The next Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will be entirely Democratic, as David Gantt ousted Chair Nathan Ramsey and the party’s entire slate won commanding victories Tuesday night. The victors promised to tackle the economic issues facing the county when they take office.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting and a record 71 percent turnout in the county, the Democrats won impressive numbers over their Republican rivals. Though it was predicted by many observers to be a close race, Gantt (currently the board’s vice chair) defeated Ramsey by 66,490 votes to 52,864. Former AB-Tech President K. Ray Bailey and City Council member Holly Jones will take their seats along with commissioners Carol Peterson and Bill Stanley, who both handily won re-election. Peterson got the fewest number of votes among the Democrats, but still came in more than 13,000 votes ahead of the nearest Republican challenger, John Carroll
The total votes, according to a preliminary count, were as follows:
K. Ray Bailey – 72,976
Holly Jones – 65,916
Carol Peterson – 60,027
Bill Stanley – 62,030
John Carroll – 47,860
Mike Fryar – 37,523
Ron McKee – 45,450
Don Yelton – 42,393
The mood at the Democrat’s victory celebration at the Crowne Plaza in 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.”
He promised a series of public meetings. “We got so caught up in zoning we stopped getting out there as much,” he said.
Bailey said he hoped 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.”
Entering later in the night, Jones was greeted enthusiastically, and shook hands and hugged supporters before turning to talk about the economy (“issue number one is the money,” she noted).
“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.”
Stanley described his election to a sixth term as “fantastic!”
“I’m pleased at the confidence people have to elect me to another term,” he said. “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. It’s going to be difficult — but I don’t want to raise taxes.”
Over at a Republican gathering at the Grove Park Inn, the tone was more subdued. Ramsey, who ran a campaign that appealed to Democrats to vote for him, was somewhat surprised.
“Voters just went in and voted straight ticket,” Ramsey said. “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 compared it to a reverse of Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980.
“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 — these are cyclical things that happen from time to time.”
McKee was taking it in stride.
“Whatever happens, we’ve had a great process and a great turnout,” McKee said. “Buncombe County has spoken, what else can you say?”
— David Forbes, staff writer