Occupation: Executive Director, Campaign for Southern Equality; United Church of Christ minister
Top endorsements: Equality NC; Cecil Bothwell, Asheville City Council; Ellen Frost, commissioner
Xpress: What are your top concerns regarding county residents’ health? What would you support to fix those problems?
I support universal pre-K, which helps kids across every area of life, including their health. We need to continue addressing addiction, specifically the issues around heroin and opiate addiction. All first responders should carry and be trained in using naloxone to treat overdose. We must continue to support mental health initiatives as well as treatment and sobriety court. We have a growing elder population and must plan for services to meet their needs.
What neighborhood/area do you live in? What are those residents’ concerns?
My wife, my son and I live in the East End, a historic African-American community. Many of our neighbors depend on public transit. Pedestrian safety is another big concern. Otherwise, the concerns are the same ones I hear throughout the community: strong public schools, living wages and affordable housing.
Given the county’s financial state, would you consider raising property taxes in the next two years? Would you try to cut the budget? If so, in what areas?
I do not support raising property taxes. We have a strong bond rating and growing county revenue. We can make county services more efficient by restructuring services in response to changes in our population, and we can house county departments in stable locations to control costs and reduce disruption. If we need to make cuts, we should look at the commissioners’ salary, which is among the highest in the state.
What can and will you do to address inequality in Buncombe County?
I’ve worked with the Campaign for Southern Equality to ensure equal treatment for LGBT employees. If elected, I will focus on income, racial and gender inequality. I will address income inequality through universal pre-K, which benefits kids throughout their lifetimes, and also helps parents enter or re-enter the workforce. We have strong leadership in our community for advancing racial equality, and I will promote greater communication between law enforcement and community members. I will advocate for assessing gender parity in salaries and providing paid family leave for all county employees.
What do you bring to the table that your opponents can’t?
I grew up in North Carolina as the child of a single mom, a public health nurse. From my childhood and my professional career, I’ve learned that good public policy helps people thrive, and bad policy harms people. We must make the political process more open to those who’ve been the target of bad policies, and those people must feel that their voices are being heard. Through my work with the CSE, I learned to listen to people who disagree with and may even condemn me. I will bring that capacity for empathy, which draws on my experiences and my faith, as an alternative to the shrill infighting and partisanship we see at the national level.
What’s your solution for growing living-wage jobs in Buncombe County?
As a founding executive director of the CSE, I’ve created living-wage jobs. We’re paying living wages to the field staff working on my election campaign. If elected, I will pursue three specific strategies: first, use economic incentives to recruit living-wage employers. Second, recognizing that state legislation prevents local governments from factoring living-wage certification into contract awards, I will work to change this policy, which is an overreach of state government. Third, I will promote a robust public conversation to help current local employers transition to achieving living-wage certification.