Progressives ascendent in Asheville primaries

On Oct. 6, Asheville voters, or at least some of them, narrowed the field of candidates to six council and two mayoral hopefuls who will advance to the general election on Nov. 3. Vote-count leaders Cecil Bothwell, Gordon Smith and Esther Manheimer quickly called the primary results a victory for newcomers over incumbents. Three days later, the field shrunk even more: Kelly Miller, who finished fourth, announced he was bowing out of the race in order to care for his wife, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Primary shuffle: City Council candidate Cecil Bothwell (top photo) chats with supporters on the evening he led the primary vote count. Two days later, Council member and candidate Kelly Miller (bottom photo) withdrew from the race to care for his wife Kate, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Photos by Jonathan Welch and Jon Elliston

A total of 7,113 voters (around 10 percent of the city's population) cast ballots in the primary. According to the Buncombe County Board of Elections, that's the lowest primary turnout since the city switched to nonpartisan elections in 1994. And when all was said and done, Bothwell, Smith and Manheimer had each rounded up more votes than incumbents Miller and Carl Mumpower. Newcomer J. Neal Jackson garnered the last spot on the November ballot.

In the mayoral race, current Mayor Terry Bellamy won easily, pulling in 5,150 votes. She will run against Robert W. Edwards, who got 1,157 votes in the primary.

For Bothwell, who pulled in the most votes with 3,718, and Smith, who earned 3,573, the night marked the success of their community-based campaigns. Both candidates announced their candidacy early and got campaigns on the ground in time to build strong community support.

Bothwell, who gathered with supporters at the Early Girl restaurant on Wall Street, took an early lead in the vote count and maintained it through the end of the night. "This really establishes what grassroots politics is all about," Bothwell said. "We had the largest organization, and it worked."

Smith attributed his strong showing to his campaign's organization and strategy. "This was very targeted. We have a strong in-the-field organization," Smith said from his primary party at the Westville Pub on Haywood Road. "It was a relentless effort that allowed us to do the things we have."

With her election party behind her, Manheimer sat in The Usual Suspects on Merrimon Avenue with supporters, including former Council member Bryan Freeborn and current Council member Brownie Newman, and said she was glad to see the primary results. But she already had her sights on the upcoming month of campaigning for the general election.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," she said, adding that she understood a big piece of that work is to get more voters engaged.

"It's our job to reach people to get them to the polls by any means necessary," she said.

Miller, who mingled with family and friends in the Capitol Center downtown, called the voter turnout "disappointing."

"It's surprising, with as much effort as we put into getting out the vote," he said. Miller said he was nevertheless not distressed by his fourth-place showing, noting that he remained optimistic. "I'm satisfied with making the cut."

But on Friday, Miller would announce his withdrawal from the race at a press conference on the steps of Asheville City Hall, explaining that his wife Kate had been diagnosed with cancer in June and had been undergoing chemotherapy treatments. "The most important place for me is not on the campaign trail. It is by my wife's side," Miller told a gathering of reporters, campaign organizers and Chamber of Commerce colleagues. Miller said he would not endorse any other candidate, but called for more voters to participate in the process during the general election.

In an e-mail sent on the day after the primary, Mumpower said the primary results were defined by the low voter turnout. "The election was realistically decided by the 90 percent who stayed home," he wrote.

The two-term Council member, who has been a go-to option for Asheville conservatives, landed in fifth place, but nonetheless says he plans to continue spending no money and making limited outreach to voters.

And while progressives cheered the outcome of the primary, seventh-place conservative Ryan Croft had another take. "I am … horrified that the most radical candidates received the highest voter turnout. We are in real trouble," he wrote in an e-mail to supporters.

As candidates charted their rankings and thanked their supporters on election night, current Council member Robin Cape held forth at the Wedge Brewery in the River Arts District along with a crowd of her supporters, touting her write-in campaign. She said she shares the message of sustainability that she believes launched Smith and Bothwell into the top two slots.

"Gordon and Cecil are running on my same platform, but I have the experience," Cape said.

Cape, who announced her candidacy after the filing deadline expired, does not appear on either ballot, and there was no place to write her in as a choice in the primary. But her supporters will have that option in the general election.

That means, says Cape's campaign manager Ellen Pfirrmann, that the campaign will have to educate voters about how to successfully execute a write-in.

With Miller pulling out, Cape's bid keeps it a six-person race. What remains to be seen is how the write-in option will affect the totals. A look back at past Council races in Asheville indicates that the top three vote-getters in a primary usually win Council seats in the general election. But Cape's campaign could rearrange the results by pulling votes from other candidates, and there is no telling yet how Miller's withdrawal could potentially affect the vote count. Then there is the issue of voter turnout. Local primary elections in years without Presidential races have notoriously low turnouts, but voters tend to come out in larger numbers for the general election.

To help drive up those numbers, Asheville City Council in September approved four new early voting locations, which will open on Oct. 24: the North Asheville Library, the South Buncombe Library, the West Asheville Library and the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department on Gashes Creek Road. Early voting at the Buncombe Board of Elections will take place beginning on Oct. 15.


Terry Bellamy: 5,150
Robert W. Edwards: 1,157

City Council

Cecil Bothwell: 3,718
Gordon Smith: 3,573
Esther E. Manheimer: 3,275
Kelly M. Miller: 2,479
Note: Miller has withdrawn from the race.
Carl Mumpower: 2,330
J. Neal Jackson: 1,270


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12 thoughts on “Progressives ascendent in Asheville primaries

  1. “With Miller pulling out, Cape’s bid keeps it a six-person race.”


    With Miller pulling out and Croft advancing to his spot, Cape’s bid makes it a seven-person race.

  2. Bert

    I would imagine there are considerably more wealthier socially liberal Republicans in Asheville. Think the Bill Russell type but not the Carl Mumpower type.

  3. Jake

    Great outcome in the primary. I encourage Asheville voters to support the top primary election vote-getters in the general, and vote for Bellamy, Bothwell, Smith and Manheimer, a winning team for Asheville.

  4. ashevillelokel

    Great outcome ?!?

    Les than 10% of the registered voters in the City of Asheville voted in the primary …..

  5. Jake

    Hey, how many people received Cecil Cantrell’s direct-mail rant against Cecil Bothwell? Whoa!
    Methinks Messrs. Cantrell and Peterson (Chris, that is) are off their rockers!

  6. Politics Watcher

    I notice that among the candidates Esther Manheimer has a master’s degree in public administration, which may give her an edge in skills and knowledge to be an effective council member. Here’s Wikipedia’s description of the degree:
    An excerpt:
    Instruction includes the roles, development, and principles of public administration; public policy management and implementation; the relations between organizational management and legislators; the public and non-profit budget processes and financial management; administrative law; personnel management focusing on civil employees; professional ethics; and appropriate research methods.

  7. Jake

    I support Esther, but not because of her degrees. After all, GWBush has a BA from Yale and an MBA from Harvard, and he is quite possibly the most ignorant person ever to be US president. What Esther brings to the table is intelligence, poise, community involvement, and a strong legal/legislative background. Add her to the City Council with Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith, and we all will benefit.

  8. Aaron

    Seems like the Cantrell mailer won’t be very effective.

    Maybe Mumpower can squeak into the top three, but two of the Bothwell, Manheimer, Gordon Smith and Cape group will win; it sure seems like with all the Bothwell yard signs around town he’ll be in the top 3.

    But I’m biased, all two members of my household have already early voted and given Cecil our votes.

  9. Barry Summers

    Write in Tim Peck(1) for City Council!!

    And ignore his exhortations to vote for anyone else… He’s just being modest.

    Go Tim(1) Go!!!

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