Mountain Xpress: You announced your candidacy in dramatic fashion at the Republican County Convention in March. … I think you said, “We live in the heart of enemy territory and we have to strike a blow from the inside.” Could you explain what you meant by that?
Mark Cates: Absolutely. In my campaign I have asked people to put a bumper sticker on their car with my name on it, and they’ll say “no.” They’re afraid something will happen to their car. … They’ll say, “last time I put a Republican candidate’s bumper sticker on my car, my car had a big scratch on it when I came back.”
… I’m not the one who defined it this way. Basically, if you’re a Republican in this town, people will treat you poorly. … I was canvassing neighborhoods and I asked someone to put up a yard sign, and they supported me, and they were like “last time a put up a yard sign” — I can’t remember what candidate they said — basically it kept disappearing so much, they would have to come out and replace it.
Another person said they drove through their yard over a yard sign.
I moved to Asheville. I used to live in North Carolina back in the 90s. When my son was born, I brought him back to Asheville because I wanted to raise him in the city. I love Asheville. I’m not the one who has defined it the way it is.
Just the other night, they had a candidates forum, WNC for Change. And they didn’t invite the candidates that weren’t of a like mindset. They said I could come but not participate.
So when I made that comment, I feel it’s important to hold to my values and stand up and express them. And if people are going to retaliate against me for that, I feel it’s important to prevent that kind of behavior. Basically, I was stating that it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is. People shouldn’t be afraid to put a candidate’s bumper sticker on their car. And unfortunately, sadly, that’s Asheville sometimes.
I mean, Asheville’s a loving, generous city. But there’s elements that are really against Republicans. And they’re passionately against Republicans. And I felt like this is something we have to put a stop to. This is something we actively work to change. And so basically, that was my point on that.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s something that has to change. No one should be concerned about telling people their political affiliation and telling them they’re a Republican. No one should be treated as an outcast because they’re a Republican.
I love Asheville. I love living here. But I think that behavior has to stop.
Can you clarify what you meant by “striking a blow from the inside?” Are you referring to what you’d like to do to change the situation?
Absolutely. I’m actually engaging the community right now. I’m reaching out, getting to know people who are Democrats, who are progressives. I’m really trying to reach out to say, “get to know me before you judge me.”
Do you see any ways you can improve that kind of partisan atmosphere if you’re on City Council?
If you look at at my economic plan, I tried to build something in that plan that would appeal to everyone, something that was bipartisan.
… If you look at the material from my campaign, it’s bipartisanship. I think it’s extremely important that we work together. It’s not about whether it’s a Democrat solution or a Republican solution or conservative solution. Basically the question should be, “Is it good for the city?” Because if it’s good for the city, everyone should support it. So I’m happy to reach out and work with other people …
You mentioned your economic-development plan, which calls for making Asheville the home for global environmentalism. Why do you think that’s the right approach, and what can you do on City Council to make that happen?
We needed a way to reach out to everyone in the community. And this is extremely important issue, and it’s an issue we’re extremely passionate about in Asheville. I’m an engineer by training, and this is actually an issue that’s close to my heart. And I felt like this is an idea that everyone in Asheville can get behind and support. …
It doesn’t matter about party affiliation. Everyone in Asheville is very passionate about protecting the environment, about supporting local companies. …
One of the things we really need on Council is someone who’s going to focus on jobs and the economy. …. This is what I can try and drive.
We’ve got more than 17,000 unemployed people in our area. We’re the seventh worst place in the nation for hunger. We need to be having a conversation about that. And that would be my voice on City Council. We need to tackle those issues, deal with those problems. And I feel that with my experience with business development, that’s something I could really focus on in Council.
What would be your approach to improving affordable housing in the area?
If we have more quality jobs in Asheville, and people have better salaries, that will help with the affordable-housing problem. It certainly is an issue. But no house is affordable if you don’t have a job. And it’s extremely hard to buy a house if you’re in a low-paying job. What we need to do is have higher-paying jobs in Asheville. And that’s the best way to deal with this affordable-housing problem.
Next year you’re likely to face a budget that’s going to either require revenue increases or service cuts of some sort. What would be your approach? How would you raise revenues, if you want to go that route? Or what services would you cut?
I would implement my economic plan. Because I think my economic plan would actually increase revenue.
If we can attract businesses here, and we have people in higher paying jobs, they’ll be paying more taxes. They’ll go to restaurants more, they’ll go to retail stores. They’ll purchase. If we have those businesses here, the city of Asheville will actually have more sales tax revenue. …
What I read of your plan, it was a longterm, big-scale plan. Are you saying you would expect results within a year that would effect the budget next year?
Well, there’s different parts of the plan. If you go through, it’s certainly true that part two is a longterm plan. But there’s other parts of it that we could start doing tomorrow. And we could bare the fruits of that effort.
People love Asheville. I work a lot in Silicon Valley. And companies in Silicon Valley are heading straight to Texas. And they’re doing it today as we speak. My opinion is the only reason they’re not coming to Asheville is we’re not going out there and talking to them more. They don’t want to go to Texas. They just don’t know about Asheville yet. …
So just to be clear, you’re saying you don’t foresee having to make cuts in next year’s budget or look for other ways of increasing revenue because you think your business plan will generate more revenue through an increased tax base?
No, that certainly could be an issue. But I think that’s also treating the symptoms and not really focusing on the problem. There could be those kind of decisions to made. But what I would chose to do is focus on economic development. Because I think if we focus there, then some of the other problems will become easier to solve.
What should the city be looking for in a new police chief and what, if anything, do you think the APD should be doing to improve itself in the wake of some of the recent controversies?
I think that when we look at the crime index in Asheville, then what we see is that we have one of the lower crime indexes for comparable cities in the state of North Carolina. So in some ways, they’re doing a really good job. But I think that we have to have someone who’s really good at communication. There’s certainly an image problem. And with the police chief who has the communication skills, who can really reach out to the community, I think that would go a long way to solving some of the problems.
We don’t some great things with the Citizens Police Academy. But we could do some more outreach to the communities themselves. Chicago has a program where they have an alternative policing program, the CAPs program, where the police and community really work together on policing the neighborhood. And I think that kind of outreach and communication could go a long way to improving the image and relationship between the department and the neighborhoods.
What about the city’s relationship with the General Assembly in Raleigh? Do you see anything you can do to improve that relationship and work more constructively with Raleigh to improve conditions in the city?
Absolutely. I think that’s one of the most important issues that anyone who gets elected to City Council will have to deal with. We have to change our relationship with Raleigh. That whole relationship needs to be redefined, and we need to really reach out.
The fact of the matter is we’re not a home-ruled state. So we need to build that bridge to Raleigh. Because frankly, Raleigh doesn’t have to build it to us. As a city council, we need to take that on. That would be one of the things I’d focus on.
How would you go about doing that?
The first thing I would do is stop playing partisan politics with our representatives. We’ve had a lot of that going on lately and it doesn’t help.
It goes back to bipartisanship. Any challenge that we have, we’re going to have to fix it together. We have to make sure that we’re building relationships in a way that’s positive, so we can do that.
I’m willing to work with anyone. It doesn’t matter what political party they’re affiliated with.
You mentioned the difficulties of being a Republican in such a partisan and largely Democratic city. How are you going to win with the demographics and the odds seemingly stacked up against you?
It’s going to be hard work. I’ve been canvassing neighborhoods. I’ve been attending every meeting that I possibly can, hoping to show people that if they elect me, if they vote for me, I’m going to work for what’s best for Asheville. … And I think with my economic plan, people are really starting to see that. My economic policy really appeals to every part of Asheville. And I really think that’s striking a cord with people.