At the last meeting of Asheville City Council, Mayor Esther Manheimer read resolutions sending off Councilors Brian Haynes, Julie Mayfield, and Keith Young. The resolutions, among other things, expressed appreciation for each’s commitment to affordable and safe housing, “powerful influence for good,” “special way in dealing with complex issues,” and “deep and genuine love for the city and surrounding area.” All had served for five years, thanks to litigation over district elections. The mayor will welcome Councilor-Elects Sandra Kilgore, Sage Turner, and Kim Roney aboard at council’s next regular meeting.
In keeping with his custom of reading written statements, Haynes, in his farewell, commended the city for its progress in equity and inclusion, demonstrated by its support for its first-ever all-woman council with a woman city manager. He then encouraged the new council to break with council conventions and create policy more attentive to the needs of poor residents than well-off hoteliers and multinational corporations. While Haynes’ practice of reading prepared remarks often gave the impression that somebody else was doing his homework, Mayfield went so far as to have somebody else, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, read hers.
Mayfield’s farewell included a list of accomplishments that included creating the Energy Innovation Task Force, which prevented the construction of a peaker plant at Lake Julian, created the Blue Horizon project, and has set council on its way to powering 100% of municipal operations with renewables by 2042; persuading the Department of Transportation to make I-26 improvements more aesthetic and less automobile-centric; almost doubling funding for transit for projects that serve choice riders as well as those who need it; floating $25 million in bonds for affordable housing, with proceeds to go toward the creation of a community land trust, a down payment assistance program, and the purchase of properties for the creation of affordable housing; modifying land-use ordinances to promote density, open space, big box adaptive reuse, and tree canopy restoration; funding greenways; arresting hotel proliferation; resisting redistricting by the state legislature; and responding to the crises of 2020 with, among other things, small business relief packages and a commitment to pay reparations for slavery. Mayfield is moving up to represent District 49 in the state senate, after defeating Bob Penland 79,639 to 47,341.
Young said he hadn’t prepared any remarks, and that he wouldn’t “bloviate” about things that had already been said. Instead, he emotionally stated, “I want to take a moment to speak about something that I never really speak about. It’s about who I am, and I am who I am not because I say I am, but because my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says I am. I think that’s been a big part of what led my work on city council, to be a voice, to be an advocate for all kinds of people. Because we are only the sum of our life’s experiences…We don’t get to choose whether we’re born black or white, rich or poor; our experiences shape and mold us into who we are and why we act the way we act, why we live the way we live, and what motivates us in this world.
“This place, these people, this office–it doesn’t define who any of us are, or who I am, but it will, without a doubt, be a part of the collective sum of my life’s experiences. And I was so happy to have been a part of this. And I say that because, in my private conversations with people, you know that I was a glitch in the matrix. I wasn’t supposed to be here. Throughout my life, I’ve been able to land in places I never was supposed to be, where people told me I could never go. I want to say for anybody who’s out there, who has anyone in their life tell them you can’t do something, you won’t amount to anything, or that life is just hard–we’re definitely the sum of our life’s experiences, and you use that to your advantage. You use that as fuel to the fire, and you do all that you can to help as many people as you can on the highest level that you can, and you ignore anything that comes your way. Because if we can’t help people, then why are we here?
“I would leave this message for the next council: That anyone who wants to serve society, not just as an elected official, but to serve your fellowman, you have to always ask yourself, and be genuine, and ask why are you here, who are you fighting for, and do you really mean it. And I can, without a shadow of a doubt, say I was here for the poor, I was here for the folks who were ignored, I was here for the minority, I was here for the Black community, I was here for someone struggling with homelessness, and I really meant it. And I hope that the next council can say the same thing.
“I appreciate all my interactions with everybody and thank you for being a part of that sum of my life’s experiences that will one day, undoubtedly, define who I am when I’m no longer here.” Then, making a namaste motion with his hands, he added, “I appreciate everybody. Thank you.”
Young then popped out of Zoom to collect himself as those remaining online continued to shed tears over farewells to friends.