- Website: votekeith.com
- Employment: Deputy clerk of Superior Court
- Party affiliation: Democrat
- Previous candidacy: Ran for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in 2012, 2014
- NEW! Notable endorsements: Council member Cecil Bothwell, Friends of St. Lawrence Green, People Advocating Real Change, AFL-CIO, personal endorsement from the president of local NAACP Carmen-Ramos Kennedy.
- NEW! Campaign contributions: $4,531.08
- NEW! Campaign expenditures: $4,526.59
NEW! You’re running for office in the midst of a growth spurt in Asheville. What infrastructure needs will you prioritize if elected?
Having and maintaining a well-prioritized assessment of our infrastructure needs provided by staff would be beneficial. However, best practices would prioritize critical infrastructure needs first, followed by urban infrastructure. Our main critical infrastructure need is making sure the city is taking every legal recourse to protect its water system. Other needs that come to mind that may fall into one of the aforementioned categories would include sidewalks, bike lanes, connected greenways, continued street and road maintenance projects, and anything involving water and sewer improvements, including stormwater runoff and repair or replacement of these systems.
NEW! How do you think City Council should proceed in regard to short-term rentals and homestays?
This is a critical conversation that residents are having. I believe homeowners should be allowed to use their property as they wish. However, we cannot completely rule out the city’s ability to regulate these rentals in a way that will strive to keep the harmony of our neighborhoods intact and not obstruct or cause an encumbrance with the ability to make a profit. This conversation is not over and needs to continue until we have reached a solution that could benefit all parties in a positive and meaningful way.
NEW! What can and will you do to address inequality in Asheville?
Opportunities are key. The more opportunities we can provide will help level the playing field. Also, calming gentrification in our communities and promoting economic development systems that lift up minority and low-income families. If we are addressing income inequality I believe the long-heralded solution has been promotion of educational advancement. Even then, we still have the remaining workforce left to provide other essentials that make our lives possible. Wage inequality and the wealth gap is what needs to be addressed . Rather than asking individuals to increase their value, we need to transform how we as a society value the work individuals do and raise wages. We need to push Raleigh for a better minimum wage.
NEW! What can you bring to City Council that other candidates can’t or don’t?
As a native of Asheville and a minority, I bring a missing perspective to council. I have a wide range of experience from teaching to the court system, small-business ownership to working in the hospitality industry. I have diverse perspectives for solving problems. As a teen I would get up at 5 a.m. to get to work at the Grove Park Inn by 8 a.m. because that is how long it takes our bus system to reliably get one across town. I know what it is like to spend four hours a day commuting on our bus system just to have a six-hour shift in the hospitality industry. Real-world experiences reinforce the importance of remaining grounded. I am now deputy clerk of court. These experiences have made me a better listener to others’ struggles and provides me with insight on representing voices that are not getting heard.
What are three achievable goals that you would champion in the next two years?
Improving affordability through land banks and land trusts, improving infrastructure and improving our transit system.
What are the best strategies for increasing affordable housing in Asheville?
Explore land banks and land trusts as well as creating permanent affordable housing. When developers come to City Council, stick to our guns on real affordable housing, not $1,000 for a one-bedroom. Take a more open approach to what city and county government can do together. A lot of people say we’ve got to increase the housing stock so the rates won’t [rise], but the folks who really need [homes] can’t afford $2,500 a month or $400,000 condos. I think we have the tools to do a lot of good things and still work sufficiently within our means. It’s time for us as a city to put skin in the game.
The McKibbon deal for the St. Lawrence Green. A bunch of citizens are fighting to save that property for future use as green space; opponents say we can sell it to a developer, and they can put in a plaza. It’s really very simple: Either the city owns the land and citizens have the say-so, or we sell it to a developer for private use and profit. I’m not against development and growth, but I will not sell out the citizens of this city for the benefit and profit of developers solely. Throwing everything against the wall and seeing what’s going to stick isn’t working.
What makes Asheville home for you?
I’m a native. My parents bused me all the way across town to an affluent white neighborhood to go to elementary school. I lived around the corner from Mountainside Apartments, which were public housing. Your identity gets molded with two different cultures, and you see both sides of the track. Asheville has become somewhat gentrified: Historically black neighborhoods are no longer that. Our housing situation has a lot to do with that as does lack of opportunity for people in the city and an emphasis on certain cultures and education. … Greenways need to connect all neighborhoods. We need to improve our transit system for everybody, not just folks who depend on it. Everything’s interconnected.
Do you support expanding the tourism industry, or should we focus on other areas of economic development? Or do you think government shouldn’t play a role?
It’s kind of hard not to support the tourism industry, considering that’s how we get most of our money, but we can balance that. It’s a three-legged stool; we can’t kick one leg away just because we don’t totally like it. Of course we also need to be looking at other things. I think the tourism industry has spawned some good things here, but we do need to look to other economic opportunities for citizens.
A recent study showed that Buncombe County had lower growth in middle-class jobs than other areas. What can the city do to address this?
Build better partnerships with the county, and work hand in hand to attract business. The middle class doesn’t get built from the top down: It gets built from the bottom up. We’ve got to start with the basics: sidewalks, transit system, infrastructure, affordability. If we have good partnerships, we can utilize both of our resources to make good things happen. People think candidates are supposed to have an answer for everything, but that’s why you hire staff: Get bright minds in the room and you come up with things that will work for everybody. I know I’m smart and articulate, but I’m not going say I have a magic wand and I’ll fix it in four years, knowing that I’m just one of seven votes.
With Asheville growing so fast and several new hotels being built downtown, how do you plan to address the inevitable traffic problems on city streets and I-240?
Focus on infrastructure and affordability. Bike-share programs seem to work pretty well. A lot has to do with the DOT, and City Council can’t do much except voice our concerns. But in and around downtown, make sure there’s ample parking and encourage people to use other modes of transportation. More people move around the city in the daytime than the nighttime: That has a lot to do with our affordability situation. If they lived here and commuted by bus, that would alleviate some of the traffic. We have to put people on City Council who’ll dedicate themselves to making sure our basic needs are met. Start making incremental change and larger things start to happen.