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City mayoral hopefuls slug it out — Wainscott rips Manheimer, Roney, who later accuse him of ‘verbal abuse;’ Hayes then chides the 2 officials for trying (in his view) to silence criticism\
Thursday, 12 May 2022 13:17
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A candidates’ forum for Asheville’s mayoral candidates turned heated on April 29, when incumbent Mayor Esther Manheimer and mayoral hopeful (and City Council member) Kim Roney accused fellow candidate Jonathan Wainscott of verbal abuse in his fiery criticism of the mayor and councilwoman.

The fourth candidate at the forum, Michael Hayes, a self-billed “social justice warrior,” then entered the fray by defending Wainscott’s right to fiercely criticize the two city leaders during a political forum and, in turn, expressed dismay that Wainscott’s two opponents seemed to be, in his view, trying to limit free speech. 

Hayes stressed that he disagreed with Wainscott on many, if not most, issues, but still felt his fellow challenger has a right not only to be heard, but, even, to be hyper-critical.

The forum, hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center, included the four aforementioned candidates, with CIBO leader and forum moderator Buzzy Cannady noting that a fifth candidate scheduled to appear — Dr. Cliff Feingold — was absent because “he’s out of a town” for a long-planned trip. The election primary is May 17.

The forum began with each candidate giving a brief introductory statement, beginning with Wainscott, who noted, “I was a business-owner for most of my adult life... I’m running for mayor because I feel there’s a lack of leadership... In 1915, when the city pushed from a ward system to a board of commissioners (style), the city went into bankruptcy....”

He added, “Businesses all start with a plan of success, but many of them fail. Businesses go out of business all of the time — while others would like to see government go out of business.”

Roney said, “I’m a small-business-owner, music educator and former station manager of  103.1 FM.... I serve on City Council,” having won her seat in 2020. “Today, I’m hear to tell you I’m committed to address housing affordability, public safety” and other priorities.

“As a small business-owner, when the pandemic hit, I absolutely had to diversify my business to survive....

“As for public safety,” Roney lamented, “we’re budgeting for vacancies, rather than budgeting for the right person with the right tools” to do the job.

Manheimer said, “I was first elected in 2009 to City Council. I was elected mayor in 2013 and re-elected as mayor in 2017.”

With a note of pride in her voice, the mayor stated that she “graduated from Asheville High School and (then) went to UNC Chapel Hill for a law degree” and beyond.

She noted that she and her husband “have three boys” and “it has been my joy and my pleasure to serve as the mayor of Asheville. This has been my dream job.

“Plus,” she joked, “I want four more years of Buzzy ‘murdering’ my name” at CIBO forums.

Hayes said, “I’m a father of seven and grandfather of eight.” He added that he is the executive director of the nonprofit Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice Collective.

“I’m running for mayor ... Man, we’ve been so divisive, not just Asheville, but the nation... We might not agree on everything, but let’s make sure everybody feels like they’ve been heard... No more closed-door meetings... Let’s make some changes....”

Cannady, the moderator, then asked each candidate to answer seven questions prepared in advance by CIBO, beginning with: “Violent crime has risen 31 percent (in Asheville in last five years — nearly double the national average” — what can be done about it?

Roney said the mayor “needs to provide oversight for our budget plans to provide accountability,” adding that if she is elected mayor, “I am committed” to providing the requisite oversight. 

Manheimer answered, “I’m hearing this concern” about the recent jump in violent crime in Asheville. “While we’re bucking trend on gun discharges and murder rate,” there is work that needs to be done to reduce violent crime..

To that end, the mayor said, “I am committed to offering competitive pay for our police force, as of July 1, and across the ranks.”

Hayes answered, “We have to address the root cause. The root cause is poverty. Access... We have to look at community policing in a completely different way. We need to decrease the level of poverty in our city....”

Wainscott replied, “Most of our police recruits are coming to Asheville (from elsewhere) because it’s a beautiful place... We have a problem with the recruits — (and that is that) they get the training here and then they leave.

“I think our attraction here is not serving us to our best end... All of our officers are from all over the country — and none of them are from here. In fact, I believe only two of our APD (Asheville Police Department) officers are from here.”

In a rebuttal of Wainscott’s criticisms of the city and comments, Manheimer said, “Well, I’m not sure we only have two people in the ranks of the (Asheville) police department who are from here…. We do have to do a nationwide search because this (police work) is not a popular career choice any more.”

The second question concerned reportedly widespread complaints about the needle exchanges in Asheville, for which Cannady asked. “Are you committed to them?”

Manheimer answered, “I do support the needle exchange program because it does address the concern about the spread of disease.”

After a brief pause, the mayor added, “What we really need to address here is the opioid crisis.”

Hayes said, “I do support the needle exchange program... We’ve had a drug problem since crack cocaine... 

“We need to create an opportunity for them (the drug-users),” such as paying them to picking up needles and other trash around the city. “They do most of the work cleaning up, anyway,”

Wainscott replied, “As soon as you put a clean needle in your arm, it’s a dirty needle...  This notion (of providing a needle exchange for drug-users) is absolutely crazy.”

He paused, and then asserted, “To be passing out needles from bookstores is insane. We don’t have any kind of system to support this.” 

(Wainscott’s “bookstores” jab was aimed at Firestorm Books & Coffee, which he did not name at the forum. Firestorm Books bills itself “a worker-owned and self-managed anti-capitalist business” and as an “infoshop (that) operates with an eye on creating a sustainable, radical community event space.” Firestorm Books is located at 610 Haywood Road in West Asheville. Both Wainscott and Roney live in West Asheville.)

What’s more, Wainscott lamented, “Passing out clean needles — it’s just passing out dirty needles,” in actuality.

To the same question, Roney answered, “I also support passing out needles... When we do find waste, we don’t find a place to put it in,” causing upset among the citizenry.

“That can fall in the role of City Council,” Roney said. “I also agree with Mr. Hayes that having the community” support of the effort is critical to its success.

Finally, in an apparent jab at Wainscott’s assessment of the program, Roney asserted, “Y’all — if we end the needle exchange, we’ll see HIV and AIDs go up.”

For the third question, Cannady stated, “Business-owners (in Asheville) are tired of dealing with theft, vandalism and human waste in their doorways, so, as mayor, what will you do to protect property-owners?”

Hayes answered, “So the things the property-owners are complaining about are real. So as mayor, no, I don’t think it’s fair to charge the business-owners” for cleanup costs.. “But I also think it’s an opportunity to create jobs” and to pay the homeless to clean up the city, including any mess they have created.

Wainscott said, “I think it’s crazy” that the city appears to be coming apart at the seams, with violent crime and trash. 

Worse is the crime uptick, he said, adding, “I go to Gas Up (at 406 Haywood Road in West Asheville) every day. I went in there (recently) — and they said they’d just been broken into for the ninth time this year.

“I then went to a hardware store (down Haywood Road that Wainscott did not name) — and it was boarded up...

“We simply don’t have the police the force” in Asheville to maintain law and order and public safety of the citizenry, Wainscott said. 

In a counter-punch to Roney, Wainscott said, “This (Gas Up) is a convience store just down the street from (where) Kim Roney” lives.

Roney said, “I do support the work that Dogwood Health Trust and the Buncombe County commissioners are doing” in support of the city’s search for a homeless services consultant.

She suggested that the city open and operate “a managed camping facility (within the city) to help us meet (health) guidelines” by providing a place for the homeless. “What we have now is unmanaged camping, with no bathrooms. This (temporary solution of a city-managed camping facility) is until we build affordable housing.”

Manheimer replied,”We’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this crisis.We have to address the root crisis.”

For the fourth question, Cannady asked, “Officers in the APD have expressed (publicly) that members of Asheville City Council do not value what they do.” As mayor, he asked, what action would each candidate take on the matter, if any?

Wainscott answered, “No, I don’t feel they (the APD officers) have the support of council... I want (as mayor) to have a working relationship with the officers… If they do it (policing) well, then they will get the respect they earn. I just want everybody to do their jobs well and honorably. That’s all that I ask.”

He added, “The police department has my support and ... I support them performing humbly, effectively and fairly.”

Roney, who won election to her council seat with a platform that included defunding the police, said,  “Oftentimes, we’re sending someone (on a call) who doesn’t have the training” on the APD. “I’m asking for us to diversify our safety response. We need to round out our toolkit” with social workers and others,, Roney said.

Manheimer answered, “This is a challenge. We’re a very liberal city... 

“Maybe not in this room, so much,” she quipped, prompting chuckles from the CIBO meeting attendees.

“I meet often with the (APD) chief (David Zack) and the APD. I constantly ask him what else we need to do to rebuild our APD... One way we’ve supported them (as the unit reportedly is severely understaffed) is transferring duties (to others outside of the APD), like they don’t need to answer noise complaints” or and animal control issues.

Hayes said, “The media has labeled me as a ‘social activist’... So do I support the police? Yes, but I also want to hold them accountable. They have to be transparent.

“We must require police to have more training than the training they’re getting (now) — and (seek) more (APD) involvement in the community,” he noted.

For the fifth question, Canady asked, “If you’re elected, how would you change the role of mayor?

Roney replied, “One of the reasons I’m running for mayor is to move from the hot seat to an even hotter seat... I opposed the closed council’s retreat. I’m committed to bring processes into the public.”

In a jab at Roney and a point of clarification, Manheimer answered, “Well, that ‘top-secret meeting’ was supposed to be a team-building meeting, not a secret meeting.”

Manheimer added, “The role of the mayor is ... you’ve got to be able to pull together partners… This job is more of what you make it — and how you develop your skills to lead this city.”

Hayes said, “I’m not a politician, I’m a community member. So I look at government as participatory. The only way to do that — you have to be transparent. Every member of the city … We definitely should have higher wages.”

Wainwright answered, “It’s a shame (state Sen.) Chuck Edwards just left” the forum. “He brought forth one of the most important decisions — a rare display of bipartisanship and unanimatity in the city— but the mayor (Manheimer) and Kim Roney were fully supportive of changing our system back to an at-large versus a ward system,” thereby ensuring prolonged one party control of Asheville. 

Addressing the CIBO forum attendees, Manheimer fired a jab at Wainscott saying, “If you ever run for City Council (and get elected), you’ll have the pleasure pf hearing Jonathan (Wainscott) speak the way he just did.” The mayor later said that Wainscott was guilty of verbal abuse (aimed at her and Roney) at the CIBO forum.

Roney, who said she agreed with the mayor that Wainscott is verbally abusive, said, “Asheville is a beautiful, special place... I felt concerns that splitting the city into districts” would create areas “warring” with one another, rather than considering the city as one entity.

To that, Wainwright shot back to Roney, “Yeah? You’re wrong! One of the keys in getting rid of the Jim Crow laws” was ending at-large council seats in cities, in favor of a ward system, so that minorities could be elected.

When an unidentified person noted that Wainscott had “exceeeded his time,” he, nonetheless, kept speaking. Then, another unidentified person in the crowd shouted to Wainscott, “Stay calm!”

In response, Wainscott, modulating his voice, responded, “I’m not ‘un-calm.’ I’m just passionate about this issue.”

Next, Cannady asked the candidates, if elected mayor, what ideas they would tout to help the city with revovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manheimer said, “We’re seeing a lot of recovery happening. We need to encourage the rebuilding of a robust economy”

Hayes replied, “First, address minimum wages. Second, address affordable housing. Third, address the opportunity for us to address conversation. Give the opportunity for the citizens to speak — like the small business-owners”

Wainscott answered, “Id like to poiint out a blindspot to the conservatives. We’re about to collect $40 million a year” in tourism development funds. “All of this (Asheville tourism) marketing — it’s (pitched) to a liberal elite set,” which results in mostly liberal-thinking tourists visiting the area and resulting in many moving here, providing in even more lopsided leftist support of the city’s one-party rule.

“The change in the election (process) needs to be a change (from an at-large system) to a ward system. We also need to publicize all (city) spending”

As for pandemic recovery, Roney said her priorities would be “public safety, neighborhood resiliency, resource mapping — and a 50 percent split in the TDA,” a reference to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority).

For the final question, Cannady asked, “If you could ask one of your opponents a question, what would that be?”

Hayes replied, noting that he was directing his comments to Wainscott, said, “Bro, I feel it from you, Mr. Wainscott!” 

As Wainscott appeared unclear on what he meant, Hayes added more specifically, “I was complimenting” Wainscott’s passionate expression of his viewpoints at the forum.

Then, in praise of CIBO, Hayes said, “Giving someone a platform — that’s important.”

He also said he did not feel Wainscott was guilty of verbal abuse and that the other two challengers seemed to be trying to silence him through that accusation..

For his question, Wainscott addressed Manheimer, asking, “Mayor, I’d like your advice on how to lie to people” all of the time? He alleged she lies nonstop to Asheville’s citizenry.

Manheimer replied that, although the role of mayor is difficult, she does not think that “verbal abuse” should be acceptable.

“I understand the difference between wanting to participate in your community and being verbally abusive, repeatedly,” the mayor continued. “When you run for office, you sign up for a lot of stuff, and I can take it. But I’m not going to say it’s OK.”

Roney, who echoed the mayor’s verbal abused accusation, said her question would be to Hayes “to speak about the impoverished mindset.”

Hayes replied that he the impoverished mindset could be addressed by mentorship and other techniques and programs.

The forum ended with closing comments, with Manheimer going first and asserted, “I’m asking for your support in my bid for re-election as mayor of Asheville. And I’ve appreciated your support over the years”

Hayes said, “Thank y’all for having me here,” iinasmuch as “I’m an unaffiliated candidate for mayor, with a ‘celebrated’ background.” (Hayes’ campaign bills him as the man who helped organize the biggest day of 2020 protests against police brutality in Asheville.

Wainscott took his turn to verbally lambast Manheimer — one last time at the CIBO forum — for her (in his view)false accusation that he was guilty of committing verbal abuse against her and Roney at the forum.



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