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Votes see little change on tap for city

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Councilor-Elect Keith Young:  Least money, most votes

Despite Election Day surprises, Votes see little change on tap for city

By Roger McCredie- A powerful incumbent lost his bid for re-election and the candidate who spent the least money garnered the most votes, but in spite of these anomalies, some Ashevillians well versed in local politics say they don’t look for any dramatic shift in the way Asheville does business and governs itself – at least for the time being.

On November 3 approximately 18 per cent of Asheville’s total registered voters elected Keith Young, Brian Haynes and Julie Mayfield to city council.  All three are first-timers and are not affiliated with the cabal of “progressive” politicians and administrators that many locals feel controls city hall.

For many, who was not elected was a bigger surprise than who was.  Vice Mayor Marc Hunt, whose campaign raised the second-largest war chest among the candidates and who enjoyed the backing of the Sierra Club and several key sponsors, finished fifth in a field of six candidates.

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Vice Mayor Marc Hunt: Plenty of money, not enough votes

And two candidates who received endorsements and active support from sitting council members – Rich Lee and Lindsey Simerly, backed by Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith respectively – went down to defeat despite aggressive and well-run campaigns. On the other hand, Young, the only minority candidate in the final running, garnered the most votes despite having spent the least amount of money.

While all three new councilors are viewed as more “centrist” than the present council’s overall makeup,  some observers say they doubt whether, in the final analysis, the new blood will noticeably affect  the prevailing collective council position, which has drifted further and further leftward over the past decade.

“I do not believe anything will change,” said black business leader Dee Williams, herself an unsuccessful candidate who was eliminated in the October 6 primary election. “Virtually the same people came out to vote and they voted for folks who were selected by incumbents. I believe Ken Michalove [former mayor and city manager, and another primary candidate] was the primary reason for Marc Hunt’s loss. Folks in North Asheville heard some of what he was saying.

“I am not [optimistic enough] to believe it will change until the hotels and breweries saturate the place and a ‘bust’ comes which will force folks to wake up.  I hope everything goes well for Asheville, but I see few changes happening that will benefit many people, except the few who always have benefitted,” Williams said.

Williams was among a field of 15 candidates who were winnowed to six in the October primary.  Other candidates included Michalove and former Asheville risk management head John Miall.

“Everybody that was worth a damn, that could have made a real difference, was knocked out at the primary,” said former Vice Mayor Chris Peterson, a long-time vocal critic of city government in general.  “People don’t want real change.  These elections are nothing but popularity contests and you can win them if you’ve got a nice smile and a bunch of money and you suck up to the right people.

“The voters elect some new names and faces because they promise to out a park in front of the Basilica.  Purely cosmetic stuff.  Meanwhile the city is millions of dollars in the hole and it couldn’t fix itself if it wanted to because these [expletive] not only don’t know how, they don’t care,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s volubility aside, local conservatives concur that one thing is obvious:  the presence of the newcomers on the council’s dais will not alter the overall complexion of city politics.  At least one conservative voice, Robert Malt, says that’s because right-leaners have abdicated their power without a fight.

“Many political conservatives don’t seem to realize is that the political makeup of Asheville has changed substantially over the past 8 years. Conservatives aren’t in the game regarding Asheville politics. We aren’t even on the sidelines. We’re somewhere up in the nosebleed section, watching the train wreck through binoculars.”

Nevertheless, some long-time observers were sufficiently surprised by Hunt’s defeat that they are still trying to parse it.

As a councilor, Hunt was an unabashed champion of property development at a time when the city is grappling with growth-versus-preservation issues. Some, including Bothwell, criticized what they saw as Hunt’s cozy relationship with developers. (Bothwell famously told his former protégé “You make me want to puke” after Hunt began to emerge as pro-development.) Others viewed with a jaundiced eye Hunt’s leading role in the city’s dubiously legal takeover of Pack Place Arts and Cultural Center, a factor which did not prevent him from picking up a Sierra Club endorsement.

“In part, Hunt lost the election because the progressives in Asheville viewed him as a sell out to corporate interests,” said local politico and one-time city council candidate Mark Cates.  “The progressives [in Asheville] are learning that the people who control the local progressive political machine are progressive in name only.”

“Bunch of socialists,” said Peterson.

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