UPDATE: Just after noon on Wednesday, Nov. 11, City Council member-elect Julie Mayfield issued a statement, saying that she’s returned John McKibbon’s $500 contribution to her election campaign.
“I have returned the donation made to my election campaign by John McKibbon,” she writes. “With a McKibbon Hotel Group project potentially coming before Council so quickly on the heels of the campaign, I have the opportunity to dispel any perception that I am beholden to anyone but the residents of this city. As an elected official, I will make decisions according the law and, where discretion is allowed, according to what I understand to be in the best interest of the community and the city of Asheville.”
Echoing national trends of a volatile and often fickle electorate, the 2015 Asheville City Council election was a nail-biter until the very end. Ultimately, after months of postcards, yard signs and get-out-the-vote efforts, Keith Young, Brian Haynes and Julie Mayfield came out on top when the polls closed Nov. 3.
Even the normal methods of foretelling the outcome took a backseat to unpredictability. In small municipal elections, it’s usually a good bet that primary winners will claim victory in November as well — but not this year.
The primary election in early October narrowed the pool of candidates from 15 to six. Those results earned Mayfield the No. 1 spot by a large margin, with Haynes and incumbent Vice Mayor Marc Hunt coming in second and third.
However, by the time the votes were counted in the general election — after a night featuring early returns moving rapidly up and down the board — only Haynes kept his original placing.
Rich Lee, who held the No. 6 place in the primary, flip-flopped twice from fifth to fourth in the general. Hunt quickly dropped from third, then fourth, to fifth. Young, who came in fourth in the primary, passed Mayfield after more than half the precincts had reported back. Candidate Lindsey Simerly came in sixth, down from her No. 5 ranking in the primary.
The big shock to many was that Vice Mayor Hunt was denied another term.
At an election night party at The Millroom, Hunt took the stage and admitted that the results were “an unexpected result for many of us” — conceding defeat. “I’m going to stay committed in any way I can to the city of Asheville,” he said. “We share an ultimate goal and I’m not going to let go of that. Let’s move forward together.”
Mayfield, also at The Millroom that evening, mentioned that she was disappointed she wouldn’t have the opportunity to serve with Hunt.
Mayor Esther Manheimer commented on the loss as well. “I’m somewhat surprised, but, you know, they were all good candidates,” she said. “When you’ve got a voter turnout of 14,000, a bunch of your friends can sway the outcome. I’ll miss Marc dearly, but I know he will continue to be involved in the community. So, that’s good for Asheville.”
The three new council members will be sworn in at City Council’s Dec. 1 meeting.
Young, a deputy clerk of the Buncombe County Superior Court, was no stranger to the ballot in 2015, having run unsuccessfully for the Board of Commissioners in both 2012 and 2014.
Coming from a politically conscious family active in the Democratic Party, Young, who is from Asheville, told Xpress earlier this year that his interest in local government was sparked at an early age.
“I remember sitting around with party officials — we always talked politics in our household,” he explained. “It’s always been an interest of mine, being able to see how things change in society due to politics.”
Interestingly, over the course of his campaign, Young raised and spent the least amount of money — $9,681 — yet pulled into the top slot in the general.
“The real story is the Keith Young story,” Democratic political insider Jake Quinn told Xpress on election night. “How did his campaign manager, David Roat, pull off such a brilliant win? They ran under the radar for months with an intelligent campaign that cost nothing.”
Young was endorsed by current council member Cecil Bothwell, the Friends of St. Lawrence Green, People Advocating for Real Change and Carmen-Ramos Kennedy, the president of the local NAACP chapter.
Young has been a business owner, worked in media and advertising and worked for Disney out of college — but he says politics is one thing he’ll never get bored with.
“It’s in me,” he says. “It’s in me to want to help folks. … I know where real change comes from. Real change comes from activism. Real change comes from people going to the polls and voting. Real change comes from people being interested in their community. Real change comes from politicians understanding the constituents that they serve — and serving them in a way that will create growth for everyone. I know you can’t be all things for all people, but we can sure as hell try.”
A born-and-raised Ashevillean, former record store owner, brother of musician Warren Haynes and a Habitat for Humanity employee, Haynes ran a campaign focused on all things local and, in doing so, garnered support from a long list of locally owned businesses.
At an October candidate forum, Haynes asked the audience, “How can we preserve the very things that made us unique and brought the [transplants and tourists] here to begin with? We, as a city, need to step away from our current path of hyperdevelopment and return to the original model that served us so well.”
Promising to advocate for the people of Asheville and be “a good listener,” Haynes said he hopes to work on hot-button issues like affordable housing, the living wage and investing in the citizens of Asheville — rather than the visitors.
“We’ve still got huge infrastructure problems that aren’t being addressed,” he told Xpress earlier this year. “I just feel like we maybe need to slow the growth and take care of the problems that exist,” while still preserving “Asheville’s unique charm. It’s a unique city. If we bring in too many hotels and too many corporate chain stores, I think we could easily lose our charm and become just like any other city.”
At The Grey Eagle on election night, celebrating with fellow candidate Young, Haynes said that “as soon as the precincts closed, I felt good — not necessarily about how I would finish, but that I have run a good campaign.”
Explaining the reason for his candidacy, Haynes said, “My family is my motivation for [running for City Council]. I just want to see Asheville move in the right direction for [my children’s and grandchildren’s] futures.”
Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue, has worn many different hats in and out of the community. She’s an attorney, an environmental advocate and a graduate of Leadership Asheville. She chairs the city’s Transit Committee and is a member of both the city’s Multimodal Transportation Commission and the Western North Carolina Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I am a problem solver and a leader,” she wrote on her campaign website. “My job for the last 20 years has been to work in the place of uncertainty and conflicting views and to find ways to move forward. … My career has given me the depth and breadth of experience to make progress on the challenges Asheville faces — how we grow, how we invest scarce dollars, how we take care of people and the environment and how we work together cooperatively and constructively.”
Demonstrating her problem-solving skills at the Asheville Downtown Association forum in October, Mayfield suggested that Asheville think outside of the box and look toward indirect solutions for issues that it can’t take on with direct action.
In line with her environmental background, some of her goals for Asheville include: shutting down coal-burning power plants; adding more bus, pedestrian and biking infrastructure; and balancing Asheville’s growth with preservation of the people, culture and environment to “ensure everyone — young and old, rich and poor, black and white — shares in Asheville’s success.”
Mayfield once noted that a “hallmark of her career” has been building partnerships across the aisle to get things done. “We have to have people who can work all sides of an issue and maintain and build those relationships to take us forward.”
— Able Allen contributed to this report