Why the lone Republican in this year’s city council race threw his hat in the ring
“How many Yankees were there?”
“How many rebels were there?”
“What’d he say?”
And that, some local politicos feel, about sums up both Carl Mumpower’s own view of the upcoming municipal primary election and his chance of winning one of the three city council seats up for grabs in it.
In a field of 15 candidates – an average of five per contested seat – Mumpower is the lone Republican and the only “unabashed conservative.” His fourteen opponents are all Democrats, but of varying stripes, from traditional moderates to bit-in-the-teeth progressives of the sort that have dominated local politics for the past decade and a half. The race itself is nominally nonpartisan, but in Mumpower’s case that’s academic; philosophically at least, he would be the outsider in the current field no matter what.
He’s no outsider in terms of background. Mumpower served two terms on Council (2001-2009), including a stint as Vice Mayor. But even after leaving office and returning to his practice of clinical psychology, he has never been far away from city politics. He wrote a regular column for the Asheville Citizen-Times and has become the go-to source for a conservative take on various issues.
Yet Mumpower, a soft-spoken man with a shy smile and a self-effacing manner, is a polarizing figure. He is the voice of, and rallying point for, Asheville’s increasingly outnumbered conservatives and an object of scorn, ridicule and undisguised hatred among those who have made the city what Mumpower himself calls “ground zero” of the progressive movement in North Carolina. Last year a newcomer to the area said of Mumpower’s Citizen-Times column, “I don’t share all his views, but he seems to be more in touch with reality than most of the local writers the paper features. He thinks through issues and offers insightful comments and suggestions.” But another reader called his perspectives “idiotic and maybe even dangerous.”
And when Mumpower, known for his passionate advocacy of cracking down on street drugs, announced that he would be attending a Widespread Panic concert to observe drug activity firsthand, merry pranksters fashioned masks of his face and distributed them to the crowd. Mumpower’s anti-drug, pro-life, pro-gun rights and strict fiscal conservatism don’t play well in a town whose most active voters like to think of themselves as hip, sophisticated and forward-thinking; to them Carl Mumpower is a reactionary, a bigot and a wet blanket generally.
So why, after a six-year hiatus, does he want his seat on Council back? And what chance does he think he has of winning it?
His answer to the first question is summed up in Mumpower’s campaign logo, which shows a red paper doll in the center of six blue ones. “Seven shades of blue is not a good thing,” he has said, adding that “diversity is needed” on Council.
“It has been said that even if you are elected, 6-1 votes are hardly a mandate and certainly do little to accomplish the ‘balance’ that is a cornerstone of your campaign. What’s your response?” The Tribune asked Mumpower.
The impact of having just one minority voice is frequently underestimated,” he replied. “An independent council member with a courage button has three important tools – (1) The ability to keep the lights on (2) The opportunity to present a different angle of view on important issues and (3) The capacity to challenge wrongs. Having served on the council for eight years in a 5-2 or 6-1 reality, I have had ample opportunity to use each of these tools to good ends. Finally, if I am elected, Asheville will have a vigorous and experienced conservative representative on a council that is tense and divided. A fox can have more fun in a disoriented chicken coop.”
Mumpower also called the present Council “tense and divided,” and said the Council’s increasingly leftward drift is part of “a national phenomenon … Conservative minded people have been retreating to their recliners at the same time the left has been uniting and pressing their agendas.” But locally, he maintained, growing dissatisfaction with “the progressive status quo” is motivating previously inactive voters to leave the sidelines and become involved.
In that connection, Mumpower had some harsh words for his own party, which he said is failing to take advantage of that situation because it simply has lost its way.
“ … the Republican Party has lost all connection to its core principles and stands for little of anything,” he said. “ In the absence of a party of principles, the young, minorities and the otherwise vulnerable will go with the party of least principles for self-service. That’s the essence of today’s leftist movement – stand for everything and promise everything and ask for nothing. That’s an attractive ruse that will fail over time for the same reason being Bonnie and Clyde failed over time.”
Mumpower’s campaign, he said, “has raised about a third of what we would like to have.” But, he said, “that has an upside because the fewer dollars you muster, the more creativity you have to muster. I have a track record of not pandering to moneyed and power interests who are accustomed to buying a seat at the table.”
So Mumpower soldiers on, marching to the drumbeat of “being careful with other people’s money, concentrating on public safety and core city services, and serving as a watchdog voice of balance and accountability.”
Which is not to say that he is impervious to the slings and arrows of the electoral process. “Personal insults are the sanctuary of immaturity – and from personal experience I can say that they’re a temptation many Ashevillians can’t resist. It’s that ‘ends justifies the means’ thinking that trips up so many otherwise good people,” he said.
“As for some of the meanness coming my way, when it comes to being a change agent in today’s world I’ve found you have to take chances and turn up the volume. That will get things done and slow down the opposition, but it won’t do anything for your PR image.
“I freely acknowledge I get my feelings hurt on a regular basis. I don’t have a thick skin. People with thick skins usually develop a thick head.”