At one time, it was Bill Purcell’s job to make life for Republicans just a little bit miserable. As majority leader of the Democrat-controlled state House, Purcell was the sentry for his party. He was the man, for example, who masterminded a plan to redistrict 12 Republican legislators into just six seats, infuriating the GOP in the process. That happened in 1992, and seven years later, the Republicans are still fuming.
Now, one day into his mayoral administration, Purcell’s own sentry is not a well-known Democrat, but rather a Republican. Monday, he announced his mayoral chief of staffone of the top two appointments Purcell has madewill be Bill Phillips, a former Bush appointee in the federal Education Department.
On the same day, Purcell had breakfast with Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Frist to talk about leveraging federal dollars for Nashville. He even called Frist back later in the day to follow up on their conversation.
And, even though it's not traditional for governors to attend the Metro mayoral inauguration, Purcell also extended a special invitation to Republican Gov. Don Sundquist to be a guest at Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony at Hume-Fogg Magnet School. Sundquist, with whom Purcell had more than a few legislative battles during his time in the General Assembly, accepted the invite and sat on the auditorium's stage, front row with his former nemesis.
In other words, Purcell, the notorious partisan Democrat, seems to have shed that persona for his life as mayor, the $75,000-a-year job that is officially a non-partisan political position.
“I think it’s an extremely favorable sign,” says Phillips, who is leaving his position as associate vice chancellor at Vanderbilt University to go to the mayor’s office. “I had heard the same thing because he was so partisan during [legislative] reapportionment. But that’s what a partisan leader is supposed to do.”
Phillips predicts Nashvillians probably will still see “the Al Gore sticker” on Purcell’s car. But as mayor, he says, “Purcell is reaching out to everybody, and that’s what you’re seeing.”
Out man in
While Purcell is letting the Republicans into his huddle and is generally casting a wide net in assembling a mayoral staff, he has also appointed the first openly gay person to serve as a senior aide in the mayor’s office. John Bridges, Purcell’s campaign fund-raiser and a former editor at the Nashville Scene, has been appointed as special assistant for film, arts, and music.
Quality over quantity
In staffing his office, Purcell is generally following the model of outgoing Mayor Phil Bredesenthat is, to hire fewer people for more money. “He’s going for quality, and he’s going for good representation of everybody’s interest,” Bill Phillips says.
When Bredesen came in eight years ago, he hired 20 people in the mayor’s office, six fewer than outgoing Mayor Bill Boner had on staff. Bredesen also bumped up the salaries, spreading the leftover budget among his top staffers. Under Boner, the highest wage earners were his press secretary and administrative assistant, whose annual salaries were $49,999. Bredesen’s top aides started at $51,999, with the chief of staff earning considerably more at $72,000 a year. Phillips says the same general model will apply in Purcell’s office. Special assistants, he says, will make between $45,000 and $55,000 a year.
With very few exceptions, Purcell asked Bredesen to give notice to staffers in the mayor’s office that the new administration would be starting fresh. One of those exceptions is Jackie Hawks, who works in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development. She kept her job while every other staffer in that office was dismissed. Hawks’ father just happens to be Johnny Jones, editor of the Johnson City Presswhich his family ownsand a Purcell contributor. An influential Democrat, Jones is the kind of friend you need if you ever hope to run for statewide political office.
To reach Liz, call her at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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