Home Is Where the Votes Are
Asheville city councilman with residence issues plans to run Against 12th District incumbent…with residence issues.
Ordinarily, Asheville City Councilman Keith Young’s announcement that he intends to run for Congress would have done no more than raise a few eyebrows over his confidence and ambition; the city council gig is, after all, his first elected office. Instead, Young’s declaration is creating a fair amount of buzz for several reasons.
One, Asheville is 130 miles from Charlotte and in the 11th District. Two, Young has, for several months, been trying to fend off charges that records show his residence is not in Asheville and he is therefore sitting on Council illegally. Three, as a sidebar, he’ll be running against a powerful incumbent who has recently been contending with the same set of where-do-you-really-live issues.
The contest has all the makings of a political perfect storm, thanks to an electoral anomaly and the present configuration of the 12th District. The 12th was once a crinkly, gerrymandered, hundred-mile ribbon of constituency that ran from greater Charlotte northeast along I-85 to a point above Greensboro; it has now shrunk and consolidated to comprise greater Charlotte, which is to say most of Mecklenburg County.
The anomaly is a loophole in the state constitution that allows a candidate to run for U.S. Congress from any district in North Carolina, regardless of whether whether he or she actually resides there. Not surprisingly, there is what Wikipedia calls “a strong convention” among the voting public that candidates should be local – for real, not just on paper. This could make things sticky not only for Young but for his incumbent opponent, political queenpin Alma Adams.
Do You Still Reside Where You Resode?
Young, who spent the least money but came in first in a field of seven city council candidates in 2015, found himself in Dutch when it was later discovered he had told the Buncombe County Board of Elections he lived in his parents’ house in Asheville, but told his bank he lived at the property in Arden to which the bank holds the mortgage. The Board of Elections voted unanimously to take no action, but the well-documented discrepancy has become an albatross around Young’s neck in Asheville, where he will be up for re-election in 2019.
As for Adams, she is a native of Guilford County, which has been her power base since she began her political career as a Greensboro city councilor in 1987. She served in the state legislature from 1994 until 2014, when she won a special election held to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Congressman Mel Watt. She was elected in her own right in 2016, but not without a spot of residential bother that analysts have said she could have avoided altogether if she’d handled it differently.
That was the year of the 12th District’s court-ordered redistricting. Though technically this did not affect Adams’ eligibility, it now meant she lived 90 miles from her constituency. Accordingly, she announced she would be moving to Charlotte. Wikipedia tells the rest of the story this way:
She claims a home in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward neighborhood owned by Dr. Mary Gaffney, one of her prominent supporters, as her official residence in the district. Both Gaffney and Adams maintain active voter registrations at that address. However, on May 31, WBTV in Charlotte reported that Adams filed campaign finance documents listing her longtime home in Greensboro as her residence, and also spends most weekends in her Greensboro home. The WBTV report also revealed that Adams had scrubbed all references to her service as a local official in Greensboro from her campaign website, though her biography on her campaign’s Facebook page still contains references to that service. When a WBTV reporter approached Adams at her home in Greensboro, she backed out of her driveway and drove away and was later found hiding out in her car near the entrance to her neighborhood. When the reporter attempted to confront her, she drove away a second time.
Where The Power Is
Temporary awkwardness notwithstanding, Adams, aided by her support from Greensboro, handily defeated a fragmented field of Charlotteans. This time around she’ll be facing a similar situation, contending against Republicans Paul Bonham and Paul Wright, as well as Democrats Gabe Ortiz, Patrick Register…and Young.
BOE records show Adams currently holding a war chest of more than $156,000. As of March 1, Young had raised $65, including $5.00 from his campaign manager, David Roat, and $50 from former fellow council member and perennial gadfly Cecil Bothwell.
Young’s campaign platform has so far been likewise lacking in substance. He made a kickoff assertion that he will provide a “stronger voice of opposition” to the “bullies in the White House” and a statement that he “believes this district represents not only those that live in the 12th but the rest of North Carolina’s citizens who have been gerrymandered out of true representation.” Otherwise, he has outlined no goals or program.
He may have his work cut out for him back home, if social media affords any insight. On the popular, left-leaning Facebook group “Asheville Politics,” he was pilloried with the kind of savagery that page usually reserves for Conservatives.
“Please by all means take the lightweight self-serving vapid puffery somewhere else,” progressive politico Matt Christie wrote. “Asheville deserves an actual fighter who wants to stay and fight.”
And Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger intoned, “I’m sorry but you can’t tell the voters of Asheville that you live in Asheville, then tell the mortgage company that you live in Arden, and then voters of Charlotte that you live in Charlotte.”
Reisinger’s comment may have stung, coming as it did from another Democrat and fellow county civil servant. Young’s day job is Deputy Clerk of Buncombe Superior Court.
Madness or Method?
Some observers are saying Young’s congressional bid is so quixotic that it must part of a larger strategy on his or somebody’s part. “This can’t possibly be a stand-alone move,” one said. “Nobody with any sense would try that; surely it’s a move to get something else accomplished.”
The problem with that reasoning, others say, is that Young could end up closing the door on his own 2019 rebid for City Council, thus proving that wherever the BOE decides you live, you can’t go home again.