Calling All Voters 

There are no doofuses among the big four, so go vote

There are no doofuses among the big four, so go vote

It’s unfortunate that issues have failed to drive the race to succeed Mayor Phil Bredesen. The top three candidates do disagree over certain municipal matters, but their differences are few and not very well known, and they have done little to make the distinctions clear.

Dick Fulton, for example, wants to dip into the savings of the Metro pension fund to build more affordable housing. To Bill Purcell and Jay West, the pension fund is off-limits. Disagreements exist, in other words, but they’re not exactly making it onto the evening news or into breakfast-table conversations.

The one candidate trying to make the contest more about substance than style—Metro school board member Murray Philip—has been marginalized by the media. Even before he was polling at just 5 percent support, he was viewed as far too conservative by the mostly narrow-minded newspaper troops.

Philip is the only candidate so passionate about redirecting the city and its resources that he took out a second mortgage on his home to raise $50,000 for his campaign. He can be characterized fairly as the “anti” candidate, but his rantings about the thoughtlessness of the city’s new desegregation plan, for example, make a lot of sense.

Meanwhile, Purcell is the smooth talker of the race, an Al Gore-style populist (a sometimes condescending elitist who nevertheless appears to concentrate his efforts on the little people). Purcell, a former state legislator, can talk circles around the rest of the candidates, as televised forums have shown. He even manages to make such broad statements as, “I want schools in the whole big city to be good,” sound authoritative somehow.

Fulton, the former mayor, doesn’t come off nearly as polished as someone should after 45 years in politics. He is knowledgeable about city issues, if poor at communicating his views. One gets the feeling that he resents having to campaign so publicly. (The schedule of “mayoral forums” for every conceivable interest group in Nashville has exhausted the toner cartridges of fax machines all over the city and wreaked havoc on the campaign schedules of candidates.)

Fulton wrestles with negative public feelings about his age—he’s 72—although his chronological years really shouldn’t be an issue. Some see Fulton as representing the past, given his stewardship of the city during the heyday of political patronage. Even friends characterize him as a “Jacksonian Democrat in terms of political patronage.”

West, the vice mayor, is the most down-to-earth of the bunch, if not the most accomplished. If he composed a résumé of political achievements, it would have to be creatively spaced, à la a fraternity boy’s English term paper.

West is refreshingly humble, friendly, funny, even warm, though he comes off as an ill-prepared, second-string debate team captain in more public or televised formats. If Philip is the “no” guy, West is the “nice” guy.

In essence, no one running for mayor is the candidate of your dreams. But neither are they without their qualifications. Pick your guy and go vote.


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