Asheville councilman changes stance on state-mandated districts

P-AVL COUNCILMAN VIJAY KAPOOR.transfer_frame_534.jpg
Photo credit: WLOS staff

An Asheville councilman has had a major change of heart over state-imposed districts for city elections.

Councilman Vijay Kapoor ran his campaign in opposition to districts drawn by state legislators, but now he said he thinks the districts are a good idea. Kapoor said he believes district elections and maps drawn by state legislators will bring Asheville a more balanced political landscape.

Kapoor stated his opinion in a 15-page document, and the cover page pretty much says it all -- "Why I changed my mind on districts."

"I've had a change of heart, and I'm very clear about that. I own it," Kapor said.

This first-term councilman from South Asheville said his reversal on districts comes from his year-and-a-half experience in city politics.

"I think having a district system would make city council members more accountable to the average resident. Also, it would allow us to better manage our workload in a better way, so we can have better constituent interactions."

The Raleigh-mandated map divides Asheville into five districts. The west and central districts are considered progressive. The north and south districts are more moderate. And East Asheville is described as more mixed.

People get to vote for one council seat in their district and one at-large seat and the at-large mayoral seat.

"I didn't get on, run for council to represent one district. I want to represent the entire city and feel like I should have to answer to the entire population," said Brian Haynes, a first-term councilman who believes a 2017 referendum that saw 75 percent of voters opposing districts justifies going to court.

"This is something they should've let us decide for ourselves, should not have imposed this on us, and I don't think we should be afraid of a lawsuit," Haynes said.

"In some ways, this is sort of business as usual," Mayor Esther Manheimer said, referring to decisions made by Raleigh for Asheville, like water, bathrooms and now how and where people vote.

"I think we need to do what we can to maintain the system that's been working for us these several years."

Senate Bill 813 passed a year ago. District elections are set to begin in 2020.