As we see it, our mayoral candidates, Bob Clement and Karl Dean, need to hear something from somebody other than their respective bevies of insiders, counselors and job jockeyers. After months of campaigning, scads of insipid forums and weekend after weekend of canvassing in triple-digit heat, these guys are bleary-eyed and dizzy with tunnel vision.
Not all of what they need to hear is particularly substantive, though some of it is. So here it is, a little free advice—worth perhaps what they’re paying for it, or maybe slightly less.
For Dean: OK, you’ve just spent a million bucks on television advertising, but still, few folks really have a good sense of who you are as a person. Our sources say that your own research bears this out. So your answer to this dilemma is to spend 700 media points on a commercial in which you don’t appear—not anywhere, at all? Sure, score one for your getting the endorsement of former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice A.A. Birch, an influential African American in Nashville, who speaks about you in glowing terms as he looks directly into the camera for this spot. But with only a few weeks to go until the Sept. 11 runoff, with just a few precious days to communicate something about yourself that will trigger an emotional response with voters, this isn’t the way to go. Birch’s message resonates more with members of the Nashville Bar than anyone else, and you already have those people. Bring the camera crew to your den, your garage, your front yard, wherever, get one of the dogs on the couch beside you and tell people why you’re running. As one Nashvillian put it to us recently, “I’m not sure the Bob Clement I know is any worse than the Karl Dean I don’t know.”
For Clement: Ditch the Washington, D.C., speech affectations. No, you can’t do much about having a Southern accent, which shouldn’t be a liability in the first place—at least not any more than having the vocal meter of a Massachusetts native. But your emphasis on certain words that you think will resonate with voters sounds both patronizing and like you’re trying to tread water in the absence of anything else to say. (“I’m fer LE-GAL IMM-I-GRA-TION not IL-LE-GAL IMM-I-GRA-TION.”) The Nashville electorate is not comprehension-impaired, which is what your cadences would suggest. Surely when you’re talking to your wife, your daughters or your friends, you comport yourself in a more informal way. Give voters a taste of the whimsical Bob, if there is one.
For Dean: Dude, if you can afford to self-fund a campaign, you can afford a suit that fits—something that doesn’t look like it came off the sales rack from S&K Menswear. Stick with flat fronts and get the trousers hemmed so that they’re not all gathered around those enormous dogs of yours. Do this, and you’re going to like the way you look. While you’re at it, embrace the naturally unwieldy hair and resist the efforts of those ad guys to make you look like a slick-haired Newark pimp. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you.
For Clement: You’ve been in politics for some three decades, so it’s stupefying to voters when you read your speeches—line for friggin’ line, directly from the typed page. Voters will forgive the occasional verbal stumble much more than they will your being a cardboard cutout with canned lines penned by someone else. This isn’t presidential politics, and you’re not in the rose garden. Put your paper down, step in front of the podium, and say something heartfelt.
For Dean: Defend yourself. Next time your opponent brings up taxes and tries to paint you as a big-spending liberal, quiet him with a comment that would go something like this, “Interesting that you bring up taxes, Congressman. You voted to raise ours about 12 dozen times.”For Clement: The tax issue (see above) is tired, transparent pandering that even the “fixed income” crowd can see right through. If you want to attack, stick to the private school issue, which actually matters to some voters. Just make sure you don’t do any media availabilities at your home in Belle Meade.