By Leslee Kulba-It’s a Democrats’ race. With no Republicans, Libertarians, or Unaffiliateds on the ballot, it is difficult to find anybody who thinks anything is at stake in the city council election that is now underway. In a sense, that’s good, as citizens have not had to endure a string of fallacious rhetoric and those promises of infinite satisfaction for free until the guys who win the next election have to raise taxes.
There has, in fact, been very little drama. The first instance was when mayoral candidate John Miall referred to incumbent Gordon Smith “Gordumb” and “Misleader-in-Chief.” Miall was reacting to a facebook post by Smith in which he referred to comments Miall made in a debate as “startling.” Miall had said he didn’t care if the I-26 connector turned out to be 8 lanes or 800 lanes, the interchange was in need of improvement as quickly as possible.
In another incident, candidates Cecil Bothwell and Jonathan Wainscott got into a shouting match over New Belgium’s cozy relationship with the city council. Wainscott said the brewery moved to the area because of $13.6 million in economic development incentives; i.e., cash breaks; and that the brewery would likely emit bad smells. Bothwell argued the brewery was going to remediate a brownfield and create jobs, and management was attracted to Asheville because of the water quality, not the public funding.
Wainscott and Bothwell yelled and pointed at each other. Bothwell replied to Wainscott’s comments with an expletive PETA found offensive and most people had never heard before. Bothwell called Wainscott a liar, and Wainscott accused Bothwell of spewing “sanctimonious [expletive deleted].” Wainscott said the city should bottle its own water. Bothwell said the state prohibited it. Wainscott said the law could be changed. He also said Bothwell’s futuristic dreams of alternative transportation were misleading the public.
After getting name recognition and reminding the public about the election, the candidates apologized. Following is a brief overview of the candidates.
FOR MAYOR –
JOHN MIALL – Contender John Miall’s claim to fame is the Asheville Project. While serving as the city’s risk manager, he decided it would be cheaper to give employees with diabetes free supplies, medication, and regular consultations with pharmacists than to pay for amputations later on. The logic is, a lot of expensive medical procedures can be avoided if people stick to healthy regimens. He was right. The city’s health insurance claims decreased by a third, and Miall left the city to meet demands from other organizations seeking consultation on how they could replicate his successes.
Miall is running on the premise that the City of Asheville is wasting too much money. It needs to first care for the traditional basic city services, like public safety, sanitation, and infrastructure. Accusing the city of “unsustainable” spending, his poster child has been the Asheville Art Museum, which received $2 million from the city for renovations. Acknowledging that citizens are underemployed, discouraged, and still feeling the heavy load of a contracting economy, he wants the city to live within its means and raise taxes only as a last resort. He is on record for saying he does not support the practice of government picking winners and losers by granting tax breaks as incentives to recruit and retain businesses in the area.
Miall thinks high attrition in the police department justifies change, but he doesn’t want to take action until he has had a chance to conduct due diligence. Endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association, he would prefer using law enforcement officers than “concrete globs” for traffic calming.
Miall said he decided to run because of the way the General Assembly was attempting to take away city assets. It succeeded in seizing the Asheville Regional Airport, and it is still working to get the water system. Miall is viewed as possessing business savvy, and he stresses the importance of building relationships in governance processes.
ESTHER MANHEIMER – Esther Manheimer is a partner at the Van Winkle Law Firm specializing in property law. In her term as vice mayor, she has served competently, running meetings efficiently in the mayor’s absence and frequently pointing out red flags in the flawed legalese of measures council would otherwise have passed. She won the mayoral primary with 3638 votes to Miall’s 1544 and Martin Ramsey’s 887.
Whereas Miall considers the city’s expenditure on the art museum a travesty, Manheimer considers it an investment and a small portion of the amount needed. In fact, Manheimer claims there are many projects undertaken by the city that she would like to support and enhance if elected. Unlike Miall, Manheimer supports the city’s contributions to large corporations, saying the companies will, in return, create high-paying jobs and give the city great returns on their investment. But rather than giving millions to large corporations, she would like to “diversify the job base” so the city is not wholly reliant on one employer. She supports the city investing dollars in developing the River Arts District because it will bring tourists who will add dollars to the local economy.
Intelligent and competent, Manheimer embraces the green model of governance. She advocates Smart Growth, and therefore supports municipal designs that discourage automobile traffic. But she isn’t entirely opposed to automobiles. She realizes broad-brushstroke regulations inconvenience almost everybody, and would prefer the city to zone through “community-by-community” planning.
She, too, would like to see the I-26 project completed with either six or eight lanes. On the subject of curbing used for traffic calming, she acknowledged there were a lot of accidents until people “absorbed them and found out for the most part how to move around them.” As far as the recent scandals in the police department go, Manheimer said she is standing behind City Manager Gary Jackson and Police Chief William Anderson.
FOR COUNCIL –
MICHAEL LANNING –Mike Lanning is the quietest of the candidates running for city council. A former Buncombe County sheriff’s deputy and Asheville police officer, Lanning said he is running because he does not like the way the current city council is handling issues with the police department. In fact, he has said he has “no confidence” in Asheville’s elected leadership. Lanning is endorsed by the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association.
Lanning says he has full faith and confidence in the current city manager. He knows he will do his job in executing orders from council, but the current council has been giving him strange orders. He said it is important for members of council to realize they represent the citizens, not the city. He wants council to stop making decisions that lead to intergovernmental lawsuits.
Lanning says public safety is the city’s number-one responsibility. He is therefore running as an advocate for public safety employees. Other priorities for funding include sanitation and infrastructure. Lanning is not necessarily a fan of Smart Growth, arguing, “building to build the tax base” may not result in aesthetic or practical outcomes. Lanning is not necessarily opposed to granting economic development incentives in the form of tax breaks to large corporations.
JONATHAN WAINSCOTT – Jonathan Wainscott is a woodworker, the sole proprietor of Wainscott Designworks, and a critic of the current city council. In general, he thinks the city is treating citizens like customers instead of shareholders. Wainscott believes recent city councils have created a bureaucracy by trying to complexify problems that could be solved simply.
Wainscott has described the city as “looking tired.” He said the city is more interested in handing out invitations than in mowing the grass. He would like city staff to undertake an infrastructure survey and develop a “worst first” repair plan. As for greenways, he supports building more, but he does not agree with the city’s practice of blowing huge chunks of money on out-of-the-way tracts when things like a simple staircase could provide necessary links. The city should also make existing sidewalks walkable by taking measures to remove encroaching vegetation.
Wainscott would like to see city codes streamlined to allow all citizens to have safe shelter. He faults the city for not enforcing its UDO. Lawyers, he said, can always work around it. As an example, he cited the proliferation of grocery stores on south Merrimon Avenue. Wainscott is not averse to the city handing out economic development incentives, but he would like to do away with the outrageous math often presented in ROI analyses.
CECIL BOTHWELL – Cecil Bothwell knows no middle ground. An independent thinker, he is a strong advocate for the environment and civil liberties. Bothwell is a writer, who reported for the Mountain Xpress and authored a few books including the controversial, “The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire.” On his first campaign for council, Bothwell encountered opposition for his atheism, or, as he calls it, post-theism. The opposition backfired, resulting in nationwide recognition, speaking invitations, and even a Wiki page.
Bothwell has a reputation for supporting radical forms of green transportation, such as a trolley for downtown. He often appears at rallies for human rights or against huge construction projects. He has spoken against corporate welfare, demonstrating an understanding of the dispersed disadvantages needed to support concentrated advantages; but he did support cutting tax breaks for the New Belgium brewery. Bothwell cast the only vote against the proposed Business Improvement District, saying he could not support the idea of giving an unelected board taxing powers.
Bothwell recently brought before council a civil liberties resolution that detractors claim has made Asheville a sanctuary city for illegal aliens. In addition to supporting the rights of non-citizens, Bothwell supported the ERA, and wants to see equal rights extended to all gender orientations.
GWEN WISLER – Gwen Wisler wants to make Asheville safe, healthy, and vibrant. To make the city safer, she would make sure the police and fire departments are adequately funded and staffed. She places special emphasis on bicycle safety, and would support more greenways and safety education programs for motorists and cyclists. Wisler commutes by bicycle and teaches bicycle safety.
Wisler would promote public health through the creation and preservation of green space. On the subject, she stated, “Skyrocketing obesity and related health problems in our city increase the urgency of this need.” A member of the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council, she supports the Food Action Plan. If elected, improving access to affordable, locally-grown, organic produce; especially, for the obese and the food-insecure, would be a high priority. She would also like a municipal plan to address the needs of the elderly.
Wisler held top-ranking positions at Coleman Company, First Alert, Powermate, and Eastpak. Retiring from the large corporations, she now has her own consulting operation, Asheville Profits, LLC. The company helps small businesses plan for success. Clients don’t pay her, but give the community three hours of service for each hour of consulting. If elected, Wisler promises to work toward growing jobs in the area and would promote a citywide living wage policy.
GORDON SMITH –While serving on council, Gordon Smith kept his campaign promises to the LGBTQ community. He introduced the resolution that won domestic partner benefits for city employees. His “Equality Resolution” granted protected class status for gender identity and sexual orientation, established a domestic partner registry, and endorsed gay marriage.
Smith is interested in helping the poor. Another issue Smith has been pushing is Food Policy. He was instrumental in establishing the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council and its Food Action Plan. Like Wisler, Smith would like to make sure all citizens have access to affordable, locally-grown, organic food choices. Smith supports a living wage policy for Asheville, and he supports giving tax breaks to large corporations that will move into the area and create high-paying jobs. He is also an avid supporter of using city resources to subsidize and incentivize affordable housing.
Smith supports green initiatives. He supports planning and building for multimodal transportation to reduce congestion and pollution while promoting physical exercise. He would further like the city to continue to pursue Smart Growth planning to reduce reliance on the automobile. In addition to honoring the city’s goals for reducing its carbon footprint, he would like to set up a citywide Carbon Footprint Index to help citizens become more environmentally conscious.
Early voting is taking place at the new Election Services offices in the Bill Stanley Building, 35 Woodfin Avenue, weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday from 8:00 to 1:00 p.m. Satellite sites are located at the West Asheville, North Asheville, and South Buncombe libraries. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Election Day, November 5. All municipal polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. There will be no early voting the Sunday or Monday immediately before the election.