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Asheville Mayoral Candidates discuss local and regional issues at Blue Ridge Public Radio and The Smoky Mountains News forum

Four out of five candidates attended the forum: Esther Manheimer, Kim Roney, Cliff Feingold and Jonathan Wainscott. Michael Hayes was unable to attend the event.
BPR News
Four out of five candidates attended the forum: Esther Manheimer, Kim Roney, Cliff Feingold and Jonathan Wainscott. Michael Hayes was unable to attend the event.

The Asheville mayoral candidates answer community questions during a live forum hosted by Blue Ridge Public Radio and The Smoky Mountain News. The candidates are Esther Manheimer, Kim Roney, Michael L. Hayes, Cliff Feingold and Jonathan Wainscott. Hayes was unable to attend the event.

Here are the candidate's opening statements. Listen above for the full event with all eight forum questions from the community.

Jonathan Wainscott

Thank you for hosting. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. My name is Jonathan Wainscott. I've been a resident of Asheville since 1998. So it's been quite a while. It's the longest I've lived anywhere. And I've been involved in the city politics since 2013 when I first ran for city council and I have been doggedly pursuing city council, coming for really the last two and a half years to talk about our at-large election system that I've been drilling down on. I think it's one of the most important things that we have going on in town. That's not talked about very. I've been talking a lot about the history of Asheville and I plan on bringing a more rigorous discussion to the campaign, to this election process. One of the things that I might just demonstrate as my style of being a mayor is to make sure that we have difficult conversations civilly and that we challenge all of the agencies in town.

And I would do so by even challenging our host this evening, Blue Ridge Public Radio, as I've noticed for several years, there's been really an abysmal staffing shortage when it comes to African Americans. I haven't seen any until very recently with a news reader. And so I'm challenging public radio to you know, deal with its diversity issues. And so I would be taking the same types of challenges to anybody that I speak with here in town and try to engage in more in-depth conversations as even though they may be uncomfortable. So I appreciate you hosting, and I don't mean to hate on you - you're in very good company with many agencies in town that have a difficulty in hiring Black people so thank you.

Kim Roney

Good evening. I'm so glad to be here with y'all today. My name is Kim Roney and I'm running for mayor. I am a small business owner, a classically trained musician, a music educator, community organizer, community radio producer, city council member, friend, and neighbor. And I've seen that so many of us are struggling to make ends meet. While overreliance on the tourism industry. Strains are natural resources, burdens our infrastructure and displaces our vulnerable neighbors. We deserve and are capable of a equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic from systemic racism, economic instability. And we are only gonna do that if we start doing the people's work in public. I'm running for mayor, not because I can fix all the challenges by myself, but because I'm committed to a process and a open meetings policy that instead of excluding people from solutions invites people to the table to bring their professional and lived experience, to work on the challenges ahead of us together. I'm committed to addressing affordability, deeply affordable housing and to addressing public safety by diversifying our public safety response, sending the right person and the right tool for the challenges at hand. Whether that's the opioid crisis, mental health issues, homelessness, intimate partner violence.

I'm in my second year on Council. After seven years in the City Hall, in the city chambers, and serving on boards and commissions, I've seen how our processes are designed to exclude, and I know that we can do better. What does it look like for us to be in a better relationship with the human family and with our planet, our natural resources. And I really appreciate your consideration for the vote for mayor early voting starts April 28th and the primary is May 17th. Thank you so much.

Cliff Feingold

Thank you for inviting us. My name is Cliff Feingold and I have lived in this community for almost seven decades. I grew up in a business family and I ran a successful dental practice for over 40 years. I know how to develop and manage a budget and I'm well schooled in sound business principles. Now to tell you the truth, I want to be a politician as much as most people want to go to the dentist, but you know, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. The trajectory we are on in Asheville is unsustainable, both financially and practically. As your mayor, I will restore a law and order. We should respect our first responders who daily lay down their lives on the line to protect us and our loved ones. Secondly, I will be sure that the city becomes good stewards of your hard-earned money.

The local government is imposed too many rules, taxes, regulations and fees, which is another word for taxes. We must scrutinize these and fix them. The third most important step in making Asheville. The best it can be is to fix our aging and crumbling infrastructure gateways to our city. One hundred year old clay water pipes in our water system, potholes in our road. These all require attention to bring us back to acceptable standards. These problems are all fixable. The city government that we have now has not fixed them. I will be a full-time mayor. People will be able to reach me everyday in the mayor's office at city hall. All the citizens of Asheville will have my ear, not just a few vocal, special interest groups. You can see my story at cliff.yourteamasheville.com. And I would greatly appreciate your vote on May 17th. Thank you.

Esther Manheimer

Thank you and thank you to BPR and to Western Carolina University for hosting this forum. My name is Esther Manheimer. I have served in office in Asheville since 2009 when I was first elected to city council. I was first elected mayor in 2013 and then reelected in 2017. I would like to thank the people of Asheville for continuing to reelect me to office so that I can serve our community and also fulfill my passion, which is serving as mayor in Asheville. A little bit about my background, just to reintroduce myself to folks. I moved with my family to Asheville in 1988. When I was in high school, I graduated from Asheville High. I went off to college when I graduated from college and when came back I was the volunteer coordinator for meals on wheels of Buncombe County.

And that's when I really began my journey learning a lot about all the corners of my community. I went to graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill and got a master's in public administration and a law degree. After that, I went to work at the North Carolina Legislature as committee council for various committees for four years after law school. I got married and returned to Asheville. I married a local. His name is Mark Harris. He is a 25 year long teacher in public schools. He teaches at Enka High School where he is a teacher and a coach. We have three boys ages, 20, 18 and almost 15. And I'm a lawyer in Asheville with the Van Winkle Law Firm. And I do that job in addition to being mayor of Asheville. And in this journey, I have cultivated a lot of strong relationships that help me best serve our community, not just in the city and the county, but across the state, having previously served as the chair of the Metro Mayors for North Carolina. And I look forward to this evening's discussion.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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