It’s just a jump to the left

After a long campaign season that was full of dramatic twists and turns, the Asheville general election results rolled in quickly on Nov. 3. At the end of the night, the three Democrats who dominated the Council primaries in October—Esther Manheimer, Gordon Smith and Cecil Bothwell—maintained their leads over the rest of the pack to earn seats on Council in December, as did incumbent Mayor Terry Bellamy.

The Manheimer steamroller: First-place council finisher Esther Manheimer gives a short speech to her wine-drinking supporters on election night. Photo by Jason Sandford

With conservative Republican Carl Mumpower losing his Council reelection bid, six of seven seats will now be occupied by Democrats. Moderate Republican Bill Russell becomes arguably Council's farthest-right member, though Bellamy and Jan Davis are both considered conservative-leaning Democrats.

That leaves Bothwell, Smith and current council member Brownie Newman as solidly on the left side of the spectrum, with Manheimer, a development attorney who was endorsed by both Newman and Davis, as potentially the swing vote on some issues.

Yet there were few votes over the last two years where these new faces would actually have made much of a difference. Most controversial issues saw 6-1 votes, with Mumpower the lone holdout. A more left-weighted Council, however, may change the kinds of issues that come forward for discussion.

"This is a very progressive change for Asheville," Bothwell told supporters gathered at Three Brothers Restaurant on election night. "We rocked this city tonight!"

Bothwell, who led the vote count in the primary, dropped to third in the general, with Manheimer taking the lead on Election Day.

Surrounded by exuberant supporters at the Battery Park Champagne Bar, Manheimer, glass in hand, said that Asheville had spoken: "This is terribly exciting. Though the voter turnout was low, I think the voters are a true reflection of Asheville."

Of three Republicans in the race, none earned enough votes to win seats on Council, with Mumpower coming in fourth, followed by J. Neal Jackson and Ryan Croft.

Democrat incumbent Robin Cape's write-in bid also did not win enough votes for a spot. As of press time, the Buncombe Board of Elections was reporting an unofficial count of 4,620 write-in votes, but it had not counted how many were specifically for Cape.

Welcome to the party: Council member Brownie Newman, alongside Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones, congratulates newly elected Gordon Smith on election night. Photo by Jason Sandford

According to the newly elected Council members, the new lineup will mark a significant shift in Asheville politics. From the stage at the Westville Pub, Smith told a crowd of volunteers and supporters that he would delve straight into pushing for affordable housing, infrastructure for multi-modal transportation and domestic partner benefits for city employees. 

There may now be the votes on Council to accomplish that last goal, since all three winners, as well as current Council member Brownie Newman (whose seat wasn't up for reelection), have gone on the record signaling their support.

Smith also told Xpress that the new Council should be able to grease the wheels on environmentally friendly practices. During his campaign, he said Asheville should take the lead on promoting green industry and jobs.

"Brownie Newman and Robin Cape got the wheels turning on sustainability," Smith told Xpress. "With this Council we should be able to get further, faster."

The recently developed Downtown Master Plan and Transit Master Plan were also on the lips of candidates, who said that the votes should be there to put elements in place quickly.

"Those plans are the voice of the people. They were involved in the process, with public hearings, many hours of discussion — we need to bring those to fruition," Manheimer asserted. "Given the results of this election, I don't think there will be many challenges in getting those master plans enacted. I think the people have given City Council a mandate."

"We rocked this town!" Newly elected Cecil Bothwell celebrates with supporters and band Gas House Mouse. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Bothwell, meanwhile, celebrated while urging his supporters to look to the 2011 Council elections for further progressive advances. Leaning on his agenda of local solutions to global climate change, he told Xpress that there are still Council members he sees as obstacles to environmental change: "I would hope in two years, we will replace Bill Russell and Jan Davis. I don't think they get it. Global warming is a local problem everywhere. To the extent that Council is not aware of that, we need to replace people."

The evening was the culmination of a campaign season that started as long as a year ago for several candidates. There were big changes to the field along the way. Robin Cape initially announced she would not run, but she reconsidered after the filing deadline, launching a write-in campaign.

Photographer Jenny Bowen considered a bid for Mayor, filed to run for Council, and then dropped out before the primary. And Council member Kelly Miller, appointed in 2008 to fill the seat of Holly Jones when she won election to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, came in fourth in the primary but withdrew from the race days later, announcing that his wife was battling cancer.

The new Council members will be sworn in on December 8 and attend their first Council meeting on December 15. City Council's annual retreat will take place in early January.
— Brian Postelle

Robin Cape loses write-in bid

When the first election reports put Robin Cape in the running for fourth place on Tuesday, Nov. 3, she took to the stage at Jack of the Wood and sang, "I feel lucky!" Then she cradled a friend's bass guitar and belted out, "Summertime and the living is easy…."

Earlier in the evening, the Asheville City Council incumbent had told Xpress that whatever the eventual outcome, "I've already won." She had run a good, strong, clean campaign, she said, and there were encouraging signs in her team's exit polls, showing that support for her was strong. "Tonight I'm optimistic," Cape continued. "But the reality is, it's a challenge." If she won, she mused before singing, she would show that a write-in campaign is viable, and if she lost, many would likely think that she would have won if she had run as an incumbent with her name on the ballot.

Baby it's all write now: Council member Robin Cape lost her write-in reelection bid but rocked the party anyway. Photo by Margaret Williams

Earlier this year, Cape decided not to seek another term on City Council. "I had a tough year last year," she explained while awaiting the election results. "I lost my father. I got divorced. I had to move out of my house." She decided not to put her family through the challenge of running a campaign but also admitted, "I didn't have energy for it." Cape wasn't sure she could get out on the campaign trail and be the cheerful, confident incumbent.

After she let the candidate-registration deadline pass by, friends and supporters convinced her to run. But the State Board of Elections told her that she couldn't run as a write-in during the October primary. Believing the board was misinterpreting the relevant statute, Cape nevertheless chose not to waste time fighting the ruling. Instead, she and her campaign decided to focus their efforts on the November election. She had, after all, run successfully as a write-in for the Woodfin Water Board.

At 9:30 p.m. on election night, Cape had finished singing and playing. Speaking to someone on her cell phone, she said, "We did fantastic!"

But when she peered at the results on a laptop at 10:00 p.m., the write-in votes totaled 4,620 — almost 1,300 less than Cecil Bothwell, who was in third place behind Gordon Smith and front-runner Esther Manheimer. And the number of write-in votes also fell 100 below those that had been cast for fellow incumbent Carl Mumpower. "I didn't even beat Carl?" Cape exclaimed, for a moment slipping off the confidence and good cheer she had been carrying all evening.

"I don't know why I was drawn into this election process, but I was," she said, gathering herself. "You don't win if you don't risk." But tears welled up as she spoke about all the people who had encouraged her to run as a write-in candidate and about all those who had voted for her. The results would disappoint them, she acknowledged. But after her term ends in December, she can still "engage" with the community, continuing to work on such projects as Reading, Riding and Retrofit, which aims to upgrade school facilities with an eye toward reducing their carbon footprint. There's still work to do, she insists.

Said Cape, "It's exciting that we got as far as we did, with almost 5,000 votes…. My life goes on. For me, I'm fine."
— Margaret Williams

Bellamy stays on to "finish what we've started"

The mood was cheerful at Mayor Terry Bellamy's Hendersonville Road campaign headquarters on election night. With good reason, too: As the results came in, it quickly became clear that she had won a second term in a landslide.

Bellamy herself was leaning over a wooden desk with a campaign volunteer, watching the vote tallies. "You're up a percent," the volunteer noted. Occasionally, the mayor would turn to embrace a newly arrived volunteer. Eventually, the final results were tallied, and the Board of Elections reported that Bellamy had won with 78.5 percent of the vote, crushing her opponent, Robert Edwards.

Securing a second term: Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy watches the numbers roll in on the night of her reelection. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Bellamy, Asheville's first African-American mayor, was also the youngest ever to serve when she began her first term in 2005. Now she is also the first Asheville mayor to win re-election since the city moved to four-year terms in 1997.

"I'm excited," Bellamy told Xpress. "I'm really happy and I look forward to serving the people of Asheville for four more years."

She called her victory a vindication of her leadership and said she plans to focus on nuts and bolts during her second term: "Finishing all the master plans we've started — that's a lofty goal — and finishing fixing the water system."

Asked if she would approach anything differently from her first term, Bellamy smiled.

"Based upon the results, I don't think the people want me to change too much," she replied.

A few minutes later, she climbed a small podium to her supporters' applause. "Praise the lord, everybody!" Bellamy shouted, before joking, "My bad, wrong hat. I almost forgot where I was."

She described herself as "humbled to be mayor of my hometown again" and then touted her record.

"I was asked tonight what I wanted to change: I ran basically unopposed from anyone with name recognition and I've won with over 70 percent, I think what I've done for the last four years has worked."

Bellamy stressed the relationships she's built with local, federal and state officials.

"It says something when the chair of the county commissioners was here most of the night," she noted. "Our working relationship has improved dramatically. Just as important is the relationship on a state level: making sure we have a governor who knows the mayor of Asheville's name. That makes a difference with our financial and legislative matters. I'm proud of our federal relationship, so we know about legislation before it hits the ground. It gives Asheville an opportunity on financial matters."

Bellamy reaffirmed her commitment to implement the master plans on downtown, transit and other issues and to complete extensive repairs to Asheville's aging water system.

"Asheville's good at starting things; I want to finish."
— David Forbes

Mumpower down, but not out

Carl Mumpower's ready for a little down time.

"It's hard to be the only conservative voice in Asheville," said Mumpower after finishing fourth in Tuesday's polling. The results left the two-term councilman out of public office for the first time since 2001. For the often outspoken and controversial Mumpower, though, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"It's hard to do battle with the forces of progressive evil day after day. I'm looking forward to some rest."

Since taking office, eight years ago, Mumpower has been indefatigable on City Council in raising questions about the enforcement of immigration laws and the expansion of government and in pushing to fight drugs in the community. He's done so from his seat on City Council, through the relentless use of his e-mail list and on the campaign trail last year as he sought to defeat U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler for Western North Carolina's 11th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House.

Mumpower's tactics have raised the hackles of many. He's harangued fellow council members. He's called out business owners for their alleged hiring of illegal immigrants (and took partial credit for the biggest immigration raid in WNC's history at Mills Manufacturing). And on the legislative issue that got beneath his skin as much as any other — the city's failed legal battle to gain the right to charge differential water rates — Mumpower compared the region's state lawmakers to "wife beaters" and "thieves."

The tactics won the psychologist few friends along the way, and Mumpower said he's fine with that.

"I wouldn't do it differently," Mumpower said. "When you're the lone conservative voice, you better be real creative and energetic, and you better have a courage button." Mumpower added that when he was in Vietnam with the Air Force, "The monks would sometimes set themselves on fire to draw attention to what was wrong there. I never felt the need to set myself on fire, but I did need to burn my fingertips to get some attention to the issues."

Mumpower noted that his approach has worked. "For the first time in recent history, all my liberal socialist colleagues are talking about holding the line on taxes, and about public safety being job one. Those are things that turned people purple when I mentioned them when I was first elected, and now it's part of their platform."

He's also happy to have "shined a light" on the workings of local government. "The number one goal of local government is to protect itself. Everything else is second. I've challenged that priority because I think people should come first."

Mumpower said he's taking a wait-and-see attitude before making any assessment of the new City Council, which he sees as dominated by liberal politicians.

"Anytime you get a dominant majority, things get out of balance," he said, "but I'm not going to assume catastrophe. Let's see how it works out."

Once his batteries are recharged, Mumpower said, he'll be back to crusade for his conservative principals. He plans on starting a new blog, for example, and he said he's determined to keep fighting for his conservative values.

"The progressive community won't have to deal with me on City Council any more, but the progressive community will get very little rest from me otherwise," Mumpower said.

"I'll still be up to mischief."
— Jason Sandford

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6 thoughts on “It’s just a jump to the left

  1. J

    It’s disappointing to not see transparency among Gordon and Cecil’s early initiatives.

    Back in 2007, Cecil introduced a transparency resolution to the County Commissioners that he and Gordon created:

    When the County Commissioners did not take up the Bowthwell-Smith authored motion, Gordon commented “I guess they are not interested in transparency”.

    It’ll be interesting to see, now that Gordon and Cecil are in charge, if they are still interested in transparency and take up the resolution they crafted together; or if that was just fad at the time.

    It would be a total shame, and shock, if the progressives touted transparency for so long, wrote their own policies, and then turned their backs on it. I’m sure Gordon and Cecil won’t let us down.

  2. J

    It’s a little disappointing to not see transparency listed amongst Bothwell’s and Smith’s priority agenda.

    Back in 2007, Bothwell introduced a resolution co-authored by Smith to the Buncombe County Commission:

    After the County Commission failed to take up the reform measure, Smith later commented: “I guess they are just not interested in transparency”.

    Now that Smith and Bothwell have the power to personally act on measures they once considered so important, let’s hope that they bring up these same resolutions again. It would be a travesty for them to push transparency for so long, and then fail to deliver. I know Smith and Bothwell will not let us down.

  3. Asheville Dweller

    Until this town has Districts for representation then the Asheville system is still broken, many areas of town with out sidewalks, or more Bus Stops. Our town will continue to waste money on luxury items such as Rusty Sculptures, Greenways, and other un-necessary items.

  4. OK, J

    It’s a little disappointing when we have to bash the predicted failures of those of us who would assume more responsibility for our communities than we would, just to satisfy our own pettiness.

  5. travelah

    Can somebody explain the differences between a leftist council member and a conservative member with regard to any personal impact in their life? What new thang are you gonna be looking for?

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