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6 of 9 City Council candidates speak at forum
Wednesday, 04 March 2020 00:26

From Staff Reports

Six of the candidates for three seats on Asheville City Council aired their views during a candidates forum hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners on Feb. 7 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

About 55 people attended the early-morning monthly breakfast meeting.

The top six vote-getters will advance to the general election on Nov. 3. While the race is billed as nonpartisan, there has been no Republican council member for more than a decade.

All of the original 10 candidates were invited, but four were absent, according to CIBO moderator John Carroll. However, he noted that, of those missing, each had “called (CIBO) and explained why they couldn’t make it….” 

One of the four who were absent, Tim Collins, had announced Jan. 17 that “he was suspending his campaign.” 

Of the other three, Mayor Esther Manheimer showed up to give an opening statement and declare her support on behalf of financial adviser Rich Lee, while no one spoke for the other two absentees — security guard Larry Ray Baker and architect Kristen Goldsmith.

Participating in the forum were Councilman Keith Young, who is the Buncombe County Deputy Clerk of Superior Court, and the lone incumbent running for re-election; along with newcomers real estate broker Sandra Kilgore, construction project manager Shane McCarthy, piano teacher Kim Roney, activist Nicole Townsend and French Broad Food Co-op project manager Sage Turner.

Not seeking re-election to their seats are Brian Haynes, who is leaving public service; and Julie Mayfield, who is stepping down so that she can run for the North Carolina Senate seat in District 49. 

Five of the candidates are from West Asheville, including Goldsmith, Roney, Kilgore, Turner and Townsend. 

From East Asheville are McCarthy and Young, both from East End/Valley Street neighborhood (in a historically African-American area just least of downtown); and Lee, who is from Haw Creek.

The lone South Asheville challenger is Baker from Skyland.

A primary for council will be held March 3, Carroll added, with the top six vote-getters advancing to the general election on Nov. 3.

The forum opened with each candidate given a maximum of two minutes to deliver opening statements.

Kilgore, who was called on first, reviewed her background, noting with pride that she grew up in Asheville’s historically black neighborhood that was known as “Southside.”

She left to live in Washington, D.C., Florida and London, but when the real estate agent and former flight attendant came back to Asheville, she said she disliked what she observed.

The racial divides, she said, “are worse now” than in the 1960s and 1970s. She said a lot of people do not understand “the black experience.” She advocated having more “conversations” to help struggling residents through training and jobs.

Kilgore said she aspires to be a councilwoman because she “wants to help people,” adding that she faced “some discriminatory issues” earlier in life and wants to help others still facing such challenges.

McCarthy said, “I could’ve stayed in Raleigh (after completing his education) and taken high-paying engineering jobs, but my parents were having problems with their company” back in Asheville.

Specifically, he said, “We were losing $10,000 a month when I showed up — and three months later we were showing a profit. And that’s the kind of work I’d like to do on Asheville City Council.”

Roney spoke about the need for “long-term accountability” on council. “I’m proudly running with Nicole Townsend because the work we’re trying to do can’t be done alone.”

Townsend said, “I’m running on a platform of public safety, education equity and environmental justice.”

As for the current state of city affairs, Townsend asserted, “I believe we deserve better. We need to start telling the developers ‘no’ and the people ‘yes.”

Turner began on a polite note by recognizing Mayor Esther Manheimer, who had just entered the meeting room as Turner began her opening statement.

Turner then asserted, “My platforms are accessing affordable housing, climate resiliency and growing and protecting our local business economy. 

“Smart and responsible growth is one of my responsibilities,” if she is elected to council.

Young, the sole incumbent, said, “My background is marketing and advertising. I don’t do that now. I work as deputy clerk of court.

“I’ve been very proud of the work I do on council. … I’d like to continue working on council. One of the things I’m working on now is beginning to foster a relationship with the (Asheville Area) Chamber of Commerce. My feeling is, if workers are more secure, they’ll be better workers.”

At that point, Manheimer was allowed to speak for Lee, who was among the missing candidates.

The mayor noted that Lee “was absent because of ‘child problems,’” but that she had spoken with him and agreed to present his platform in his absence at the CIBO forum.

 Manheimer noted that she would not be allowed to answer questions on Lee’s behalf during the remainder of the program and that she would be leaving to attend to other business after she gave a two-minute statement for Lee.

With a smile, she then stressed that Lee is running for council “for a third time.”

As some in the CIBO audience chuckled at the notion of Lee’s persistence, Manheimer asserted, “Don’t forget our dear friend Brownie Newman ran three times — and won the third time” in his quest for an Asheville council seat. “So,” she quipped, “the third time’s the charm.”

On a more serious note, the mayor noted that Lee “is a financial planner... He is well-aware that he will be representing people living in poverty — as well as those with wealth.”

To that end, she pointed out that Lee “facilitates the Asheville Politics Facebook page,” where he deal with many clashing viewpoints on a regular basis.

“One thing I appreciate about Rich is he brings accurate)information to the conversation. He’s spent a lot of time learning” the facts, the mayor said, in concluding the opening statements segment of the forum.


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