Asheville City Council member Robin Cape drew the ire of some fellow progressives on election day when one of her endorsements included incumbent Jan Davis, a self-described moderate.
In the general election, however, Cape says her ideals would trump her fondness for Davis and lead her to support Elaine Lite out of sheer pragmatism. It’s important, she says, that the vote not be split between fellow progressives Lite and Bryan Freeborn, which could help elect the more conservative Bill Russell. “I called Jan [election night] and said, ‘Don’t expect me to support you in the general election.’ I can’t, because of the issues I care about. … For the issues it’s important I get the most progressive people,” says Cape, who has two years remaining in her term.
The kerfuffle began after Cape — one of four progressives on the current seven-member City Council — endorsed all three incumbents (including progressives Brownie Newman and Freeborn) in a get-out-the-vote e-mail sent to constituents on her e-mail list and the press. The endorsement, tacked on without fanfare at the end of her e-mail, caused consternation in progressive circles on election night and beyond. Many progressives are hoping to replace Davis with a more left-leaning Council member.
“Robin Cape threw her endorsement to Jan Davis on the morning of the election, leading this Hooligan to question her commitment to a progressive City Council,” local liberal blogger Gordon Smith, summing up the general feeling on his blog Scrutiny Hooligans. “What sort of deal is being struck there, I wonder?”
There was no deal, according to Cape, who supports partisan elections. Nonpartisan primaries, she maintains, typically boil down to personalities and likability. In that case, she says, endorsing the well-liked Davis was a no-brainer. “For me, it was who do I like to work with? And I like working with those three more than anyone else [running],” she told Xpress, adding that the current Council has been productive, and Davis has been part of that success. Aside from one upset progressive who contacted her directly, Cape said she was unaware her endorsement had upset so many of her fellow progressives who were grumbling about it on election night as Davis racked up the most votes of all 15 candidates.
Freeborn, meanwhile, says Davis brings balance to Council. “We don’t want to sink into groupthink,” he argues — which can happen when everyone has the same ideology. “I think we have a Council now that truly represents all of Asheville.” Nonetheless, Freeborn stopped short of endorsing Davis, saying that he hasn’t championed major progressive causes. Freeborn also asserts that Davis’ refusal to support Freeborn’s appointment to Council in 2005, even though he was the next-highest vote getter, ignored the will of the people.
Cape, on the other hand, says Davis has generally been open to the ideas and arguments put forth by his progressive colleagues. And Davis’ wide popularity, she maintains, often builds bridges between the progressive bloc and more conservative or moderate interests who might otherwise oppose those measures.
Davis, meanwhile, voiced satisfaction with the results on election night. “I’m grateful, and I think it speaks well for the community to come out and pick a person who’s truly a moderate,” he said. “I think a lot of people in the community have great liberal leanings at moments and great conservative leanings at moments, and I think most people have an appreciation that this community takes a lot of [moderation] to move things forward.
“I think that people naturally build slates [of candidates] and want to see slates,” added Davis. “I’ve been pleased to serve with who I have [on Council] and can serve with anyone. It would be good, from a business standpoint, to have … fellow businesspeople. … I like a balanced Council. I think we’ve had a bit of an imbalance, with a really hard left and a really hard right.”
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer