corp., which he sees as corporate welfare.

“I'm running for City Council mainly to give the citizens of Asheville a choice. I would represent balance in City Hall," Peck wrote in an email to Xpress. "I'm running primarily on the issues of overregulation and the growth of government. Overregulation hampers economic activity and job creation, and we need to liberalize our rules and regulations."

Peck also favors “restructuring local government to take advantage of the proven efficiencies of private industry.”

Chris Pelly

Longtime community activist Chris Pelly has previously mounted Council campaigns in 2003 and ’05. The former head of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, Pelly is president of the Haw Creek Community Association, and he recently led a public push for more sidewalks and parks in east Asheville. His slogan is “Neighborhoods United,” bolstered by a promise to fix “unmet needs.”

“I've been working in my community for many years to bring in some basic infrastructure and to bring people together, and felt like it's not just in east Asheville: The needs are citywide, whether it's sidewalks or parks or better planning," he maintains. “I've taken the initiative: I've proven I can bring various parties to the table to get real solutions. I want to do that on Council."

Pelly specifically cites his role in defeating a proposed 102-unit apartment complex and instead bringing Haw Creek Park to the site. He’s also highlighted issues such as 51 Biltmore, on which he says he would have voted differently than incumbents Russell and Davis did. In addition, he wants to scale back some Downtown Master Plan changes that have restricted Council’s say in proposed downtown development.

Bill Russell

Russell, who runs a State Farm Insurance office in south Asheville, leaped into city politics in 2007, narrowly defeating incumbent Bryan Freeborn.

Since Carl Mumpower’s departure, Russell has been the most conservative Council member, voting against annexation, advocating budget cuts and adamantly opposing tax and fee increases (which led him to reject this year's budget). Last summer, Council’s lone Republican publicly split with the party, saying its “political games” had become a distraction from serving the city.

Now unaffiliated, Russell calls himself a “reformed Republican” who focuses on progress and “fiscal responsibility” while considering all sides of the issues.

Absent from two key Council meetings, Russell missed controversial votes on both domestic-partner benefits and the LGBT equality resolution. But he recently contributed to a Twitter-driven push to raise money for Blue Ridge Pride, a local LGBT rights group. Russell’s campaign manager, former Xpress reporter Michael Muller, coordinated the drive to pay the nonprofit’s Chamber of Commerce membership dues.

Russell says he’s running out of “total passion for the city — I feel my work is not done.” To date, he says, that work has included "avoiding tax increases and helping trim $5 million off the budget."

Those cuts, he believes, will "hopefully, when the economy recovers, result in us being on far more solid financial ground, to do some of these other initiatives we want to take part in."

TJ Thomasson

TJ Thomasson, an LGBT activist and avid runner, is making his favorite form of exercise a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to literally run down every street in Asheville as a form of public outreach.

Thomasson says his “openly gay campaign” aims to spur the city to quickly implement an anti-bullying ordinance promised back in February.

Thomasson specifically takes aim at incumbents Russell and Davis, asserting, “They've sided with big developers more often than not.” The challenger wants more action from the city on issues such as digital billboards and the Caledonia Apartments, a project Council initially rejected that was divided into two smaller projects, thus removing it from Council’s purview. In the end, Council members split over how to best deal with the situation.

Active on Twitter, Thomasson has also weighed in during Council meetings. He recently supported Council member Cecil Bothwell's vote against economic incentives for Linamar; Thomasson also criticized Mayor Terry Bellamy, calling her "anti-LGBT" and "anti-recycling."

In a city as diverse as Asheville, he maintains, “There needs to be an LGBT candidate to truly represent them.” As a runner, says Thomasson, he also wants better infrastructure.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at


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58 thoughts on “And then there were nine

  1. wiley

    I generally like Forbe’s reporting, but I disagree with his take on Cates’ comment at the convention. His quotation was taken out of context; Cates was speaking to how republican ideas are generally ignored in the area, and was pushing for a larger debate of the ideas.

    Besides, if Cates were so concerned about “enemy territory”, I doubt he would make his announcement on 880 The Revolution:

  2. RHS

    @wiley — Maybe, but it is difficult to see in what context referring to people who disagree with you as the “enemy” could be taken in other way. Going on 880 may also just be an indication that he knows he needs to take a softer tone if he wants to win. In any case I find his comments a serious barrier for me to even consider voting for him

  3. bill smith

    The “[i]the proven efficiencies of private industry.[/i]”?

    Proven how? Where? When? By whom?

  4. “Proven how? Where? When? By whom?”

    1. Proven how? Proven through actual practice. The Georgia Institute for Technology just completed a nationwide study that is being peer-reviewed that contains details of this proof.

    2. Where? Lakewood, California (& three dozen “contract cities” in California), Sandy Springs, Georgia; Riverside, Georgia; Chattahoochee Hill Country, Georgia; Milton, Georgia; John’s Creek, Georgia; Weston, Florida; Central, Louisiana; Bonita Springs, Florida; Centennial, Colorado; and soon, Tokyo, Japan.

    3. When? Since 1996 to the present.

    4. By whom? CH2M Hill OMI and others.

  5. shadmarsh

    That photo of Mr. Peck’s head is offensive and dangerous to children, shame on you MX.

  6. bill smith

    @Tim-So Asheville should try to be more like Sandy Springs GA?

    How will we attract so many wealthy people and deport so many poor people?

  7. bill smith

    [i]The Georgia Institute for Technology just completed a nationwide study that is being peer-reviewed that contains details of this proof.[/i]

    It contains details? So you’ve read it, then? Got a link so the rest of us can see this proof?

  8. bill smith

    [i]Where? Lakewood, California (& three dozen “contract cities” in California), Sandy Springs,…[/i]

    And Asheville is comparable to those locales?

  9. Barry Summers

    How will we attract so many wealthy people and deport so many poor people?

    Creative boundary-drawing?

  10. Dionysis

    I’m surprised Tim Peck is even interested in his soon-to-be doomed effort at a Council seat, with this exciting development looming ahead:

    “Peter Thiel has made his fortune by being part of the next big thing: He was a co-founder of Paypal and one of the early investors of Facebook. But a new Details profile sums up his new plans: “Forget startup companies. The next frontier is startup countries.”

    Thiel has donated $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, the brainchild of Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer and grandson of economist Milton Friedman. Here’s the gist: creation of libertarian, sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters and free from the laws and moral codes of any other country.

    Plans for the prototype include a movable, diesel-powered 12,000-ton structure that could house 270 residents. The goal would be to eventually link hundreds of the structures together. Friedman’s timeline is to launch offices off San Francisco next year, get a full-time settlement within seven years and eventually diplomatic recognition from the UN.”

  11. shadmarsh

    I doubt it, Navies are socialist. They will probably just have crude cannons strapped to the rig, from which they can fire copies of Atlas Shrugged at the would-be usurpers.

  12. Dionysis

    “Thanks for your interest in my campaign. You can find out more here”

    The race is of only marginal interest to me as I do not live within city limits and thus cannot vote.

  13. Barry Summers

    You’ll wish you had paid more attention when the HMS AynRand heaves to alongside Asheville, and a bunch of pirates jump out & seize all our drinking water…

  14. Barry Summers

    …And that leads me to my question to all Council candidates: What will you do to stop the seizure of our water system by forces who want to privatize it & sell it back to us at a profit?

  15. ashevillain7

    ^ Excellent question Barry.

    I will not vote for any candidate that think the privatization of our water supply is acceptable. I will consider voting for candidates who can put into action the removal of fluoride from our water supply.

  16. bill smith

    @TimPeck-I’ve composed ad posted several follow-up questions to your response which you seem to be ignoring. Is this the sort of sporadic attention you would seek to give your constituents where you elected?


    The Georgia Institute for Technology just completed a nationwide study that is being peer-reviewed that contains details of this proof.

    [i]It contains details? So you’ve read it, then? Got a link so the rest of us can see this proof?[/i]

    [b]Where? Lakewood, California (& three dozen “contract cities” in California), Sandy Springs,…[/b]

    [i]And Asheville is comparable to those locales? [/i]
    I’m beginning to suspect, Mr. Peck, that you are only running as a platform for your bizarre ideology, and are not actually interested in communicating your ideas in a coherent way, or in finding realistic, practical ways to implement your out-there ideas in the real world.

    The notion that ‘privatization’ is a panacea because it has worked in a handful of extremely wealthy counties, while completely ignoring the several examples of it being an utter failure implies to me that you haven’t the ability to think in real-world terms, but would rather hold fast to your pre-conceived notions much like a fanatic of a particular book series.

  17. “The notion that ‘privatization’ is a panacea because it has worked in a handful of extremely wealthy counties,”

    I am not talking about privatization. Had you read the extensive details on my website you would have discovered that and saved yourself some measure of embarrassment.

  18. Margaret Williams

    Bill Smith, you’re a mite close to making your argument personal. Take it down a few notches, please, and stick to criticizing the ideas, not the individual.

  19. shadmarsh

    Bill Smith, you’re a mite close to making your argument personal. Take it down a few notches, please, and stick to criticizing the ideas, not the individual.

    Let’s hope timpeck is held to the same standard (at least once).

  20. Barry Summers

    I would respectfully disagree, Margaret. I think that Bill has it spot on. The only reason it sounds harsh and over the top is because that is the only realm of discourse left to anyone who tries to engage Mr. Peck. (Mind you, I have alienated my friends over at Scrutiny Hooligans arguing that the current ban on him there is inappropriate, while he is a candidate for public office.)

    Look at this thread – Bill tried to engage on details, asked for sources, and made coherent and relevant queries. Mr. Peck responded by dodging, ignoring, and insulting, as he always does. Check his response just above yours – he claims he doesn’t advocate ‘privatization’ (“Bill Smith, aren’t you embarrassed?”). He advocates ‘public-private partnerships’, a focus-group phrase that means the same thing, but polls better than ‘privatization’, like ‘intelligent design’ vs. ‘creationism’. This phony distinction allows him to insult the intelligence of a voter who is trying to ask a pertinent question, and you’ll back him up on it?

    I think you have been worked over by Mr. Peck for so long (moderator…moderator…moderator) you have lost objectivity.

    Besides, he has thrown his hat into the ring for an elected office. As long as he’s using you for his soapbox, IMO, you have an obligation to the voters to not overprotect him.

  21. Margaret Williams

    Points taken, Barry, but we did allow Bill Smith’s last post, recognizing that he has thrown his hat into the ring for an elected office. Just asking all concerned to take a deep breath.

  22. Betty Cloer Wallace

    What a surprise!

    What office is Bill Smith running for?

    Will we finally be able to find out who he is?

  23. “He”, in this case, refers to Tim Peck, Betty.

    As Tim is now a certified “public person” in terms of how he should expect to be treated now, he can no longer hide behind the banner of “ad hominem attacks” anytime someone asks him to defend his laughably inadequate political ideology from the scrutiny it so richly deserves.

    His inability to provide Bill, or anyone else for that matter, coherent answers to questions but rather to send them back to his “statement”, which reads like a poorly cribbed Cliffsnotes of An Idiot’s Guide to Libertarianism combined with some thoroughly disreputable nonsense from a variety of low-rent “free market” sources, is indicative of how prepared he is to run for office, much less succeed and hold a seat on City Council.

    Sadly, we are completely fulfilling the prophecy made on Scrutiny Hooligans that his entire candidacy would attract more attention that it was worth.

  24. Barry Summers

    Just asking all concerned to take a deep breath.

    Understood Margaret, and you have my sympathies. I just hope you get my drift: a candidates ideas aren’t the only thing voters have a right to question and criticize. If a candidate refuses to answer questions at all, that’s fair game for criticism. If a candidate responds to every query with a string of obscenities, it would be legitimate for voters to criticize him for that. In this case, Candidate Peck is showing all the signs of comporting himself like non-candidate Peck: managing to incite, insult, and prove nothing to no one. And I think that’s legitimate ground for criticism, being that he is asking for a seat on a complicated political body like City Council.

    If he’s using XPress as a platform to campaign, he has to be open to all legitimate lanes of criticism, more so than an average commentor.

  25. Betty Cloer Wallace

    @ mat cat: “He”, in this case, refers to Tim Peck, Betty.

    Of course I knew that, mat cat, but you know how old English teachers are about pronouns. We have to get our jollies some way.

    I’m sorry that I interfered. I, too, would like to see Tim Peck attempt some coherent answers to some real questions that we all would like for our city council candidates to address at least somewhat coherently.

    So far, Tim is the teflon candidate, answering nothing, and sidestepping all the real issues just like WhatsHisName in BestLittleWhoreHouseInTexas.

  26. [b]Of course I knew that, mat cat, but you know how old English teachers are about pronouns. We have to get our jollies some way.[/b]

    I’m just going to pretend that I was completely aware that you weren’t confused by the funny pronouns and was somehow playing along….

  27. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Mat Cat: A+

    Barry Summers: A+

    Bill Smith: A+

    Charles Durning: A+

    Tim Peck: Incomplete

  28. Dionysis

    Is Mr.Peck capable of answering any question without (1) claiming it is an ad hominem attack or (2) habitually referring every question to his ‘web page’? It seems not.

    If I was a prospective voter, that would get old fast, but as I am not a resident of the City, I can only see it as amusing, although not surprising.

  29. Margaret Williams

    There are nine candidates. If one isn’t going to engage further in this thread, what about discussing the others?

  30. Barry Summers

    I’ll just point out that I asked a salient and timely question three days ago, & not one of them has answered. I could discuss them, but so far as I am concerned, they ALL get incompletes.

  31. Barry Summers

    BTW, we will all be watching the current incumbents, Bill Russell & Jan Davis to see how they vote on the P&Z appointments tomorrow. Oh heck, we’ll be watching everyone who ever hopes to run for this office or any other to see whether they seek balance on this important commission, or whether they pack it with realtors and developers.

  32. Margaret Williams

    Your question for all City Council candidates was …And that leads me to my question to all Council candidates: What will you do to stop the seizure of our water system by forces who want to privatize it & sell it back to us at a profit?

  33. Barry Summers

    Yes, although if it will elicit more responses, it could be simplified to “What will you do to stop the seizure of our water system?”

  34. Margaret Williams

    Thanks for putting that so concisely. We’re preparing our questions for City Council candidates, and we’ll have another feature on the race before the primary.

    Are there any “big picture” questions y’all have for candidates?

  35. Barry Summers

    Heck, I would ask them what sort of make-up would they favor for P&Z (I wouldn’t ask them about specific candidates, because three of them will eventually have to work with three of them…).

  36. bill smith

    [b]I am not talking about privatization. Had you read the extensive details on my website you would have discovered that and saved yourself some measure of embarrassment.[/b]

    Yes, you are. The examples you give ‘on your website’ include turning over public infrastructure to private companies in one capacity or another.his is supported by the may examples you give. To claim otherwise is just playing semantics.

    Regardless, this is but one small aspect of my many questions which I still notice you have yet to follow up on. Why is that?

  37. City of Asheville has experienced a number of troubling issues in the past year. The Human Resource scandal and what appears to be gross mismanagement, the Sexual Harassment lawsuit, that could have been nipped in the bud, when the young woman went through channels and then was forced to seek legal action. Amounting to $48,000 to settle a lawsuit that should have been effectively dealt with internally. The Pack Place overruns, Momentum’s $8,000,000 mudhole on N. Broadway, missing evidence at the police department, and $145,000 to audit the evidence room at the Police Dept. Unanswered questions swirling around the operations of the AB Community Relations Council and the City paying $18,000 in back taxes for that organization. There appears to be a severe shortage of oversight as evidenced above. What would potential Council Members do to assure the community that running the City will be handled more effectively and responsibly in the future?

  38. [b]There are nine candidates. If one isn’t going to engage further in this thread, what about discussing the others? [/b]

    Five of them seem to be various shades of grey, two of them are incumbents and one is apparently throwing around “Battlefield: USA” rhetoric.

  39. Marc Hunt

    My view on selection of P&Z Candidates – Council should seek appointments now that would yield an overall commission makeup that is well-balanced between real estate interests, environment, neighborhoods, affordability, and downtown, with an emphasis on a strong skills and experience across those interests. The four continuing candidates offer an adequate representation of real estate interests, so selection based on all the other criteria is in order. My concern is that some on Council would now seek balance within this set of appointments, and that tends to perpetuate the overall imbalance. I applaud the current Council for improving the process toward transparency and thoroughness so that they and the public can better judge candidates. Having been an active member of a Council appointed commission for over 5 years and engaging frequently with Council and other board and commission, we need a more vigorous process for recruiting qualified candidates to all of them and also for refining the roles/duties of a number of the many boards and commissions. Look for me to be active on that once elected.

  40. Marc Hunt

    Regarding future of the water system:
    – I would vigorously defend the financial equity the taxpayers of Asheville have in the system. The fiscal health of Asheville is critical to our regional vibrancy, and any deal on the water system must not yield a further-weakening in the ability of the City to provide in-town services and infrastructure that benefit regional residents that routinely come into the city, other visitors, and city residents.
    – Design and operation of water system has strong bearing on the environmental integrity of our community from how it relates to sprawl growth to water-usage efficiency to power consumption for treatment. I do not view that private for-profit control would value environmental principles the way governmental authority, answerable to the people, would.

  41. [b]My rent’s too damn high![/b]

    Do you know how much time I’ve wasted trying to put that guy’s mustache on Mr. Peck?

    Where’s Brebro? I bet he could do it in thirty seconds.

  42. Barry Summers

    I’m dedicated, if not talented or resourceful.

    As Sean Connery said in the Untouchables,

    “There goes the next Chief of Police.”

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