Democrats dominate commissioner races

The new Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will consist entirely of Democrats, as David Gantt ousted the board’s lone Republican, Nathan Ramsey, on Nov. 4 to claim the chairman’s seat. Amid the celebration, the victors vowed to tackle the economic issues facing the county.

Riding high: Re-elected Democratic commissioners Bill Stanley (far left) and Carol Peterson share a laugh with commissioner-elect K. Ray Bailey (second from right) and new board Chair David Gantt after a sweeping victory on Nov. 4. Photos By Jason Sandford

With all precincts reporting and a record 71 percent turnout in the county, the Democrats bested their Republican rivals by impressive margins. In what many observers had predicted to be a close race, Gantt (the board’s current vice chair) collected 66,582 votes (55.72 percent) to Ramsey’s 52,908 (44.28 percent). Former longtime A-B Tech President K. Ray Bailey and Asheville City Council member Holly Jones will take their seats alongside returning commissioners Carol Peterson and Bill Stanley, both of whom handily won re-election. And though Peterson drew the fewest number of votes among the Democrats, she still came in more than 12,000 votes ahead of the nearest Republican challenger, John Carroll, a real-estate broker who’d received substantial backing from organizations like the N.C. Homeowners Alliance, an industry advocacy group.

Here is the final unofficial tally, in descending order (Note: voters could choose up to four commissioners):

K. Ray Bailey: 73,065

Holly Jones: 66,005

Bill Stanley: 62,114

Carol Peterson: 60,113

John Carroll: 47,899

Ron McKee: 45,577

Don Yelton: 42,429

Mike Fryar: 37,557

Gantt found substantial support in the county’s towns, winning Asheville, Weaverville, Swannanoa and Black Mountain, while Ramsey claimed the outlying areas. A similar dynamic ruled the commissioner races, though Bailey did manage to win some rural areas as well.

The mood at the Democrats’ victory celebration at the Crowne Plaza Resort in West Asheville was exultant.

“I’m humbled by the support,” Gantt told Xpress. “This is a mandate: People want us to take care of the money, preserve the mountains and take care of people who don’t have as much as we do.”

Gantt also promised a series of public meetings, observing, “We got so caught up in zoning we stopped getting out there as much.”

Bailey, meanwhile, said he hopes to get to work on a “strategic plan with input from all the citizens, so we can prioritize the goals of the community. The first thing we’ve got to do is understand we’re in tough economic times: We’ve got to survive this recession.”

Arriving later that night, Jones was greeted enthusiastically, and she shook hands and hugged supporters before turning to talk about the economy (“Issue No. 1 is the money,” she noted).

“Like 1994 in reverse”: Campaign worker Michael Muller (left) pores over election results with incumbent Board of Commissioners Chair Nathan Ramsey as news of the GOP defeat comes in.

During her tenure on City Council, Jones has had her share of disagreements—sometimes vocal—with the county commissioners, especially concerning the termination of the Water Agreement. But she doesn’t see those prior conflicts as a problem now.

“I believe with all my heart, just like the country is open to a new way of being and relating, I think our city and county are hoping for a new way of being,” she said. “I think there are going to be a lot of bridges built.”

For his part, Stanley described his election to a sixth term as “fantastic!” and expressed gratitude for voters’ continued support. “The county manager will bring us something in January so we know what we have to do to maintain these services and not raise taxes,” he said, adding, “It’s going to be difficult.”

Over at the main Republican gathering at the Grove Park Inn, the tone was more subdued. Ramsey, whose campaign sought to persuade Democrats to vote for him, was somewhat surprised by the results.

“Voters just went in and voted straight ticket,” he said with a sigh. “I had Democrats every day come up to me and say, ‘I voted straight Democrat except that I voted for you,’ so I’ve had more crossover support. But that’s a big margin to overcome. I always felt like I had a pretty good feel for what the average person in Buncombe County was thinking. I didn’t anticipate this, but it’s like 1994 in reverse.”

Carroll, on the other hand, recalled another lopsided election. “I thought we ran a good campaign. We did everything the right way, the honorable way, but the Obama ticket had a great deal of coattails with the local election,” he said. “It’s like the big sweep when Reagan came in [in 1980]—these are cyclical things that happen from time to time.”

McKee, meanwhile, was taking the defeat in stride. “Whatever happens, we’ve had a great process and a great turnout,” he said. “Buncombe County has spoken—what else can you say?”

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