Esther Manheimer on Gerrymandering in Asheville

From the Citizen-Times

Asheville gerrymandering focus of new HBO/'Vice' segment, other national media. 

HBO's documentary series "Vice" will run a segment Friday featuring Asheville and the effects of state gerrymandering, the latest in a flurry of national attention on Western North Carolina and the calculated political lines running through it.

In Friday's episode "Divide & Conquer," Mayor Esther Manheimer is interviewed by "Vice" correspondent Gianna Toboni and talks about how Asheville, once completely in the 11th Congressional District was split into two conservative districts. The segment runs 7:30 p.m.and 11 p.m.

When Asheville was in one district with the rest of WNC, it was represented by Heath Shuler, a House Democrat who took conservative stances on some issues, particularly the budget.

Manheimer calls Shuler "an excellent balance of what you get when you add Asheville to the rest of Western North Carolina," a liberal city in the middle of a more conservative region.

But after Republicans won the majority in the General Assembly in 2010 they redrew congressional lines to split the city into the 10th and 11th districts. 

"Asheville was dramatically affected," the mayor said. "They (the voters) feel that their voice has been eradicated by gerrymandering."

The producers of "Vice" include Bill Maher, the left-leaning comedian and television show host of "Real Time with Bill Maher," and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria.

Asheville was also the focus of a Thursday NBC News article on how parties use redistricting to gain advantages in elections. The piece was called, "They’re Still Drawing Crazy-Looking Districts. Can’t It Be Stopped?"

In November Western North Carolina provided some of the storyline for a documentary by actor and comedian Zach Galafianakas about gerrymandering in the state.

Manheimer has stumped for state-level redistricting reform, calling for a nonpartisan committee to draw the maps that the General Assembly would have to vote up or down.

Her opponents in the Oct. 10 primary Martin Ramsey and Jonathan Wainscott are similarly opposed to how state legislators drew the lines, though Ramsey, a socialist, said a harder more confrontational line needs to be taken with the General Assembly which he said has "virtually guaranteed" it will stay in power through gerrymandering.

"We are almost in a soft authoritarianism," he said. "There could be a six percent stwing and we could still be locked out. The center and the left could still be locked out."

Wainscott, an East West Asheville activist and frequent critic of city government, used the discussion to take shots at both the state and city leaders.

While state gerrymandering should end, the city too needed to take steps to make sure there was more geographic representation, he said.

That could be fixed by changing the City Council voting system from at-large to one with districts, he said.

"Without voting districts in Asheville, we have had a disproportionate number of council members and mayors that live in North Asheville, with little representation on council coming from South Asheville."

Mayor Esther Manheimer files for re-election

For immediate release:

Asheville -- Mayor Esther Manheimer filed for re-election at the Board of Elections just after noon today.

“It has been and continues to be my great pleasure, honor and responsibility to serve the people of Asheville as your Mayor,” Manheimer said. “I am inspired to give more, fight more, and achieve more for all of our neighbors in this vibrant city that we all call home.”

Voters elected Manheimer to the Asheville City Council in 2009 and then elected her as Mayor of Asheville in 2013. Mayor Manheimer led the successful initiative for infrastructure bonds and the successful defense of our water system against an attempted takeover by the state. Manheimer also supported the move for just compensation for 1,200 city employees and has promoted equity for our LGBT, minority and immigrant communities. 

“My emphasis is on bringing people together to achieve meaningful progress,” Manheimer said. “Reinvesting in our city, protecting our water supply, expanding equity—these were and continue to be community goals, and our successes are shared accomplishments.” 

“In Asheville we have much to celebrate and be grateful for, and yet we continue to have real challenges. We are navigating the pressures of growth, and we are dismantling systemic inequity, and we are fending off the often-destructive whims of legislators in Raleigh—just to name a few,” Manheimer said. “These issues and more are on my mind every day. I believe that we can and we will make Asheville an even better city for all its residents, and I intend to lead us to that future.”

Mayor Manheimer graduated from Asheville High School. She earned Law and Public Administration degrees from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  Mayor Manheimer worked for Meals on Wheels of Buncombe County and worked as a legislative attorney for the General Assembly. She is a partner in the Van Winkle Law Firm and specializes in land and commercial litigation. Mayor Manheimer has volunteered with Pisgah Legal Services and earned the 2012 Most Valuable Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer award for providing the most hours of free legal representation to low-income people in need. She is president of the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayor’s Coalition. Mayor Manheimer and her husband Mark Harris, a social studies teacher and wrestling coach at Enka High School, have three boys who are all lifelong students in Asheville City Schools and are active in youth sports.

The nonpartisan municipal election is this fall. The filing period opened at noon today and closes at noon on July 21st.

Asheville Mayor Says 'There is a Legal Strategy' on Districts Bill

BPR's Jeremy Loeb speaks with Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer about the recently passed Asheville districts bill.

Speaking to BPR a day after the legislature passed a bill forcing districts for Asheville city council members, mayor Esther Manheimer said there is a legal strategy in place to deal with them.  Manheimer said the issue would need to be discussed at the next council meeting on July 25th.

She says one of the troubling aspects about the law is that it requires them to draw districts by November 1, before their planned referendum for the voters on November 7th.  

Manheimer said that if the city is forced to draw districts, she is in favor of using an independent commission.  To her knowledge, that hasn't been done in North Carolina, and so she called that prospect exciting.  But Manheimer believes the voters of Asheville deserve to have their referendum, and took issue with sponsors alleging the city was "slow walking" the idea.  "I'm not sure how you could argue we're slow walking this.  I mean the fastest you could do this is the November election, so we're doing it as quickly as possible."

You can hear the full conversation at the audio link above.  

Listen to Ursula Jorch, Chief Alchemist, interview Esther for her podcast Work Alchemy: The Impact Interviews.

"Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer effectively balances being mayor of a mid-size city, a lawyer, and mother of 3 boys. An honored attorney and politician, Esther has focused her attention on greater equity for all residents, specifically in the area of public housing."

Episode 83: Esther Manheimer

Mayor Manheimer, citizens call on NC lawmakers to end gerrymandering

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The call to end gerrymandering was heard loud and clear around downtown Asheville Thursday afternoon. 

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer joined a group of citizens and Common Cause to announce support for North Carolina House Bill 200, which aims to make redistricting non-partisan. 

"Gerrymandering is a short-sighted, short-term gain, with long-term losses for all, and it must end now," Manheimer announced to the crowd.

The bill, which was introduced by for Republican representatives, has yet to be heard despite bipartisan support among its 39 sponsors.

"For some reason we won't even get a Committee hearing. Kind of the bare minimum of a bill like this you would expect to receive with such broad support from both parties," said Common Cause Director of Outreach Brent Laurenz. Common Cause is a non-profit, non partisan organization that seeks to make elections more open and encourage voter participation.

Asheville is currently split into two congressional districts. The 10th, which encompasses downtown but extends to suburbs of Charlotte. And the 11th, which essentially encompasses the rest of Western North Carolina.

"We're really kind of ground zero in terms of what you can see is the impact of gerrymandering," Mayor Manheim said.

But some local GOP members believe the bill would derail another effort that's currently proposing to split Asheville's city council into districts.

"I didn't hear anything about common cause until the Republicans got in power, then we were approached all the time about this bipartisan effort," said Buncombe County GOP Chair Carl Mumpower. "Now if they're concerned, how come they're not doing something in Asheville where we've had a 7-0 control by the left for the last eight years and a 5-2 control the whole part of this century."

Asheville's city council seats are currently elected at large.

Brent Laurenz told News 13, "We’ve been working on this issue since about 2005, when the other party was in charge obviously. Did not get much traction in that decade. We’ve actually gotten more traction in this decade."

Common Core is urging those who support House Bill 200 to contact their local representative or House Speaker Tim Moore.



Asheville Mayor on HB2 Repeal, New Districts Bill

In an interview with WCQS's Jeremy Loeb, Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer discusses legislative efforts to repeal House Bill, as well as a bill that could soon be filed that would split Asheville into districts for the purpose of electing city council members.

Mayor: Asheville bomb threat a 'hate crime'

ASHEVILLE - A bomb threat called in to the Jewish Community Center on Charlotte Street was a hate crime, Mayor Esther Manheimer said Tuesday.

That's something police have not said yet, but is something officers are looking into, a police spokeswoman said Monday.

Manheimer, who noted at Tuesday's council meeting that she is Jewish, made the remarks just before the City Council unanimously passed a resolution denouncing threats to people of Jewish faith. The resolution was not on the council's printed agenda and was added after a Monday morning incident in which a caller told a center receptionist there was a bomb at the center, according to the director of the facility often called just the "JCC." The threat was one in a wave of similar incidents across the country.

"We quickly wanted to put together a statement regarding this hate crime, in my mind," the mayor said.

Jewish sites reported 31 threats Monday; more than 100 in '17

No bomb was found at the center. The Asheville JCC has children's education programs including for infants but they weren't in session Monday because of a teacher workday.

A report of the incident was passed on to the FBI, police said Monday. Police spokeswoman Christina Hallingse said officers will have to investigate further to determine whether the incident was a hate crime or act of terrorism.

Hallingse didn't respond immediately Wednesday morning to an email asking if there had been any determination yet.

In the resolution, which the mayor read aloud, the council said "these incidents are part of several waves of threats and vandalism against centers of Jewish faith that have occurred over the past few months."

On Feb. 27 there were 31 incidents of bomb threats called in to 23 Jewish community centers and eight Jewish day schools in 16 states and Calgary, Canada, according to the JCC Association of North America, the resolution said.

"We take great pride in being a welcoming and diverse community where all citizens can live and work without fear of physical violence, threats or intimidation," the resolution said.

Afterward, Manheimer added that she thought the council "has been quick to step up whenever we’ve seen acts of hatred targeting anyone and we want to show our support this time for the Jewish community in particular."

In December the council passed a broad resolution against "discrimination and intimidation."

The mayor said local Jewish community groups had hosted the Anti-Defamation League to talk about ways to deal with the threats.

On the national stage, President Donald Trump first questioned the authenticity of the bomb threats in a private Tuesday meeting with attorney generals, but then opened his Tuesday night State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress by condemning the flood of anti-Semitic attacks and other racially motivated crimes.

Along with centers and schools, desecration of Jewish cemeteries have also been reported.

"Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries," Trump said, "remind us that, while we are a country that disagrees on policy, we stand united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms."

McGrady, Manheimer at odds over HB2 repeal

ASHEVILLE - Western North Carolina lawmakers quarreled on social media Tuesday over support of a bill poised to repeal HB2.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, took to Twitter and Facebook to say he had garnered the support of several individuals and organizations, including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, for House Bill 186, known to many as the "compromise bill." The legislation keeps in place some limits on the ability of local governments to pass nondiscrimination ordinances.

The bill, of which McGrady is a sponsor, has the support of some Democrats but has been shunned by many LGBT and civil rights organizations.

McGrady said Manheimer and groups including the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce "asked explicitly to be mentioned for their support of the bill."

Manheimer, however, said she never lent her name to the cause.

"I am opposed to HB186 in its current form," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I would encourage the two sides to keep talking."

Manheimer, who is running for re-election, said she is focused on how the bill impacts cities and doesn't favor the way it limits their authority to pass nondiscrimination ordinances.

"This referendum position is specifically aimed at a very small number of people being able to take away the civil rights of another group of people, and that's wrong," she said.

The mayor issued a statement last week offering no official position on the bill, other than to say that it was a "good first step."

“Obviously a full repeal would be preferred, just a simple full repeal, but it doesn’t appear that is in the cards at this point," Manheimer said Tuesday. "There are a million different ways to do this, and we haven’t seen anything that works yet.”

In her statement posted Feb. 23 on the city of Asheville's blog, the mayor said she appreciated the efforts of McGrady and his colleagues "to identify a bipartisan solution that will bring back our conventions, sporting events and further our job recruitment efforts."

She replied to McGrady on Twitter with a link to her statement. She told the representative, "I don't support the bill as is, but I support continued discussions."

McGrady gave a puzzling reply on the social media site. "Lol. I think what you say is true for one or more of the primary cosponsors."

Later in a text message he sent to the Citizen-Times during a meeting of House Republicans, McGrady said he had discussed the bill with Manheimer.

"Nothing Mayor Manheimer said is new. I've talked to her. I know she says H186 has helped provide a basis for negotiations, but she can't support the bill as is," he wrote. "Okay, then H186 is a step forward. Before the bill was filed, there was no bipartisan way forward. Now there is."

Asked how Manheimer's name made it on his list, the representative replied, "Talk to her."

"I suspect she's gotten a lot of pressure to move off of her position," he said. "It is the same sort of pressure that the governor is putting on the Democratic cosponsors of the bill."

Staff in McGrady's office said Rep. John R. Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, prepared the list of names and partner organizations released in the statement.

Anita Spence, legislative assistant for Bradford, said she was looking into how Manheimer's name made the cut.

The representative was asked to compile a list submitted by others, Spence said.

Mayor removed from list of supporters of McGrady's HB2 bill

ASHEVILLE – A company handling social media accounts for state Rep. Chuck McGrady said Wednesday it mistakenly included Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer as supporting his legislation to repeal HB2.

McGrady and the mayor engaged in debate online earlier this week over whether she supported House Bill 186, sponsored by the Henderson County Republican and known to supporters as the "compromise bill."

House Bill 2 requires that transgender people use restrooms in public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The law also blocked state anti-discrimination protections from covering sexual orientation and gender identity.

McGrady’s legislation would repeal HB2 but would retain some limits on whether local governments could pass their own nondiscrimination ordinances.

Under the latest proposal, lawmakers would still control policy decisions over the use of multi-stall bathrooms in public buildings. The measure also would increase penalties for certain crimes that occur in public restrooms or locker rooms.

It also says cities could require referenda on local ordinances that expand anti-discrimination protections.

The bill has the support of some Democrats but has been shunned by many LGBT and civil rights organizations.

McGrady's Facebook and Twitter accounts named Manheimer and other groups including the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce as having "asked explicitly to be mentioned for their support of the bill."

Manheimer's name was removed after she took to Twitter to say she didn’t support the bill but wanted to continue discussions that could lead to a compromise.

"I take full responsibility for including Mayor Manheimer on the list of HB186 supporters that appeared from his (McGrady’s) Twitter account, constituent services website, and Facebook page," said a representative of InTouch NC who would not provide a name in an email to the Citizen-Times.

"Things were obviously moving very fast yesterday, and in an effort to provide Rep. McGrady's constituents and social media followers with the most up-to-date information regarding the status of his legislation, I mistakenly included the mayor on the list of people and organizations that supported his bipartisan compromise bill repealing HB2."

McGrady said Wednesday other people post to his social media accounts and he was aware of Manheimer's stance.

"I’m sorry if someone made a mistake, but it wasn’t me," he said.

The InTouch NC email was sent after he asked for an explanation, McGrady said.

"There was no conflict between the mayor and I," he said.

InTouch NC is a affiliated with Moffitt International. The executive recruitment firm was started by former Republican state representative Tim Moffitt.

Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the business lobby group was happy to be mentioned in McGrady’s Twitter and Facebook accounts as supporting a bipartisan approach to ending HB2.

"Were we expressly asked about a statement? No. But given the tweets, Facebook posts and calls we made, the support may have been implied," she said.

Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce (Photo: Citizen-Times)

Cramer declined to say whether the chamber was in support of HB186 in its current form.

"We support the spirit of the bill, which we see as ending HB2 in a bipartisan way, now," she said.

Asheville Mayor issues statement about introduction of bill to repeal HB2

Yesterday Representative Chuck McGrady, along with Representatives Marvin Lucas, Ken Goodman and Ted Davis, filed House Bill 186 titled Repeal HB2/State Nondiscrimination Policies. I appreciate Representative McGrady’s and his colleagues’ continued efforts to identify a bipartisan solution that will bring back our conventions, sporting events and further our job recruitment efforts.  This bill is a good first step.