District 1 commissioner primary questionnaire: Newman vs. Young

Above, Brownie Newman; below, Keith Young. File photos


Buncombe County’s historic shift to a district election system continues this year as six candidates square off seeking four-year terms on the Board of Commissioners.

In each of the three districts, an incumbent and a challenger from the same party are competing for the seat. The incumbents, who finished second in their respective districts in 2012, won two-year terms that expire this year. The first-place finishers in 2012 will hold their seats through 2016. Going forward, all commissioners will serve four-year terms, staggered so that one seat in each district will be up for grabs every two years.

In District 1, roughly equivalent to the city of Asheville, incumbent Democrat Brownie Newman is being challenged by Keith Young, who’s hoping to become the first African-American ever elected to the board. The winner faces no Republican opposition in November.

Early voting runs through Saturday, May 3; the primary is Tuesday, May 6. Xpress asked each candidate five questions designed to elicit their priorities and views:

Name: Keith Young

Profession: educator, Asheville City Schools
Residence: Asheville
Party affiliation: Democrat
Endorsements: None

What would be your top priority if elected? Why?

Making sure our policies do not adversely affect upward mobility. Improving our approach to issues by being conscious of their effects on the community in other ways, as opposed to problem solving singular issues, i.e., the environment. We’ve failed on infrastructure, taxes, affordable housing, living wages and job creation.

What’s county government’s most important role in job creation?
By facilitating an environment that is conducive for businesses to thrive, we lay the groundwork for a business-friendly community. Making it easier to attract new industry without corporate welfare, such as Project X. Being smart about how we choose to lure business with taxpayer-funded incentives is key moving forward.

What specifically should the county do to meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent?
I love this idea! However, in its current form, there are no provisions that say how we do this. Current emission rates will rise more than the expected yearly reduction. We are essentially chasing a pipe dream. Let’s find a pragmatic solution to this that’s realistic to our actual abilities.

In this year’s budget, are there any specific expenditures you’d cut or increase? Why?
I would love to see funding increases to many areas. One can always argue the county’s contributions to teacher pay. However, the bigger question is do we have a budget that is being efficiently administered by county departments? How do we measure that? Are we wasteful? Are programs working properly?

Why would you be a better commissioner than your opponent?
Attacking the tough issues. Bringing real, substantive solutions to the table is my asset. I do not carry a singular outlook for my role in government. It’s not my hope to leave a legacy for just the environment. People matter in government, and I listen. I am a pragmatic individual.

Name: Brownie Newman

Profession: vice president of business development, FLS Energy
Residence: Montford
Party affiliation: Democrat
Endorsements: N.C. Sierra Club, Commissioners Holly Jones, Ellen Frost and David Gantt

What would be your top priority if elected? Why?
I have three top priorities: 1) support the community economy by growing locally owned businesses and creating jobs that pay a living wage; 2) support public education; and 3) protect our mountain environment, including preservation of family farmlands and natural areas and implementing the greenway plans.

What’s county government’s most important role in job creation?
To provide excellent public schools. There hasn’t been a new public school built in Asheville in 30 years. Our Board of Commissioners voted to invest in a new Asheville Middle School, a new Isaac Dickson Elementary and the first Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) high school west of Charlotte.

What specifically should the county do to meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent?
I sponsored this proposal. Buncombe County needs to be a clean energy leader. We conducted an energy audit of all major public facilities. It identifies specific actions to be taken over the next five years. This will save taxpayers more than $1 million in utility expenses.

In this year’s budget, are there any specific expenditures you’d cut or increase? Why?
Our Board of Commissioners created a revolving loan fund to help people grow locally owned businesses. I’d like to expand that. I support dedicated funding for greenways. I support supplemental pay for teachers. I’d like to double the number of permanently affordable homes built each year, which will require investment.

Why would you be a better commissioner than your opponent?
I stand on my record. Our Board of Commissioners started the first new public schools in Asheville in 30 years. We created a domestic partner policy. I passed a far-reaching energy-independence policy. We are building Eagle Market Place: permanently affordable homes for 60 families in downtown.

For more coverage of this year’s races, visit mountainx.com/news/politics-elections. For a sample ballot and more information from the Buncombe County Election Services Department, visit avl.mx/08p


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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