By Hayley Benton, Able Allen & Virginia Daffron
As the polls were closing at 7:30 p.m., many voters around Asheville sat glued to their computer screens, chewing their fingernails, refreshing the state Board of Elections page and waiting for the first results of the Asheville City Council race to roll in.
While early voting results showed candidates Julie Mayfield, Keith Young and Marc Hunt in the lead, results quickly moved all up and down the board. Rich Lee flip-flopped twice from fifth to fourth, Hunt quickly dropped from third to fourth — to fifth, and Young and Brian Haynes passed Mayfield, who remained in third, after more than half the precincts had reported back.
Ultimately, Vice Mayor Hunt lost his bid for re-election, and Young, Haynes and Mayfield (in that order) won Ashevilleans’ votes and the three City Council seats.
By 10 p.m. on election night, 40 of 40 precincts had reported in, leaving Lee in fourth, Hunt in fifth and Lindsey Simerly in sixth, despite a strong campaign.
Over at The Grey Eagle, both Haynes and Young watched the numbers roll in among supporters.
As the first results came in, Young, then in the No. 2 spot, turned to Haynes, then No. 4, and said, “You’re close, man!”
Though the race was close for the majority of the night, those initial early voting numbers separated Haynes from the top three by a single vote.
Young, who placed fourth in the primary, climbed the general election’s political ladder to the No. 1 spot after just half of the precincts had reported in.
“Well, you know, in the primary, I was second for a long time before I dropped to four, so I’m not too sure about anything,” said Young, unsure whether to celebrate at the time. “I was everywhere today, like that old cartoon of Bugs Bunny playing baseball. I was at polling places. I knocked on doors. I made phone calls. So, we’ll see what happens, man.”
As the top three became abundantly clear, Haynes offered some thoughts on his campaign and a congratulations to his opponent: “At this point, I feel really happy,” he said. “As soon as the precincts closed I felt good — not necessarily about how I would finish but that I have run a good campaign. I’m happy no matter what happens. Right now, I’m really happy for Keith. Right now I’m extremely proud of my town.”
At West Asheville’s Buffalo Nickel, Lee accepted his No. 4 finish and explained to constituents: “We ran the hardest-working campaign. We didn’t have a lot of advantages: money, big endorsements and no built-in constituency. We had a very diverse base of supporters, and we won those people over one by one.
“A local political insider said to me today, ‘You were the moral and intellectual center of the campaign,'” he continued. “That meant a lot to me. The project of Asheville doesn’t stop here for me. Tomorrow it’s back to work. I have committee meetings, a greenway commission meeting coming up to walk the French Broad West Greenway I’ve been instrumental in planning.”
Lee’s Campaign Manager Stephanie Hellert remained positive, hinting that this won’t be the last time Lee appears on the ballot: “I feel so good about how the campaign has gone. As Rich has said, we left everything out on the field. And the fourth place finish could be significant if we do see some sitting council members elected to county commission. So we are very pleased with this outcome.”
Feelings were mixed over at the Millroom, where Mayfield, Hunt and Simerly celebrated a split victory and defeat.
Hunt, the only incumbent in the race, took the stage and admitted that the results were “an unexpected result for many of us,” and conceded his 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.”
Following Hunt, Simerly took the stage and thanked voters for their support. “You’ve got to love a city where you can be 31, gay, covered in tattoos and be part of the establishment,” she said, as the room erupted in laughter.
Celebrating her victory, Mayfield, who was the top vote-getter in the primary, stood and said, “It is incredibly overwhelming that 6,000 people went out and voted for me. … I am confident that, with your support, I can do a good job helping to lead us forward to where we want to go.”
Later, Mayfield added, “Obviously I’m really excited about my victory, and I’m ready to get to work for the people of Asheville. [At the same time,] I’m disappointed that I won’t have the chance to serve with Marc. He’s been a really hard-working city councilperson, and I think it’s a loss to Asheville [that he wasn’t re-elected].”
At the Mayfield-Hunt-Simerly party, Mayor Esther Manheimer said, “I’m somewhat surprised, but you know they were all good candidates. 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.”
At the Buffalo Nickel, Democratic political insider Jake Quinn told Xpress, “We all expected this to be a very close election, and Asheville didn’t disappoint us. This fourth spot could turn out to be very important, so I think that the positive nature of the campaign Rich has run is especially significant. He has proved that he can collaborate, that he can really understand the issues at a deep level. And I think that means the rest of council would give him the vote if another seat becomes available in the next year.”
Quinn added: “The real story is the Keith Young story. How much did he spend in comparison with the other candidates? 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. He got robbed when he ran Lael Gray [in 2011]. Well, that didn’t happen this time.”
While the rest of the candidates pulled in $17,000 (Lee) to nearly $30,000 (Hunt) in campaign contributions, Young’s No. 1 win cost him and his campaign less than $5,000.
To read up on the winning three candidates, click on their photos below: