With less than a month left before the primary election for Fletcher Town Council, we interviewed candidate Preston Blakely to find out more about his campaign for one of the five seats on the council.
Like many voters, we were curious about three aspects of his candidacy: What does Fletcher need? How do you plan to address those needs? Why are you the best candidate to do so?
Fletcher has been growing quickly in the past decade. From a population of 7,187 in 2010, it has grown to an estimated 8,333 in 2017, an increase of 16%, and the population is still extremely homogenous. Whites make up 91%, blacks only 3.86%, people of Asian heritage a surprising 2.69%, and Native Americans 1.45%. It is still a small town halfway between Asheville and Hendersonville, and for decades was considered simply a wide spot in the road rather than a well-defined community with a downtown or town center. But since its incorporation as a city thirty years ago, it has developed a greater sense of self, especially as self-government (instead of governance by the Henderson County Commission) has taken hold.
Blakely, whose family moved to Fletcher from Asheville when he was four years old, considers himself a native, and considers it very important to try to improve community involvement by, for example, getting more of the community involved in that governance.
The Town Council is officially nonpartisan, but it does skew conservative. “Some of the current members have a vision that’s in the past, almost stalemated,” he says. “I bring a desire to move forward into the future, develop new ideas and new initiatives.”
“We need more residents attending town council meetings—showing up, being engaged,” he says. That, he believes, will allow the council to turn its focus more toward the future than the past, and still maintain one of the best-run communities in the state.
How will he address those needs?
“Fletcher’s a fast-growing community, and we have to make sure the infrastructure is parallel with the growth. We have to maintain roads, sidewalks, update buildings; we need a new library, and that means working with the County Commission to get that done.
“We have to bring more transparency to our government; we need to reach out to the community, both in person and using social media.
“My vision is that Fletcher is diverse, inclusive, welcoming—welcoming to small businesses, to entrepreneurship for people who want that, and for good jobs for people who aren’t entrepreneurs.”
He’s “all for entrepreneurship in general, and people being successful at whatever they choose to do. Our unemployment rate is very low, and we need to continue growing,” he says. “I’d like to see us as a community of togetherness.”
So what makes him the best candidate?
“Well, first, I understand the community. I’ve lived here since age four. And I’ve worked in government since I was in college,” mentioning the various jobs he’s had and, beneath them, his passion for public service.
“One of my strengths is that I work great with other people,” he says. “In Henderson County a lot of people don’t have the same ideas as I have, and I can articulate those ideas well so they make sense. That’s where my education and experience in local government come in.”
During his undergraduate years at UNC-Greensboro, where he earned a Bachelors in Political Studies with a concentration on the African diaspora, he interned for State Senator Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe), now a candidate for Lieutenant Governor.
He then spent part of a year working for Representative Alma Adams of North Carolina’s 12th congressional district (Charlotte), and during his final year at Western Carolina, where he earned a Masters in Public Affairs with an emphasis on local government, he served with the City of Hendersonville as a management intern. Working for the city government, he did a gap analysis, which was presented to City Council, and for his Capstone project—an alternative to writing a thesis used by the Political Science Department at WCU—he developed performance measures for the city’s Public Works Department.
Those factors—knowledge, skills, “the competencies necessaries to lead,” he says, will help him make the best policy decisions that benefit the whole community
“What sets me apart is my education, work experience, life experience, and lifelong involvement in this community.”
What also sets him apart is being among the less than 4% of Fletcher citizens who’s African American. We wondered how he perceives his chances as a young African American male in the race for a Town Council seat.
“That’s a hurdle that of course I would have to climb, no matter where. People of color are underrepresented throughout the country. But,” he adds, “I haven’t seen any real racial problems in Fletcher, though of course people have biases, unconscious or conscious.”
It’s true that the town is “overwhelmingly white,” he says, but also that it’s growing every year. “I want to make sure it’s inclusive and diverse, welcoming to everyone who moves here.”