What Jesse “The Body” Ventura is to Minnesota politics, Murray “The Bulldog” Philip may be to Nashville’s mayoral race.
After three years of wave-making on a Metro school board that has desperately needed the splashing, Philip is broadening his message. With money borrowed from himself and with several thousand campaign letters scheduled to hit mailboxes later this week, he’s running for mayor.
“The three professional politicians are trying so hard not to deal with any of the issues,” Philip, 47, says of the leading mayoral candidatesformer Mayor Dick Fulton, former state House Majority Leader Bill Purcell, and Vice Mayor Jay West. “The Dell deal kind of brings it to a head.”
Philip says he’s not necessarily opposed to the city’s impending grants to the Texas-based computer company, but he chastises the three candidates for signing on to the incentives agreementat the request of the mayorbefore the details were ever really clear. “We can’t even agree on how many employees [the deal will create], and yet we dive headlong into this thing,” he says, referring to company job creation estimates that range from 3,000 to 5,000.
Beyond that, he says, it was illogical for Mayor Phil Bredesen to have stepped in to outbid the counties outside of Nashville who were courting the company because, “Nashville would have had the gravy and none of the expense.” Philip’s reasoning jibes with what the mayor privately told select Metro Council members. While Bredesen worked to convince Dell officials that Davidson County was the place, he told individual Council members that Nashville would still reap rewards even if the company chose another county.
“He wanted them, but he wasn’t going to be too upset if Dell chose an outlying county,” one Council member says.
Philip is perhaps best known for his immovable opposition to the city’s plan for settling a decades-old school desegregation lawsuit. The settlement calls for building new schools and drawing new zone lines. Mayor Phil Bredesen and others call the scheme a “neighborhood school” system. Yet, like the court-ordered plan that has since been lifted from Nashville schools, it still calls for busing some students out of their neighborhoods to others in the name of diversity.
The political cheerleading about the cooperative settlement of the lawsuit between the city and the plaintiffs ignores the fact that the new plan keeps large comprehensive schools and continues to bus students away from their homes, Philip complains. “We are building an infrastructure that guarantees we will not have neighborhood schools,” he says.
Philip is also against the kind of efforts Metro uses to increase minority participation in city contracting. City officials use what’s known as an “evaluated bidding” system which, to put it simply, gives small and disadvantaged contractors a premium of as much as 10 percent or more on public contracts; in other words, a black contractor bidding $110,000 on a job might get it over a white contractor bidding $100,000.
“Mayor Bredesen, in his State of Metro address, took great credit in bragging that he has increased minority purchasing...and my point is that we are spending up to a certain percent premium for these commodities,” Philip says. “Why don’t we ask black homeowners if they want to pay more taxes for this?”
On that issue, Philip’s position differs from Fulton, Purcell, and West, who each support Metro’s evaluated bidding system.
Philip has other ideas as well. Because the school board has no staff, he proposes creating a clearinghouse in the mayor’s office for school complaints. He introduces the idea of impact fees on developers to help the city deal with growing traffic problems, and he says he would micromanage city services in a way that he says would attack crime and cut costs.
“We don’t have anybody paying attention to the little things. I can’t get someone else to do it for me, so I’m going to do it.”
Philip doesn’t know whether or not he can be elected, but he says, “I’m not afraid to lose.” He does have issues he’s already identified with, and he’s won one election in Nashville already. Both of those factors give him more credence than the other lesser known mayoral candidates.
Politically, Philip’s candidacy could dramatically change the city’s first heavily contested mayoral race in 12 years. Just which opponent his candidacy will hurt the most may not be clear yet, but Philip’s candidacy is bound to take votes away from someone else.
“I think there really is a difference here between me and the other candidates...and I think Nashville would be quite shocked to find out the level of support I have.”
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