Variously described as “40 jealous whores” or “the largest zoning variance board east of the Mississippi,” the Metro Council, in action, runs the gamut from maddeningly mundane to infuriatingly inane. The city’s oversized legislative body can discuss overlays and sewage lines until the wee hours of the morning. Given the opportunity to scrutinize tough issues like a city budget or ballpark proposal, they often ask agenda-driven “qwerschuns” that could be easily answered by reading the documents provided in advance. They’re not bad people, just mediocre governors.
Who would want to be associated with such a group, much less lead it?
At-large council member David Briley, that’s who. In a move that may make or break his political career—see “Steine, Ronnie, and Gentry, Howard, Unknown Future Prospects of”—Briley has pretty much decided to run for the vice mayoral seat that Gentry, who is already loudly running for mayor, will vacate in 2007. After contemplating running for a host of offices (alas, Congressman Jim Cooper’s not going anywhere, and Bob Clement has loads of name recognition), Briley settled on running for pimp to the council’s 40 whores—a job that sometimes requires promoting council members’ agendas and other times giving them the back of the hand.
(Look, this analogy may be offensive, but don’t blame us: ironically enough, Nashville Mayor Beverly Briley—David’s grandfather—is the one who coined the “jealous whores” phrase, though you probably won’t see it in the younger Briley’s campaign literature.)
So why run?
“Because I think the city needs good leadership as vice mayor,” he says. “And I think I’ve learned a lot about how the council should operate, and I think I have the capacity to make it run more efficiently for the city next term. It’s certainly not a glamorous position and not particularly powerful, but it is crucial to the success of the city. I think if you look at the council right now, it is an obstacle to progress in the city instead of an asset.”
As his first official campaign gesture, Briley hired Mike Kopp to do strategic planning and early image crafting. Kopp, who has been a newspaper reporter, press secretary to Al Gore, state development official and now marketing guru, says that his task is to develop a cohesive identity for Briley, who he feels is a committed public servant headed for bigger and better things. Basically, Kopp says, Nashvillians know Briley piecemeal: as the smart skeptic on the Sounds ballpark proposal, or the East Nashville guy who worked on the greenways issue, or the critical eye every year at budget time. He often appears in the news, but who is he?
“Even though I have a name that harks back to the past, I’m a new face that’s working hard to make Nashville better,” Briley told The Tennessean in 1999, perhaps borrowing a line from an old student council speech he gave at MBA. Smart, articulate and, perhaps most importantly, named Briley, he was elected to an at-large seat in ’99 in his first run for office. He advocated government ethics reform, and six years and several state legislative indictments later, the council passed Briley-sponsored ethics legislation, although it wasn’t as strong as he would have liked.
Meanwhile, the populace post-Purcell will demand firm leadership—Purcell, with an audit-driven, clean government approach is famously detail-oriented—but Briley indicates that the government running it should have a friendlier touch. In short, the city’s next leadership team ideally would be comprised of good-government types who still know how to grease the political machinery. Folks who can throw a bone to old-timers accustomed to patronage politics while still operating above board. Briley, with one foot in each world, may be well suited for the job.
One big test will be whether he commands the respect of his colleagues, and if he can appease them well enough to get their support. Another qwerschun: is he too wonky and policy-oriented to excite a base other than his East Nashville neighborhood?
Perhaps. But Briley’s betting that Joe Voter would happily support a nerd who can make the council run smoothly over a smiley-faced glad-hander with little managerial experience. The at-large council member has ideas about using the vice mayor’s office to build consensus among community groups. He believes the body’s biggest challenge will be to secure better funding streams for certain areas of local government, like Metro’s General Hospital. Hopefully, he says, he can use the vice mayor’s office to smooth the council’s relationship with the state legislature.
Cat-herder-in-chief: it’s not a pretty job, nor particularly exciting, and it can prove to be either a stepping stone to higher office or a tar pit from which political types never emerge. Other applicants with a similar masochistic streak may include District 35 council member Charlie Tygard, a shrill, development-friendly Bellevue conservative and famous Briley adversary, as well as at-large council member Diane Neighbors, who resides in the same neighborhood as Briley both ideologically and geographically. (Neighbors reports that she has assembled a “team of advisers” to help her decide her next political move, and we’d put our money on a mayoral candidacy rather than a run for perhaps the least glamorous job in Metro government.) In any case, both Tygard and Neighbors would be able to learn the rules and run a smooth meeting. Come to think of it, there’s a lot to be said for that.
Desperately seeking…a muzzle
You’d think a police chief with 100 homicides on his watch in 2005—give or take, depending on how the district attorney decides to count Patrick Lee’s death after multiple Taserings by cops—would stick to talking about, you know, policing issues. Especially considering the department-wide employee unrest that’s currently prompting rival cop unions to out-chief-bash each other.
But no, sound-bite-ready Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas has decided to try his hand at media criticism. “There’s no investigative reporting going on and there’s no coordination of information,” Serpas is quoted as saying in the official publication of the National Information Officers Association at their conference in Reno, Nev., last fall. “[News outlets] hire reporters for the day and tell them to go find the story. [Stations] are basically running with whatever they’ve got in front of them that day.” It’s hard to get your positive message across to inexperienced reporters in a ratings-driven environment, he said.
Now, to be fair, we don’t necessarily disagree with Serpas’ philosophical critique of the cash-strapped, sensation-driven news media. But coming from a guy who’s never met a camera he didn’t like—the guy whose first action as Nashville police chief was to hold a press conference with the grieving family of a long-missing teen—well, it rings a little hollow. And, Tabitha’s still missing, chief.
The doctor is out—sort of
Who knew that Senate majority leader and local-boy-made-weird Bill Frist was still on faculty at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center? Yup, the good doctor is technically “on leave,” according to a VUMC official—although his 25-page curriculum vitae lists a Vandy affiliation only through 1993. Indeed, as Congressional Quarterly Weekly reported in 2003, the medical center provides malpractice insurance for him, although like his (nominal) colleagues, he pays his own premium. We’re told that’s $3,036 a year in his case—half of what other faculty docs pay—because, you know, he’s on leave.
For a multi-multi-millionaire who squawks so much about the rising costs of malpractice insurance (while lying about his knowledge of investments in the Frist family’s hospital company), he’s got a pretty good deal. You’d think a heart surgeon who made brain diagnoses by videotape would pay a higher premium.