“Manheimer Steamroller” is working just fine.
Oh, and there’s also been a mayoral election campaign going on. But it’s been a remarkably quiet one because the outcome has been a foregone conclusion for months or at least based on the silence of the Mayor and the lack of any community debates: On November 7, Esther Elizabeth Manheimer will become mayor of Asheville for another four years.
True, she will have first faced two opponents in a primary and the surviving one in the general election, but those are formalities. The mayor will gain her second term with hardly a hair out of place, having had to exert very little effort. Not even to defend the blotchy record she’s running – or coasting – on.
“I was shocked to hear what these bids came in at,” Manheimer said. Then, since the overrun had produced a massive scaling back of RADTIP, she added gamely,“These projects [the eliminated ones] have not dropped off the list, they are now further down the list – but they’re without specific funding designations and that’s not always a good thing.”
On paper Asheville’s mayoral race, like its council elections, is nonpartisan. Nevertheless it usually follows that at least both major parties will present candidates; or, put another way, that some political entity will undertake to make a showing against the progressive Democrat machine that has dominated city politics for nearly two decades. This has certainly been true in the individual councilor races, where, despite the election’s nominal nonpartisanship, several candidates declared themselves Socialists and sought the endorsement of the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America; and one candidate was officially endorsed by the Green Party. But the local GOP has been AWOL across the electoral board this year and no Republican-backed candidates have emerged.
So it was thought for awhile that Manheimer might actually run unopposed. In June Jonathon Glover, a civic heavyweight who seemed he might offer a serious challenge, entered the race but dropped out shortly afterwards citing a lack of financial support. This has left the mayor facing unsuccessful former council candidate Jonathan Wainscott, who had announced earlier, and Martin Ramsey, who forced the holding of a primary with his eleventh-hour entry, just as he did in 2013.
Wainscott ran for city council in 2013 as a sort of anti-New Belgium populist and became a neighborhood spokesperson for those adversely affected by the brewery’s construction, but he dropped off the political radar until this season. The same went for Ramsey, a passionate self-declared Socialist who has repeatedly called for candidates to debate city issues publicly and in depth.
There has been, in fact, virtually no public exchange of views by the mayoral candidates. Hatch, the Asheville business startup organization, held a city candidates’ forum in September and Manheimer attended, but observers said candidates were given a minute to state their cases, plus three minutes to take questions. There was a meet-and-greet event at Deerfield Retirement Community where the three-minute limit was also imposed. The Asheville-Buncombe League of Women Voters had scheduled a candidates’ forum, but abruptly cancelled it. So much for debate.
Such a situation, of course, favors the incumbent. The conventional wisdom is, keep your head down, say as little as possible as positively as possible, and let nature take its course. Mayor Manheimer has stuck to the playbook, which is obviously working for her. To date she has reported just under $8,600 in campaign contributions – a third of what she raised as a challenger – and has money in the bank with a month to go. Ramsey shows no contributions at all in Board of Elections reports; only his filing paperwork. Nothing at all shows for Wainscott.