The Gospel According to Jerry

The shocking irony of the Asheville City Council’s recent actions wasn’t lost on me—or, I am sure, on many other residents of our fair city.

First they passed an ordinance prohibiting gated communities. This was ostensibly an effort to bring our community together by fostering a climate of inclusiveness.

Then, in the next breath, they passed an ordinance making City Council elections partisan, thereby excluding many of our citizens from active participation in the political arena.

Under the previous law, anyone who paid a $75 filing fee could throw their hat in the ring and run for City Council.

Now, someone who wishes to run for Council and isn’t registered as either a Democrat or a Republican will be required to get petition signatures from 4 percent of the city’s registered voters (approximately 2,200 names) just to gain a place on the ballot.

It is noteworthy that the progressives on Council waited until slightly more than a month before the filing deadline to pass this undisguised power grab.

I can’t help but conjure up a vision of these good ole boys and girls of the Montford Mafia surreptitiously meeting in the dark of night in a safe house in the bowels of Montford in a smoke(?!!!)-filled room, cooking up this nefarious scheme.

They have correctly deduced that with national politics marginalizing Republicans and a majority of city residents registered as Democrats, the local Democratic Party will be the only game in town.

In the past few years, the progressives—to their credit—have successfully strengthened their influence in the local Democratic Party. This was demonstrated by the fact that Dennis Kucinich, an extreme progressive candidate, received the majority of the votes cast within the Asheville city limits for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004—after he’d already dropped out of the race.

Now, City Council has made it virtually impossible for an unaffiliated candidate to get on this year’s ballot. Who in the community would have the money and the time to collect the required 2,200 verifiable petition signatures by Sept. 21? One Council member bragged that he’d visited 5,000 homes during his last campaign, but he didn’t say how long that took him. I’ll bet it was more than the roughly 90 days between Council’s ill-advised decision and the deadline for submitting petitions.

Even if it wasn’t, it’s still doubtful that he could have garnered that many signatures. Not all the eligible voters are registered (and, thus, qualified to sign), and many people might refuse to sign because they already supported other candidates. Furthermore, a lot of people are reluctant to sign any kind of petition. It might well take visits to 10,000 or more households to get those petition signatures. Where is this Council member’s sense of fairness?

Just for argument’s sake, however, let’s suppose that several candidates succeeded in collecting enough signatures and turned them in at the last minute. Given the time constraints, imagine the chaos at the Board of Elections, which would have to verify that every signature came from a registered voter.

Logistics aside, have these Council members crossed the constitutional line? Like the old-time Tammany Hall machine, these entrenched politicians will now be able to effectively decide who gets to run, using their influence with the local Democratic Party to ensure that the money collected, the ads that are run, and the efforts of the whole party network benefit them.

We must understand that small-town city councils are the entry level for people who might later run for state or federal office.

Under the open system, people from many walks of life could easily participate in the process. Even if they had little chance of winning, they might represent a constituency that the community needs to hear from. Such candidates might also espouse a fresh and potentially valuable point of view that could be adopted by those who do get elected.

In the meantime, these long-shot contenders gain valuable experience in how the electoral process works, leaving them better prepared to make another bid for public office.

Asheville has several growing minority constituencies whose members—including African-Americans, Hispanics, Slavs and our working class—will now be shut out of the electoral process unless they hew to the party line.

The Council members who prevailed in this sharply divided vote expressed such noble motives for their behavior, saying this would get more people out to vote and make it easier for candidates to raise money. They have no evidence that this is true, but it serves as a smoke screen for their less-than-altruistic action. Face it: It’s really all about control.

There is further irony in the fact that some of those who voted for this law would never have gotten elected themselves if they’d been required to go through the party wringer or obtain that many signatures.

Where did these champions of inclusiveness go? It always amazes me how eagerly people’s principles are sacrificed on the altar of political power.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

The same people who find it so abhorrent to put a gate on a private housing community seem to have no problem putting a gate on the local political process when it serves their purpose.

You can dress this pig up, even put it in a tuxedo and slather it with lipstick, and it will still be one ugly pig.

[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at gospeljerry@aol.com]

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