Following are brief sketches about people who have said they would run. If you think you can do better, filing fees are $100 to run for mayor; $75, for city council. The deadline for filing is noon, July 25.
For starters, Mayor Esther Manheimer (DEM) has led the city competently. A lawyer with experience dealing with the state legislature, she can speak intelligently about the issues and is aware of legal limitations. At times, she has appeared a badly-needed father figure when the pipe dreams of an all-progressive city council need a reality check. While smart with money, she still supports a wide scope for government, as with the affordable housing and parks and recreation bond referenda; and she advocates Democrat Party causes, like combatting global warming and legalizing medicinal marijuana. Her keen intellect allows her to keep meetings alive with the uproarious comments she often makes under her breath.
The only challenger announced is Jonathan Wainscott (UNA). A real outsider, Wainscott often comes to council meetings to share during public comment delightfully insightful perspectives on mismanagement and waste. Wainscott’s West Asheville neighborhood was torn up for Big Beer, and he has held a grudge ever since. When he ran for council before, he advocated sticking to basic city services with transparency down to the level of posting every city ledger entry online. His volatile, take-charge personality worked against his last run for office, leading to a shouting match with Bothwell at a candidate debate; but he likely lost because of a tasteless campaign ad. Wainscott self-describes as a woodworker, artist, and stay-at-home dad.
Cecil Bothwell (DEM) is seeking reelection. Bothwell is a progressive who doesn’t tow the party line. While he is difficult to pigeonhole, he consistently defends civil rights and environmental causes. A construction worker, he was better known for his writings, which included an expose which likely led to the arrest of former Sheriff Bobby Medford and his book The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire. Bothwell rose to national prominence as a champion of post-theism when opponents in a former election sought to declare him, as an atheist, ineligible under state law. Like Wainscott, he has been on the receiving end of official disapproval for not coloring inside the lines. His big issue during his last run for office was fighting construction opposite the Basilica of St. Lawrence.
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler (DEM) also seeks reelection. She first ran as a business-savvy candidate and has in her first term lived up to expectations as a number-cruncher. It is she who usually gets stuck in the uncomfortable position of challenging flawed proposals; she led the recent interrogation of city staff over the RADTIP’s 50-percent overruns. A stickler for the rule of law, she has, on more than one occasion, cast the lone vote against proposals that would grant special privileges to certain groups or organizations. Wisler was president or CEO of a number of mid-size corporations before starting Asheville Profits, LLC, a consultancy which bills clients in the currency of community service. Big issues for Wisler include transportation, housing, and sustainability. One reason for running again, she says, is to assure accountability with the recent bond issues.
The incumbent Smith is not running, but Sheneika Smith (DEM) is. An Asheville native, she returned to town a couple years ago, and, as she describes the problem, found “no one who looks like her” downtown. Asheville, she says, is very inclusive of hippies and people with special gender identities, but African-Americans, who make up 12 percent of the population, are marginalized. She began Date My City to increase the visibility of African-Americans downtown. They started just meeting for dinner, but the initiative has grown into a movement to get African-Americans a voice in local governance while celebrating culture. Smith is the Tzedek Social Justice Fellow at Green Opportunities, and she is running to advance the theory of intersectionality as applied to what used to be called ghettoes, areas of concentrated poverty inhabited by minorities. Related issues include “ethical bias” and the “top-down economy.”
Among candidates regularly appearing at city council meetings is Kim Roney (UNA). Roney is the archetypal Ashevillian, an artist trying to survive on service-industry wages. After she and her husband decided to donate their car to charity, she won appointments to the city’s Multi-Modal Transportation and Transit committees. With a seventeen-year career in public radio, she is an advocate for democracy. She would prefer citizens to have more input earlier in public decision making, and city business to be communicated in English, Spanish, and Russian. She sympathized with the $1 Million for the People campaign, arguing council could do more to advance social justice if they spent the money requested for the police department on transit and nonprofits. “Economic and racial disparity,” she says, “must be addressed with realistic goals and action around housing, food security, education and childcare, our environment, and wages.”
Vijay Kapoor (DEM) has also spoken during public comment at several meetings. A lawyer, he has advised local governments on restructuring pension funds and mediated labor disputes. During the recession, he used his legal skills to keep homeowners out of foreclosure. Kapoor recently helped lead a successful resistance to an apartment complex planned for his neighborhood. Less successful were his challenges to the city budget, which were largely dismissed as uninformed. But his questions about the RADTIP overrun remain unanswered; viz., Why did the consultant hired to help the city with the bidding process bid on and win a contract $20 million higher than his estimate provided five months earlier? Why did the city allow Livingston Street improvements for poor families, the raison d’être for the RADTIP, to be eliminated from the final plan? And why was word of the overruns silenced until after the budget was approved?
Rich Lee (DEM) attends meetings, but he normally just listens. He was denied a seat on council the last time he ran by fewer than 1,000 votes. His web site, with the thoughtful name richworksfor.me, lists his views on ten issues and reads like a personal platform. Some of his positions that would blend in with his peers include getting the city to pull its investments out of big banks, investing in infrastructure in historically neglected parts of town, offering more opportunities for participatory budgeting, and supporting businesses that offer careers instead of jobs. More novel positions include support for district elections, wanting a college in West Asheville, and being more aggressive about extracting community benefits from developers, requiring, for example, local art in hotels. He would work to achieve racial equity in public safety, schools, hiring practices, and neighborhoods; and he repeats a philosophy of “go small, not big” for city incentives.
Dee Williams (UNA) spoke at many recent council meetings. She opposed the city’s consideration of expanding the city’s police department by $1 million, and she arranged for council to hear a presentation by Durham attorney Ian Mance alleging racial profiling by the Asheville Police Department. Before that, she advocated for Ban the Box. Williams has run for city or county office about half a dozen times, changing her party affiliation at least three times. She now identifies with the Green Party, which is not officially recognized by the state. She claims the distinction of being the first black woman in many endeavors. A lot of her professional work involves helping minorities procure government contracts. Williams is a disruptor, having been plaintiff and defendant in many lawsuits alleging mismanagement. She is the go-to person for the local daily on matters concerning minority affairs.
Less in the public eye, Jeremy Goldstein (UNA) has been chairing Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission for the last four years, being appointed six years ago. A commercial real estate broker, Goldstein is campaigning as a moderate, for more common sense on council. He argues Asheville, as an urban area, should be accepting of growth, which should be guided by plans. As chair of P&Z, he is very familiar with the city’s Unified Development Ordinance and its host of master plans, and he believes the city should abide by the rule of law. If he could change the development review process in any way, he would want more public input. He would prefer the city to focus on infill development with quality infrastructure, incenting affordable housing and recruiting companies that pay good wages.
Adrian Vassallo (DEM) has also been active in Asheville governance, but in a not-so televised way. For twelve years he has been the Business Development Executive at Dixon Hughes Goodman, and he is well-known for his service with the Asheville Downtown Commission and the Asheville Downtown Association. Supporting planned, smart, and sustainable growth, he wants the city to get back to basics. For example, he would like the new bond revenues to go toward fixing twenty years of deferred infrastructure maintenance. He supports multimodal transit pragmatically, as a means of helping people get to and from work. While the city is a tourist mecca, he thinks policy should pay more attention to residents; including the marginalized groups who feel disenfranchised. Vassallo believes city decisions should be more supportive of small business.