Government

Six finalists seek open Asheville City Councilor seat

By Leslee Kulba

Somebody’s missing. Council’s zoom screen should be back to 10-11 video session screens after their next meeting.
Somebody’s missing. Council’s zoom screen should be back to 10-11 video session screens after their next meeting.

Asheville – City Council received 30 applications for filling the seat vacated with the resignation of former Councilor Vijay Kapoor. Because city councilors are elected in nonpartisan races, members of council, and not the local political party of the person vacating, are legally responsible for appointing a successor. 

Candidates supplied resume information and answered five questions. Two gauged support for council’s promises of reparations and defunding the police 50%. The others were aimed at gauging intent, priorities and focus, and ability to work with others. After reviewing the applications, each councilor gave the city clerk the names of two candidates he/she wanted to interview. The clerk received a total of six unique names for candidates who will now advance to interviews, which will be held prior to council’s September 8 meeting, when the appointment will be decided. Members of council indicated they expected to hear from constituents advocating for the candidates.

The Candidates

Rob Thomas is best known for spearheading Black AVL Demands, the movement behind Asheville’s efforts to defund the police, make reparations, pull down statues, and rename streets. Well-spoken, he has been a regular in council’s public comment periods since the George Floyd protests began. Asserting that police departments in the United States were created to capture runaway slaves, he asks what sense it makes to keep repairing a house on a bad foundation. He supports the idea of reparations, observing that, while slavery has been illegal for generations, white people remain the beneficiaries of “generational wealth” that, in many cases, was “built off the backs of enslaved people.” He would like those harmed to take the lead in deciding what form reparations will take, adding, “Reparations should not be mistaken as charity nor should [they] be initiated with the savior complex in mind.”

S. Antanette Mosley is an attorney whose clientele have included the Martin Luther King, Jr. Estate, the American Cancer Society, and Ford Motor Company. She also served as a financial advisor for Mountain Housing Opportunities. In solidarity with Black AVL Demands, she offered, “I firmly embrace investment in, ‘long-term safety strategies including supporting black startups/business[es], eliminating the racial opportunity gap in schools, and funding an all-civilian oversight committee with the power to hold the APD and individual officers accountable.’” She considers racial equity and how it manifests in “affordable housing and homelessness, quality education, economic development, and access to healthcare,” as Asheville’s “most pressing problem.” If appointed, she would like to use her position to, “approach each policy decision as an opportunity to lessen disparities.”

Rich Lee has been a close contender for a seat on Asheville City Council for years. A financial advisor for Edward Jones, his resume has a long list of appointments to boards influential in local government. He’s been at it so long, his campaigns show a signature style of governance, based on listening, analysis, and government solutions. His answers to council’s questionnaire show the same style of dissecting hot topics into fundamentals to establish firm and common ground for moving forward. So, rather than throwing around buzz words like “divestment” and “systemic racism;” he explains problems, building sympathies to reach consensus. 

Pratik Bhakta is a hotelier born in India. He suggested those who feel oppressed wake up to how 80% of the world lives. His family came to the United States to escape the caste system, where people, “NEVER have the opportunity to better themselves socially or economically.” He said people are not flocking to America “because they see systemic oppression.” He said defunding the police to reduce crime makes as much sense as reducing the number of classroom teachers to increase educational outcomes. If equity and inclusion are the goals, allocation of limited resources would be better informed by, instead of being pressured by a “vocal minority,” putting the question of defunding to a referendum. “If you want a fiscally responsible individual who can help with figuring out ways to fund the city’s finances, with the programs and investments in the community, through business experience, I fit that category,” he said.

ZaKiya Bell-Rogers is a social worker currently employed by Helpmate. Her resume depicts a life of civic engagement and compassionate intervention. She related a story from 20 years ago about being “a victim of a malicious 911 call by a white female,” in which false claims resulted in police knocking her to the floor with a gun in her face. “Every cell, muscle and organ in my body felt the shock of years of police brutality against people of color. It took me years to emotionally process this traumatic afternoon…. But this is only one story in the world of millions,” she related. If appointed, she would like the city to provide wraparound services to help people stay in housing, including financial literacy education, low rents, and living wages.

Sandra Kilgore is a real estate broker of her own company, having been in the business in Asheville and Florida since 1986. “Health and public safety are the most pressing problem[s] council needs to address,” she said, suggesting, perhaps, that municipalities are better situated to administer health and human services programs than the county. She didn’t concur that the police department had to be defunded 50%; rather, she supported the more pragmatic approach of defining the situation and assessing strategies before allocating resources. She is disappointed her hometown has not evolved more toward living equitably and inclusively in recent decades.

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