It took more than two hours and three votes, but on Monday, Dec. 5, Al Whitesides was appointed to fill the two-year term created by new Chair Brownie Newman leaving his District 1 seat to helm the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
Four people were nominated for the post, including former Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Jacquelyn Hallum and current Asheville City Councilman Keith Young.
Hallum served on the city’s Board of Education and said that during that time she worked closely with county commissioners. “As a commissioner, I will work for transparency and accountability of budget and core services,” she said. Hallum said she would fight for education, LGBTQ rights, affordable housing and access to health care.
“I’m excellent at relationship-building and can bring people with different backgrounds together. I’m committed to hearing other points of view,” she said.
During a brief speech, Bellamy said there is an issue that still bothers her in reference to voting against city benefits for same-sex partners. She said she was at odds with her religion and her responsibility to her constituents. “My faith won out … and I couldn’t separate faith from policy,” noted Bellamy. “After the vote, I couldn’t understand why people didn’t see it my way. Now I understand it’s not an ‘I’ but an ‘us.’”
“I could talk about the jobs and affordable housing I’ve created … but I know what it’s like to hurt people and have to apologize,” while stating she knows she needs to be a voice for people that aren’t at the table.
Whitesides stated it’s awkward being nominated with people he’s close with but noted, “We were friends before and we will be after.” He said now that he’s retired he has the time and ability to concentrate on politics. “I would like to say I am a concerned citizen, and that’s why I’ve stepped up. We need more concerned people to come forward. When we get politicians that stay in office, they aren’t concerned,” he said.
“The bottom line is … I bring 40 years of experience in finances. I know what budgets are, I know how to make them transparent so you can understand what we are talking about,” said Whitesides. “Above all, I’m concerned about the county. Buncombe County has been good to me and my family; now it’s time I can give back what’s been given to me over the years.”
Young briefly addressed the audience of county Democrats. He noted that he has worked for LGBTQ rights and that he sees commonalities between urban black and rural white voters and knows how to communicate with those groups. Young also touted his experience on City Council, noting the candidate ultimately appointed will be the county’s first African-American commissioner. “After all that fades, you still have to have somebody ready to do the work, and I don’t need any training wheels,” he said.
Candidates needed to obtain 50 percent, plus one, of the votes for the appointment. The first two rounds didn’t establish a candidate with a majority but eliminated Young and Bellamy in that order.
The third vote saw Whitesides come out ahead of Hallum.
Whitesides said Newman was now officially off the hook, “It’s my seat and my problems,” he joked.
“I promise you this: I won’t let you down. I already have some ideas about what I’m going to do,” noting he would form an advisory committee in hopes of staying in touch with district constituents.
Whitesides also vowed to seek re-election in 2018, when his two-year appointment ends. He is set to be sworn in before county commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6.