Opinion

Historical All-Women Council Bring Wealth of Accomplishment

Asheville's newly elected city council.

Asheville – The City of Asheville is celebrating the election of a diverse, new city council that looks like the people it serves. At least, that’s what a news release from the city says. With the election of Sandra Kilgore, Kim Roney, and Sage Turner – who are joining incumbents Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, Antanette Mosley, and Sheneika Smith – Asheville is now an “historic all-woman city council,” and “an all-first in the State of North Carolina.” Three of the women are also people of color.

The release observes that the city manager is a Black woman and the United States also elected its, “first female vice president [who is] also a biracial woman of color.” It adds, the nation “elected or re-elected a record number of 26 Black women to Congress,” all of whom, incidentally, were Democrats. Barring changes in contested elections, a total of 141 women and 51 women of color will be sworn in to Congress this year.

But who looketh on the outward appearance? One of the world’s most celebrated quotes, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaims, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” And, as for gender equality, Buncombe County’s recent history is marked with the sentencing on corruption and conspiracy charges of two woman county managers and a woman county commissioner.

One could complain that no Japanese or Mexican women will be on city council, or that Asheville is 79.3% white. Women, in fact, are a majority, representing 52.9% of the population. But what is the LGTBQ community to make of that? And what about being represented by “people who look like me”? All city councilors are fairly attractive and well-kempt, so what are the ugly to do?

The press release continues, “‘It matters that there’s an all-female Council because it represents a glass ceiling that’s being shattered,’ said Leisha DeHart-Davis, professor at the N.C. School of Government. If the circular logic doesn’t work, the release explains, “Research shows that women tend to work more collaboratively.”

Harking back to an era when consent agenda items were frequently pulled for debate, would the, “inclusion, personal connection, and relationship-based decision making,” celebrated as the domain of women be enhanced at all by the fact that they are all Democrats? Would it make a difference if all seven were politically demand-side oriented? Wouldn’t a fair representation of demand-side and supply-side provide a better tension for working through hot-button issues and moving forward as a community, together? Both political parties want what’s good for people, but do the policies they advocate give everybody a fair shake, or do they help “us” at the expense of “them”?

Can these ladies govern and not be pushed around by lobbyists? Do they know how to say no, or will they, as recent members of council appear to have done, merely read scripts handed them by activists. 

Can they do math? Or are they living in a fantasy “build it and they will come” world where so many recent councilors have taken up residence? Are they shallow enough to buy the dream and hand the city’s children and grandchildren the tab for principal and interest? Will they, as past councils, prioritize aesthetics over the freedom of working poor families to be able to provide for their own families? And will they continue to steal the golden eggs as the poor toil over the goose of tourism.

Will they learn the law and respect it? Not long ago, a city councilor told staff he didn’t care what the law said. Then, there are laws of economics. Like past councils, will the newbies spurn warnings from schools of thought that teach regulation that doesn’t protect public safety – while garnering revenue for government – harms small business? Fortunately, all those now serving on council are success stories. None of them are homeless or living in squalor; and thus each has shown they have something that matters, and that is experience and insight for negotiating and succeeding in this world.

And so, it seems a terrible slap in the face to these ladies that they are being judged on their innate physical traits instead of their wealth of accomplishment. For example, Manheimer has been practicing law for almost two decades in addition to being a leader in the local Jewish community and chairing the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition. Wisler was CEO of the lantern company Coleman when it was doing $800 million a year in business. She also served as president of First Alert, Powermate, and Eastpak and runs her own consulting company for nonprofits.

After working for some high-profile clientele in Atlanta, Mosley returned to Asheville to serve in a directorship for Mountain Housing Opportunities; and Smith is the founder of the social organization Date My City. Kilgore learned the value of real hard work at an early age and eventually formed her own real estate company. Roney is a piano teacher and radio producer with an immense level of involvement in city government. And Sage Turner is the finance and project manager for the French Broad Food Co-op. Last but not least, enough cannot be said about how City Manager Debra Campbell, at the helm in a city targeted for mayhem, has managed to keep an even keel throughout 2020.

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