Monday, March 20, 2017

Asheville Political Theatre

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The AU guide to who’s playing what part on City Council this election year
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts … “
--  Shakespeare, As You Like It
A governing body is like the cast of characters in a play.  Well, actually it’s more like a repertory company where the same group of people takes on different roles as new scenarios are presented.  

Nowhere is that more evident than right here in Asheville.   Just when you think you’ve got the cast straight in your mind, along comes election year with a whole new script, and all the parts get shuffled, or new ones get invented.

So as a public service AU presents herewith a rundown of who’s playing what role on city council as we approach this year's elections:

Mayor Esther Manheimer (Head of State, now Nanny-in-Chief) is seeking her second term in November.  By day Manheimer is a mild-mannered land use attorney for a great metropolitan law firm (Van Winkle, which acts as both a receiver and a supplier of city personnel), but by evening, at least on alternate Tuesdays, she presides over Asheville City Council.
In an oddly snippy editorial cartoon, Asheville’s frothingly liberal Mountain Xpress depicted Manheimer as a ship’s figurehead.  But in recent months the mayor has showcased her leadership capabilities.  Why, the week following the national election she issued a resounding anti-hate speech statement.  And just last week, she slapped the wrist of City Councilman Cecil Bothwell when he disparaged, in colorful language, one of the city’s myriad civilian commissions.  So there.

The mayor energetically stumped for Asheville’s $74 million bond package, but had to backpedal at one point when challenged about the amount of per capita debt Asheville citizens would carry if the bonds were passed.  Her Honor said she was fed some stale information, which led some to wonder just how tightly run the Good Ship Asheville is.

Cecil Mugshot
Councilman Cecil Bothwell (Loose Cannon, now Elder Statesman).  

Speaking of tight, City Council’s gadfly-in-residence, who is seeking a third term, weathered a DWI/no license tag rap in 2014. In fact, the grace with which he accepted his penalties was seen in some quarters as the most mature performance that Bothwell, at 66 the council’s senior member, has so far given in office.

Wikipedia says Bothwell is “an American politician, writer, artist, musician and builder.”  He was elected to Council in 2009, having quashed objections based on the North Carolina Constitution’s prohibition from allowing atheists to hold elected office.  Since then his dedication to his own progressive agenda, rather than to Council’s official party line, has endeared him to a hard core of ageing liberals and professed free thinkers who see his contrarianism as a breath of fresh air.

Fresh is right.  He told former fellow council member Marc Hunt, “You make me want to puke …  I am so totally embarrassed that I endorsed you.”  And in the same vein, just last week he  lambasted the chairman of the Haywood Street Task Force. A longtime proponent of  turning the Haywood Street “Pit of Despair”into a park,  Bothwell called the commission’s work “a pile of crap” and used other colorful terms that led to the Mayor’s disapproval (see above) and even a prim rebuke from the Asheville Citizen-Times.    

On the other hand Bothwell recently delivered himself of a sonorous, (non-profane) indictment of his fellow councilors for handing too much authority off to commissions in general.  Positioning himself as the only grownup in the room, Bothwell said, “when elected officials hand off the hard decisions to task forces and other unelected bodies, we need to be very, very aware and alert as to how those bodies are conducted.”

Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler (Uber-committeewoman, now Mayoral Handmaiden):  

Wisler, a retired corporate heavyweight (she was formerly the president of  First Alert, Powermate and Eastpak companies and retired as CEO of Coleman, the iconic outdoor equipment maker) came to Asheville in 2006 and got herself elected to council in 2013.  She was nominated by progressive kingpin Gordon Smith.

Last year Mountain Xpress, with polite candor, said: “As a financially secure retiree, Wisler is not only willing to put a lot of time into meetings, community functions and research — she is able. Her colleagues on Council, on the other hand, all balance their official responsibilities with earning a living.”  Though she’s self-employed as a not-for-profit business consultant, Wisler’s days are her own and she spends them serving on five of the city’s six standing committees, two of which she chairs.

The mayor, it’s said, has come to rely increasingly on Wisler’s initiative and financial experience; she has in fact delegated to Wisler certain routine mayoral duties, sometimes with interesting results.  When Wisler stood in for Manheimer at a Council of Independent Business Owners’ meeting last December, she told her audience the city had no definite plans for rejuvenating South Charlotte Street – although $15 million of the city’s $25 million housing bond was publicly earmarked for exactly that.

Ah, well, it’s a learning curve.

Councilman Gordon Smith:  Been here and gone.  

Smith’s announcement that he won’t be seeking a third term took some voters aback but left others saying it’s all part of a master plan  Well, it’s one theory that helps answer the question most asked about the oh-so-clever Smith’s departure, namely: “What’s he up to?”

Smith has consistently leaned the furthest left on a left-leaning city council and has been regarded as its craftiest and most powerful member.  True, he’s slipped up once or twice – as when it was discovered he’d voted to make his brother-in-law the project director of the trouble-plagued Eagle Market Street project.  Even in that case, though, he was covered.  He asked if he should recuse himself but acting city attorney Martha McGlohon told him oh no, that was fine.  (It later came out that McGlohon herself had a vested interest in the matter; the estate of her late husband, Howard McGlohon, was listed as a partner in Eagle Market Development Corporation, but nothing ever came of that revelation.)

However, on the way out, Gordon is kicking Councilman Cecil Bothwell as hard as he can. It appears there has been a contentious relationship between the two of them for quite awhile.  Gordon shared the profanity-laced email on a public Facebook group which led to Mayor Manheimer reprimanding him at last week's Council meeting.  Looks like Gordon wants Cecil out of there, too.

Anyway, to keep the far-left end of the council bench balanced, some say the plan is shoo in a malleable but highly progressive replacement – the precocious Rich Lee is often mentioned – by appointment, without having to go through a tacky old election.

Stay tuned.
* * * * *
Those are the players involved in this year’s election.  These others are still in their supporting roles, pending the next act of the play, in 2019:

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield (Green Energy Cheerleader):   Mayfield is an attorney by training and an environmentalist by inclination.  She came to Asheville from Atlanta where she practiced environmental law and served as Vice President and General Counsel for the environmental group The Georgia Conservancy.  Before running for city council she served on the Multi-Modal Transportation Commission.   

Mayfield’s day job is Co-director of Mountain True (formerly the WNC Alliance), a nonprofit environmental group that receives much of its funding from the hard-left Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.  Understandably, she has rapidly become the public face of city council’s selectively green agenda – what one wag referred to as “spend a million to save a megawatt.”

Councilman Brian Haynes (Who's that?)

Councilman Keith Young  (Minorities Advocate/Time and Space Traveler):  Young, a member of an old and prominent Black Asheville family, spent the least money but garnered the most votes of any candidate in the 2015 elections.  His win was seen by many as a shot in the arm for under-represented minority citizens and also as a possible crack in the foundation of the city’s progressive establishment.

Apparently, however, Young inhabits a sort of twilight zone between a home on Martin Luther King Drive (where he told the Board of Elections he lives) and one in Arden (where he told the bank that holds his mortgage he lives.) If he lives in Asheville he’s been less than truthful with his bank.  If he lives in Arden he can’t be on city council.  Now the BOE is going to convene a hearing to determine which is the case.  Calling Dr. Who.

* * * * *
There you have it: who’s who, at least for the moment.       
Print this out, stick it on your refrigerator, and do try to keep up.
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