By Leslee Kulba
Asheville City Council held the requisite public hearings to amend the city charter to override changes the North Carolina General Assembly had made to the way city council elections are held. Mayor Esther Manheimer explained timing was crucial; the city had to wait until the General Assembly had adjourned; if they were in session, they would likely use their legitimate powers to simply undo council’s changes. She added this could be problematic should they convene before candidates start filing. At the time of the meeting, the legislature was taking a week off, but within days, it had reconvened, fully-functioning.
The legislature, clearly, cannot repeal the city’s amendments until they are approved, and council has sixty days to do that. In accordance with guidelines, council could not vote on the charter amendments before the next regular meeting, and the October 8 meeting has been cancelled.
By way of review, the changes to the charter reintroduce primary elections; but since council elections will be held in even years, the primaries will be held in March. Nina Tovish noted this would make for a very long campaign season, not likely to result in victory for any but those with name recognition and/or connections to political infrastructure. Tovish, who wants to run for office, has, for about a year, been calling attention to how the runaround resulting from the ongoing battle between the city and the state is obstructing the ability of people not currently on council to organize a campaign. The amendments would also return city council elections to an at-large, nonpartisan format.
Echoing a theme in Democrat rhetoric this year that breaks from the traditional call to visualize world peace, Manheimer described the legislature’s attempts to change the way the city conducts elections as a battle in an ongoing war with the city, and members of council as fighters. Mixing metaphors from game theory, Manheimer added, “This is chess, not checkers,” and, “I’m still not giving away all the cards.”
During public comment, Jay Quinn, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Elections, said that body had no official opinion on how elections should be held, but it would be prepared to move forward with the election schedule in accordance with whatever system prevailed on any given action date. Should the city prevail, candidates would file in December, and a primary would be held in March. Quinn added that the state had left it up to the county board to decide whether or not to hold a March primary, and the board is working closely with legal counsel.
Councilor Vijay Kapoor tried to politely describe what was wrong with the picture. Members of city council and the General Assembly were so intent on fighting and scoring points against each other, concern about the welfare of their constituents had been lost. This was not good governance. Kapoor said leaders should be asking, “‘Which system best serves the average Asheville resident?’”
Kapoor challenged the mayor’s chess metaphor, saying meeting this late in the game to change the charter was not strategic. What’s more, he said the city had excluded public opinion. The city had held a referendum, after “educating” the population with a one-sided PR campaign.
Racism had often been invoked to make arguments, but Kapoor said the city had not run the matter through its Office of Equity and Inclusion for inspection through the “equity lens” publications claim shapes all council’s decisions. Instead, only two black citizens had shown up to speak on the issue. The remainder of the arguments about racism have been made by persons posing as the voice for the voiceless.
Kapoor was making a bold, humanitarian call for his peers to respect minority constituents as noble spirits, each with his own hopes, wishes, and dreams – and not a homogeneous brick of cheese from which, if one has tasted one slice, one knows all he must about all the other slices.
Not paying attention, and seeing an opportunity to capitalize on fascist dictators’ previous successes of rousing the brick of cheese by bloviating any nonsense with enough force and confidence, Councilor Keith Young erupted, taking “extreme exception” to the “complete political puffery to manipulate who speaks and who doesn’t speak for black people.”
“I do have the ability to speak for all black people!” he asserted. “I was an advocate for our Equity Department. I was an advocate for our Human Relations Commission. I was an advocate for banning the box. I was an advocate for accepting housing choice vouchers. And all of that goes back to people who look like me.” Further leaning into the strawman he had created of Kapoor, he closed with, “So, if you haven’t heard from anybody who looks like me, you just aren’t talking to them. And they don’t want to talk to you.”