Standing in line at the West End Bakery the morning after the Nov. 8 city elections, two dreadlocked customers pondered pastry selections and the vexing question of what size coffee to order. Still sporting “I voted” stickers, the two probably figured they’d made enough tough choices the day before, when Asheville voters took to the polls to decide who would govern the city for the next few years.
As the pair approached the register to order, one spotted a copy of the Asheville Citizen-Times. On the front page, a banner headline proclaimed, “Bellamy Wins.” A photo showed a jubilant Terry Bellamy — who’d just learned she’d been elected mayor — hugging her 12-year-old cousin.
As the bohemian duo studied headline and photo, they looked stunned — then, slowly, they began to smile. Now beaming, one declared: “That’s so cool. This is such a great day for Asheville!”
Bellamy trounced outgoing Council member Joe Dunn, netting 10,534 votes to his 8,004. Her victory makes her the first African-American mayor in the city’s history.
In an interview with Xpress, Bellamy attributed her win to “a lot of hard work and going door to door.” She added, “The issues and solutions I put forward resonated with a lot of people.”
Dunn conceded shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Day. He told Xpress that he’d lost because his “statements did not resonate with the people of Asheville, obviously.” Gracious in defeat, Dunn commented: “The result says that the city is ready to go in a different direction. The people have spoken; that’s why we have a democracy.” He added that he’s looking forward to a retirement spent “fishing, golfing and building houses.”
The first challenge facing Bellamy will be guiding the new City Council through the potentially thorny process of appointing someone to serve out the two years remaining on her Council term. But while some of her Council colleagues shied away from indicating who they would support, the new mayor made no bones about how she wanted to approach the situation.
“A Coke with no fizz”
In the City Council race, voters invited incumbents Holly Jones and Carl Mumpower back for another round and welcomed newcomer Robin Cape to the club. With 30 percent of registered voters casting ballots (nearly double the number who took part in last month’s primary), Jones, the top vote-getter, collected 11,642 votes. Cape, who’d promoted a progressive agenda from the stump, secured 9,737 votes.
“Asheville is energized,” noted Jones in a postelection interview. “The citizens understand this city is at a crossroads, and the voters have pointed us in a new direction — to maintain our quality of life.”
Mumpower placed third in the balloting with 8,498 votes. But his campaign faced a stiff challenge from progressive Democrat Bryan Freeborn, who took an early lead but was eventually overtaken by Mumpower as the tallies from outlying precincts trickled in.
Although Mumpower was able to hold onto his seat, he expressed disappointment over Dunn’s defeat. The two conservative Republicans had endorsed each other and campaigned together. “It’s like a Coke with no fizz,” commented a somber Mumpower, adding, “I just enjoyed working with Dr. Dunn. He had the city’s best interests at heart; it’s a loss to the city.”
Six will make seven
When Charles Worley was elected mayor four years ago, Council members unanimously decided to appoint the next-highest finisher in the City Council race to complete his term. By law, however, the appointment could go to anyone supported by a majority of Council members, regardless of whether that person was even a candidate.
Freeborn finished fifth in the primary but jumped to the No. 4 slot in the general election, passing Chris Pelly. In the space of a month, Freeborn made up a 381-vote deficit and went on to outpoll Pelly by a 1,047-vote margin. Keith Thomson rounded out the pack with 4,975 votes.
As of press time, however, several Council members had declined to stake out a clear position on the appointment question. Jones told Xpress that she wanted to discuss the appointment with Bellamy and other Council members before committing to anyone. (Cape, on the other hand, endorsed Freeborn in the waning days of the Council race.)
Council member Brownie Newman, who was not up for re-election, endorsed Pelly and campaigned on his behalf. Asked about the election results, Newman said they “send a significant message that Asheville voters want progressive, effective leadership.” Yet when asked if he would back Freeborn (who was endorsed by several progressive groups) for the seventh Council seat, Newman hedged.
“Every candidate that ran said we shouldn’t necessarily just pick the highest vote-getter — that’s but one consideration.” [Editor’s note: Thomson had told Xpress he supported appointing the next-highest vote-getter.] Other factors to consider, noted Newman, include “making sure different communities are represented on the Council. I’m open to that.”
Asked about the matter, Pelly said he would accept the appointment if Council gave him the nod. “Looking at the vote total is one component,” he noted. “Someone’s experience is also a component. In my case, that helps me; they might want to consider someone with a breadth of experience, someone with real-world experience in working on city issues.”
Freeborn, on the other hand, said: “If you look at the overall vote count, I have more votes than the second-place finisher [Brownie Newman] got two years ago. That says a lot about how the community responded to me and what people want in city government.”
And if the new mayor has anything to say about it, the issue could be resolved even before the new Council takes over. Bellamy told Xpress she wants Council members to make up their minds as soon as possible. And leading by example, she unhesitatingly named her own preference.
“I am supportive of the fourth-highest vote-getter. Bryan worked hard, and there’s a big difference … between his vote count and Pelly’s. [Freeborn’s] ideas can be an asset to this city.” Bellamy added: “My goal is that there not be any surprises on Dec. 6; I want to address this as soon as possible. The Council members should be up-front about their opinions. I want to jump in with the business of the city. I want the public to know more rather than less; this government will be open.”
Despite the mayor-elect’s firm stand, however, Bellamy represents only one vote. And it could be argued that Freeborn’s campaign for office is not over yet. Indeed, his supporters are already sending a clear message to Council members that they want their man in City Hall. And one recent incident may shed light on just how vociferous they can be. On election eve, the victorious Jones and Cape hosted a party for their supporters at the Laughing Seed Cafe. Freeborn, upbeat despite his loss, stopped by to congratulate the two. Striding through the door, he was greeted with cheers that quickly became a chant: “Appoint Bryan! Appoint Bryan!”