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Asheville’s ‘Political Machine’ Is making strange noises

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Bothwell urges Hunt’s defeat; Simerly’s bio gets scrutinized

By Roger McCredie-  A race as crowded as the pre-October 6 primary field of 16 candidates vying for three city council seats is bound to produce some “What the … “ moments (see “Millin Accuses Michalove of Libel,” Aug. 28),

But these are minor squeaks and rattles.  When the same thing happens among core members of the well-oiled apparatus that dominates Asheville politics, there’s an ominous grinding noise that seems to betoken more serious problems.

Late last week city council’s maverick but influential gadfly, Cecil Bothwell, who is now a candidate for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners openly called on voters to defeat Vice Mayor Marc Hunt, who is running for a second term and was Bothwell’s protégé duringn the last election.

“There’s a lot of backroom dealing going on, folks,” Bothwell said in a post on Facebook, “Time to vote Mr. Hunt off council, IMHO [in my humble opinion] and let’s not elect his close allies, Mayfield and [Lindsey] Simerle [sic] .”

Bothwell’s post was apparently prompted by the news that the city has approved arrangements to lease the vacant lot opposite the Basilica of St. Laurence to a construction company as a parking lot for heavy equipment being used to construct a nearby hotel.   Bothwell was angered that the action had been taken without a council vote. Asheville’s executive director of planning and multimodal transportation, Cathy Ball, said the city has the power to bypass council in such a situation under the provisions of its Unified Development Ordinance.

Bothwell has emerged as a champion of citizens who wish to turn the long-derelict vacant lot into a city park, which proponents would provide a welcome greenspace in the heart of the business district and would also help the fragile century-old basilica from the impact of nearby construction.  Bothwell has been highly critical of the rather murky position taken by Hunt on the future use of the vacant lot.

It’s not the first time Bothwell has berated his former endorsee.  When, shortly after the last election, Hunt voted in favor of another hotel project, a livid Bothwell sent Hunt an e-mail which said in part,, “You make me want to puke “I am so totally embarrassed that I endorsed you. What a total loser on matters that concern Asheville citizens, Are your ears totally plugged with developmental money?”

Bothwell recently called attention to the fact that Hunt had used attorney and former mayor Lou Bissette to plant the seed, in an appearance before council, for what proved to be the city’s takeover of Pack Place.   Armed with Bissette’s opinion that the city had the implicit right to do so, Hunt forced the Pack Place governing body to allow its tenants to enter into separate lease agreements with the city — thereby gutting the Pack Place board’s authority – and to turn the running of Pack Place over to the city, as well.  Bothwell invoked the Pack Place saga as an example of the “backroom dealing” he spoke of, though at the time he expressed no such view.

Philosophically, Bothwell’s essentially anti-free reign development views have brought him into an ongoing fencing match with fellow councilor Gordon Smith, the acknowledged leader of the so-called progressive wing of city politics.  Smith is a champion of urban density as a means of coping with city growth and also as a remedy for Asheville’s affordable housing shortage.  And as to the vacant lot usage, he recently said:

“I believe that a taxable building alongside a public plaza will activate the space, provide a good complement to the Civic Center [the U.S. Cellular Center], Basilica and nearby apartments while helping to provide initial and ongoing revenue for strategic priorities like affordable housing, transit and more.”

In a recent discussion, Bothwell and Smith crossed swords over the platform of candidate Brian Haynes (who was not a party to the dialogue).  Smith was critical of what he appeared to think was a lack of substance on Haynes’ website regarding his stand on various issues.  This caused Bothwell’s latest acolyte, candidate Rich Lee, to ask, “Gordon, can we count on you to be the most negative campaigner of 2015 … “ (Smith is running for county commission also.)

“The negative campaigner awards should probably go to the conspiratorial and character attacks regarding the gravel lot on Haywood Street,” Smith retorted, in an appafrent reference to Bothwell.  “That’s been some really nasty stuff.

Then there was the Simerly issue.

Candidate Lindsey Simerley, whom Smith is vigorously backing for city council, suddenly found herself challenged over statements on her internet profile that she was from Asheville and had attended Asheville High School and “Asheville High Theater.”  Research on the part of several readers showed that Simerly had graduated from East Henderson High School, where she was a basketball star, and briefly attended Western Carolina University on a basketball scholarship before leaving college and coming to Asheville.  Complaints were made that Simerly had fabricated the Asheville information.

Asked to comment on the flap caused by the inconsistency, Smith stiffly told the Tribune, “If you have any questions about Ms. Simerly’s background, I would suggest contacting her. “

The Tribune had already done so, and Simerly responded promptly.

“ My freshman year I went to Forestview High School in Gastonia,” Simerly said. “ My Sophomore and Junior Years were spent at Dorman High School in Spartanburg, SC. My Senior year was at East Henderson High School in E. Flat Rock, where I graduated.

“I had lots of offers for basketball scholarships from around the County but chose WCU. Unfortunately, shortly after getting there I had a couple of injuries and it became clear that basketball was not going to continue to be in the cards for me. When my basketball scholarship went away I had no way to pay for college, nor anywhere to live in Cullowhee. In December 2002 when I was 18 I packed the few things I had and came to Asheville hoping to find work. I slept on friends couches and spent some nights in my car while I worked 2nd shift at the Waffle House and did some 3rd shift construction,” she added.

As to the Asheville references which were at the core of the speculation, Simerly said, “   a friend let me know that showed up on my Facebook profile. I do not know why and got a laugh out of it, as drama has never been my strong suit! “

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