In a historic move, Buncombe County Democratic Party met to name a popular retired banker and long-time community activist to the Buncombe County Commission.
Al Whitesides will be the first African American commissioner in the county’s history, chosen to serve the final two years of the term of Brownie Newman, who was elected commission Chairman on Nov. 8. Because Newman is a Democrat, his party had the right to fill the seat for the remainder of his term.
Whitesides was one of four African American candidates for the District 1 seat. The others were Jacquelyn Hallum, MAHEC’s Director of Health Careers and Diversity Education and former chair of the Asheville City School Board; Terry Bellamy, a two-term mayor of Asheville who now works for the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville; and Keith Young, who was elected to his first term on Asheville City Council a year ago, in November 2015. All are natives of Asheville who expressed a commitment to serving their hometown and county.
Whitesides began his community activism early in life when, as a student at Stephens-Lee High School, he cofounded A-SCORE (Asheville Student Commission on Racial Equality). Beginning in 1960, the local civil rights organization was instrumental in peacefully desegregating Asheville’s lunch counters, libraries, swimming pools, and parks. [See: theurbannews.com/generation-now/2012/ascore-members-inspire-leadership-in-todays-youth]
He served in the U.S. Navy and earned his undergraduate degree from NC Central University, where he was elected president of the student government association and as a member of the board. His career in banking spanned more than 35 years, during which time he was active on many community boards and committees and used his access to the financial community to help aspiring businesspeople and homeowners. Currently he serves as a board member of the ARC, and the UNC Asheville Bulldog Athletic Association (BAA), serving as president of both the BAA and the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees, and as chairman of the Asheville City School Board.
Whitesides promised that, with forty years of experience in finance, “I know what budgets are, I know how to make them transparent so anyone (the public) can understand them.”
Each candidate was nominated by fellow Democratic Party party delegate. In the most moving moments of the evening, longtime Precinct 1 Chairman William Young nominated his son, Keith Young for the seat. Afterwards, the younger man spoke with heartfelt appreciation for his father as a man, a mentor, and a devoted Democrat. Explaining that his father is facing serious health issues, Keith Young noted, “I never had the opportunity to say thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me.”
Hallum spoke eloquently of her service as an educator who has reached more than 16,000 area students in her work at MAHEC, helping lead many into health careers and an awareness of the need for quality education and quality, affordable healthcare. She is currently on the Board of Trustees of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and has served on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast Committee for more than 30 years.
Bellamy gave what was perhaps the most unexpected remarks of the evening. She noted that, “I understand what it’s like to grapple with issues and stand and face the fire of the people.” She now recognizes, she said, that while it’s essential to “understand your own core values” it’s equally important “to hear and listen to whoever else is at the table.”
The voting process was somewhat arcane, with each precinct chair and vice-chair having an equal number of votes for that precinct. That precinct’s total votes reflects its voting history: each precinct gets one vote for every hundred votes cast in that precinct for the Democratic candidate for governor in the previous (2012) statewide election. On each ballot, the candidate with the fewest votes was eliminated.
Upon the announcement of the results of the final ballot, Hallum moved that the election be made unanimous by acclamation; her motion was seconded by Keith Young, and approved by voice vote. Whitesides was announced the winner by incoming Commission Chair Brownie Newman.
Whitesides was sworn in as Buncombe County Commissioner for District 1 at the December 6 meeting by Judge J. Calvin Hill, Chief District Court Judge for the 28th Judicial District, serving Buncombe County, North Carolina.