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Dr. Carl Mumpower

 

Fishing with Dr. Carl

The Indie  April 16, 2007

It isn’t every day that an Asheville city councilman ponies up several thousand bucks for newspaper ads offering a year’s worth of his city council salary as reward money to “someone who helps in the apprehension of any public official involved in drug trafficking.” (People with relevant factual information are invited to contact him directly at his professional office.) But Dr. Mumpower isn’t just any city councilman.

Dr. Carl MumpowerMumpower is the man who provoked media attention and official agitation in 2004 by presenting the Asheville Police Department (APD) with a crack rock obtained during a fieldtrip into street-dealer territory. He’s given APD fits over perceived laxities in drug enforcement and used a free pass to last month’s RatDog concert to sniff out drug use. He concluded that the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium “smelled like an Amsterdam hash bar.” Critics pounced on the obvious question, but the city quickly revised its policies for managing concerts at the Civic Center complex.

An American Tradition
Mumpower may be marching to a different drummer, but others have heard that beat before him. The state of Kansas is associated with two of the more notorious. In the first decade of the 20th century, Carrie Nation terrorized Midwestern saloonkeepers with a hatchet in one hand and a Bible in the other. At nearly six feet tall and 175 lb., she also wielded a “deep soft” voice of maternal concern. The 1/31/1901 Kansas City Star reported that she used the latter in Topeka to coax saloon patrons out of a watering hole that had been barricaded against her. She then addressed the men. “‘Poor boys,’ she said, her face full of amusement and kindliness. ‘I'm sorry for you, boys. You look so much ashamed of yourselves. I'm not mad at you, boys. I'm not hating you a bit, even when I come around with my hatchet. I'm treating you just as I would treat one of my own boys if I found him with something that would do him harm.’”

Nation’s campaign was a precursor of Prohibition. Fate has been less kind to Vern Miller, another zealous defender of Biblical truth and the laws of Kansas. Miller learned the hard way that he who grabs a substance-abusing bull by the horns may wrestle it down only to have it get up and trot him off into the historical sunset. As State Attorney General during the early 1970s, Miller personally led splashy campus drug raids on Vietnam-era hippies, once announcing his presence by popping out of a car trunk. Most Kansans applauded. But, a terrier by temperament, Miller didn’t know when to quit. His harassment of Amtrak trains and commercial airliners for serving alcohol while flying over the state earned Johnny Carson’s derision. Gambling raids on VFWs and American Legion halls, along with threats to bust church bingo games, hurt Miller at home. He lost the 1974 governor’s race. Later, Miller opened a private law office in Wichita where his clients included drug addicts. In 2003 he is reported to have remarked that his addicted clients who were arrested for possession weren’t criminals and shouldn’t be in jail.

Which brings us back to Asheville’s own hard drug crusader, city councilman and practicing psychologist, Dr. Mumpower. Mumpower’s commitment to stopping “the harms of hard drugs” in the community is unquestioned. He is a founder and some say heavy-handed chair of the Asheville-Buncombe Drug Commission. He’s involved in drug education/suppression activities, including life-coaching and job assistance for former dealers, as well as advocating for increased enforcement. Mumpower was Asheville’s vice mayor when his first-person accounts of open drug sales in poor neighborhoods began. Minnie Jones, long a leader in the African-American community, credits him for drawing increased police attention to the scourge of street-dealing. In 2005, Mumpower was the impetus for the “Dealer Down” tipster program which targets large-quantity dealers. Late in the summer of 2006, he reportedly paid the first and so far only Dealer Down reward money out of his own pocket.

Controversies
Some of Mumpower’s methods have been controversial. An early and persistent complaint has been his use of the media to apply pressure to fellow council members and city administrators. In May 2004 Mumpower wanted to launch a $750,000 local war on drugs in public housing but found himself a vote shy of pushing it through city council. On the eve of a council budget retreat, WLOS and the Asheville Citizen-Times ran stories on the proposal, a move some council colleagues described as blind-side tactics and a violation of a new agreement to speak with one voice. Link Mumpower didn’t get his fourth vote.

Less than two weeks later, on May 14, former city councilman and retired APD officer Herb Watts took Mumpower on an excursion into Lee Walker Heights to observe the open drug market there. As Mumpower later explained it, Watts rolled down his window and asked for “a dime” when a group of young men approached the car. One of them gave Watts a rock. Watts handed it to Mumpower and then drove off without paying. Mumpower told the Mountain Xpress, “I was looking over my shoulder waiting for the gunfire.” None was forthcoming but, after he turned the rock over to APD, he faced withering criticism from District Attorney Ron Moore and fellow councilman Brownie Newman, among others.

Under new Police Chief Bill Hogan, APD withdrew from a multi-agency drug enforcement group to focus more on street-level dealers. Mumpower, disguised in a conservative coat and tie, continued his note-taking forays into street-dealing locations where, he says, he has been repeatedly solicited to buy drugs. His ongoing dissatisfaction with APD drug suppression efforts flared into public view again this past January and drew more accusations of meddling in police business. Shortly thereafter, a series of emails between police, city officials, and Mumpower suggest that the councilman repeatedly interrupted a drug bust in progress to report his observation of dealing in another location.

Hogan announced a further reorganization of the Drug Suppression Unit at the 2/27/07 city council meeting. On that occasion Mumpower had praise for the chief, “‘You bring a dedication to the drug issue that’s appreciated,’ Mumpower told Hogan, adding, ‘This is a new day.’” Link

Then came Mumpower’s tour of Thomas Wolfe auditorium during the RatDog concert and his subsequent email to City Manager Gary Jackson implying widespread drug use there despite the presence of uniformed police officers. (APD later revealed that it had made 9 arrests during the event, seizing 170 hits of LSD and over a thousand dollars in cash.)

Once again the city appears to have responded. The new “Civic Center Concert Action Plan” promises several policy changes designed to reduce substance use at the venue. These include prohibitions on bags and backpacks at large concerts, increased smoking ban enforcement by ushers, more uniformed off-duty police inside during events, and more undercover police working in the vicinity, including nearby parking garages. As to whether he considers this response adequate, Mumpower wrote me to say: “The Civic Center Concert Action Plan appears to be just what it's (sic) title represents -- a responsive beginning grounded in the reality that change is a process more often than an event. How drug use at the Civic Center is addressed is not really my issue - that is in the hands of City Manager, Police Chief, Civic Center Manager, staff, and, most importantly, those who attend the concerts.  My concern is with why the rules of the house and laws of the city have been ignored and what needs to be done to make sure such is not the case going forward.” 

The Advertisements
Mumpower’s other media tactics pale in comparison to last month’s newspaper ad campaign. He described the advertisements as an effort to bring citizen pressure on behalf of communities that “are being overlooked: public housing, minority, and poor communities.” He wants people to call their representatives in Raleigh to say they’ve “had enough of an indulgent, indifferent, and excuse based approach to our drug problems.” “Young street dealers,” he told me, “have become career criminals before our overwhelmed justice system finally gets serious with them.” People are encouraged to call and keep calling the city’s drug tip line, the City Manager, or the sheriff’s office to report drug activities.

But the show stopper is the suggestion that local “persons in positions of power” may be protecting drug dealers or have involvement in drug trafficking. “People from many walks of life have brought this up to me,” he said. He asks people to contact him directly with factual evidence he can pass on to the DEA or other federal officials. Given his recent “This is a new day” compliment to Chief Hogan, I asked what concern he had in this regard that was worth a year’s pay.  He replied that the question was focused too tightly. “It could be anyone with direct or indirect ability to influence drug availability in the community.” He offered himself as an example of a person who could indirectly make life easier for dealers by voting in certain ways.

The price of a quarter page ad in the weekday Citizen-Times is $1984.50. Repeats get a 25% discount. Mumpower’s appeal had run four times when we spoke about it. “This is an expensive little enterprise for me,” he said, denying that he got a break on the rate. The ad has also appeared in the Asheville Daily Planet, a general interest weekly with a large University of North Carolina-Asheville demographic, and the Asheville Tribune, a hardboiled conservative weekly. I wondered how far the circulation of these particular papers extends into the communities where the information he seeks might be found, if it exists. He replied, “You have less of a sense of the impact and credibility of the C-T [Citizen-Times] than I do.”

Mumpower told me the ad has generated some response, which is under investigation, but less than he’d hoped for. “I’d be delighted if there wasn’t anything out there,” he said. “But people are afraid to step forward. People have warned me this is dangerous. I don’t know whether it’s fear or nothing there. I’m going to turn over every rock I can to combat hard drugs.”

Any answer a public official might give to a query about public officials engaged in drug trafficking could be construed as a lie, woeful ignorance, or a damning admission. So I asked some African-American leaders and veteran substance abuse professionals instead. Only two reported hearing anything along these lines. John Hayes, president of the Asheville Branch of the NAACP and CEO of the Youth Empowerment Program at Hillcrest, said, “There have been rumors all the way from the courthouse to everywhere else, but I don’t put any stock in them.” One treatment specialist has heard similarly diffuse rumors for years and noted that they’ve only come from patients facing criminal charges. Specifically regarding rumors of such gravity that they might be worth a year’s pay to explore, Hayes added, “I don’t know where he [Mumpower] gets the things he says. Everything I’ve seen him do is polarize the community.”

I then re-contacted Mumpower. Could he point me toward any additional confirmation for the rumors about public officials? “I doubt you will find anyone in a position of authority willing to say this out loud,” he replied.

Mild but Not Meek
Mumpower has yet to resort to a hatchet or car trunk. But that isn’t to say he lacks style. Dark-suited, painstakingly neat, polite, and soft-spoken, Central Casting couldn’t ask for a more convincing funeral director. He’s got an engaged modern parent side too, faintly reminiscent of Carrie Nation at the Topeka saloon. Mumpower will enumerate the five fingers of the answer to drug abuse for you if you’d care to please listen. And he’s got a weird streak.

In previous interviews on other topics, Mumpower has typically included at least one juicy self-deprecating or ill-advised comment—such as the one about the Amsterdam hash bar. Choice fodder if I’d cared to portray him as a laughing stock. Our interview about the drug ad was different. He made repeated reference to persevering through press ridicule and the personal and family costs of his stand against hard drugs. There were dark hints about the dangers of pursuing his campaign. Some of these, such as staking out drug buys dressed in a business suit, might be self-inflicted, but I didn’t call him on it. Mumpower, he seemed to be saying, has sacrificed much and is willing to risk more for his convictions; if mistreated, he is prepared to turn the other cheek. Between the lines I thought I heard him begging for a slap.

Should Mumpower be dismissed as a strange politically ambitious grandstander with a sly penchant for twisting the . . . noses of other city leaders? Perhaps, but a parable from Bishop T.D. Jakes may have relevance here. As Jakes put it to CBS newsman Bob Schieffer at the 2006 Aspen Ideas Festival, everyone is broken. A key is broken, and so is a lock. When a relationship fits, the areas of brokenness line up. The two produce wholeness and a click, whether it be in faith, marriage, or a career.

It remains to be seen how much click there is between Asheville’s drug ills and the Mumpower key action. We could be witnessing a mainly self-serving attempt at a force fit. It’s also true that a click isn’t necessarily good news; consider the headlong US rush into Iraq. People are wary of reformers for good reason. And yet, despite the gnashing of official teeth, Mumpower has turned some driving wheels on a problem APD estimates to play a role in 75-80% of local crime. It may come to naught or blow up in his face—he might get a rush out of that if it happens—but America wouldn’t be America without the Mumpowers among us taking their best shot.

—Michael Hopping
copyright © 2007 all rights reserved

 

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