Oddly, the only big campaign issue has been what to do with city-owned land across from the Basilica of St. Lawrence. Some candidates would promote selling the prime real estate for development, with the sale closely-controlled by council to align with its strategic plan. Others want to create a pocket park to frame the church with the splendours of Creation. It’s a way of honoring the Catholic Church, the Holy Father, the Holy See, and all the pro-family, anti-abortion tenets that make the church so unpopular among Progressives – one would guess.
Common ground among the candidates includes emphasis on multimodal transportation. Oddly enough, the automobile remains the vehicle of choice for most residents. Contrast the number of local traffic jams to the number of times Ashevillian transit riders get bumped and have to wait for the next bus, the number of cycle jams, or even the number of commuters using greenways as opposed to those walking dogs or exercising. City greenways are even shut down after dark, when Ashevillians, working the proverbial two or three jobs, would have to use them. The city has been building it, but they’re not coming. Traffic calming, or obstructions to carbon-fueled transportation, ranks high among many candidates’ stated priorities.
Another hot topic would be reversing the city’s affordable housing crisis. Any free marketeer would call for extinguishing all incentives and abolishing all codes that add nothing to public health and safety. If prices get too high, some go-getter is going to see profitability in building economy housing for the masses. Stigma-phobes need insensitivity training. Those humbled by bad stigma can use it as a personal incentive to work hard and smart to get the kind of mansion on the hill they seek.
Instead, candidates want to use incentives to distort markets. Market distortions necessarily mean somebody is getting less value for more money. Proposals include rent controls, even in-perpetuity, in spite of how that continues to play out in New York or how housing prices crashed when the bubble popped. Inclusionary zoning is another favorite method. It would require developers to subsidize rents for a certain percentage of units in new residential complexes, without regard to the practice’s marginalization of those paying subsidies. Land banking, wherein the city displaces for-profit real estate activities, also has a lot of traction; as does the model suggested by the recently-announced teacher housing complex, subsidized by the financially-strapped local school districts, Buncombe County, Eblen Charities, and SECU. A government-funded company store can’t be too far behind.
In a similar vein, there was the sense that all candidates would promote extending a living wage policy into the private sector if the state would allow it. Guaranteed income has a history of creating apathy and a sense of entitlement, which leads to rioting when talks of austerity measures begin. In the market, traders would exchange value for value, labor included. Those felt slighted would continue shopping and consider retrenching when the shopping got old.
Candidates also thought government needed to tip scales in favor of businesses they like. Most candidates would like taxpayers to contribute to a pot to give council’s favorite businesses a leg up; rather than strengthening the market by letting bad ideas dry up. Government is supposed to protect the weak from fraud and predation in the market, not shape the market so the cleverest cronies get more money.
Questions were posed about the recent court ruling in the ongoing water dispute. Responses ranged from Haynes’ support for anything but privatization to Hunt’s calm confidence in City Manager Gary Jackson’s contingency plans. Since the city can no longer use water system revenues to fund road and sidewalk improvements, the candidates all seem to be interested in getting the legislature to grant the city use of a percentage of the hotel tax for constructing “tourism-related” sidewalks and greenways. They argue green spaces attract tourists, who would have to stay at hotels downtown because Airbnb’s invite transients into neighborhoods that disrupt long-term relationship building. The candidates indicate there is a glut of hotels downtown, which could be why they want living wage policy to put the squeeze on their payrolls. With an exception being a recent argument from Buncombe County Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl, even a 10-percent tax on non-voting tourists is viewed by government leaders as insufficient to turn away customers. All but Haynes enthusiastically supported the city’s last property tax increase.
Another recurring theme was diversity and oppression. The best way to overcome prejudice is not to call attention to extraneous differences with programs and summits. Brains are pretty much the same color among protected and non-protected classes, and that is the organ people use to think. Good leaders should be more interested in ideas than in throwing political bones at interest groups.
Say Something Good about the Candidates –
Lee stood out among the candidates for his frequent references to supply-side economics. A financial planner, he speaks very intelligently about nuts and bolts, like streamlining the development review process. He acknowledges there is value in property rights and realizes transportation is the art of getting people from place to place. Hunt and Mayfield are environmentalists with good business sense, hobbled only by years of advocating for the public sector over those who sustain it. Hunt can speak a middle path without raising anybody’s blood pressure. Mayfield has been around the block enough to know, for example, the reasons why Portland’s urban growth boundary is succeeding where similar experiments have failed. Haynes is a peacenik with a big heart. For example, he doesn’t want the police force to be at war with criminals; he wants compromise. He would also invoke drastic measures to help small businesses. Simerly rose from being a homeless teen to homeownership status in a few years. She wants everybody in Asheville to be safe and warm. Young is a master of short answers who enjoys laughter.
Requesting a write-in is the Reverend Spencer Hardaway. He owns the distinction of being recruited to sit behind President Obama when he visited the Asheville Regional Airport to promote his jobs program.