For those lucky enough to be blissfully unaware of the ins and outs of Metro government, we’re here to tell you that it does matter who sits at the head of Nashville’s 40-person legislative body. It’s the difference between the likes of council member Ludye Wallace talking—antagonizing might be a better word—for 20 minutes or talking for two, wasting his thorough understanding of legislative procedure on stealth, petty power plays or predictable attempts to cast someone or something as racist, instead of being forced by a respected leader to shut his piehole.
And who voters elect vice mayor may very well decide whether citizens attending public hearing nights at the Metro Council have to sit through nearly two hours of meaningless, circle-jerk memorializing resolutions before the body gets to the business of deciding whether to rezone your neighborhood to make way for a super Wal-Mart.
In this day and age of term limits, which has essentially made every Metro Council member an amateur and has led to a lack of decorum among members—hell, when you’ve only got two terms, what’s the point of building respectful relationships with your colleagues?—it’s particularly important for Nashville’s herd of cats to have a vice mayor who demands efficient debate and won’t put up with the kind of breakdown in diplomacy that Vice Mayor Howard Gentry (now running for mayor) has allowed.
Running for the job are two at-large Metro Council members (and an oddball named Linda Perry, who we’ll ignore for the purposes of this story except to say she’s been arrested for drunk driving three times): Carolyn Baldwin Tucker, a retired Metro school teacher and principal, and Diane Neighbors, director of Vanderbilt Child Care Centers. Tucker is alternately clipped and crazed during council deliberations. One moment she’ll appear businesslike and thoroughly engaged, but then she’s given to coming unglued and engaging in some of the council’s most deranged demagoguery.
Neighbors, on the other hand, is thoughtful but somewhat reserved.
“I think you’re looking at two very different leadership styles and management styles,” Neighbors says. “How will the council be run, what will the committee assignments be, what will the relationship be with the new mayor and with all the new council members?”
Neighbors says she would move to reform the way the Metro Council does business. “You don’t need to be sitting there for an hour-and-a-half of presentations on a public hearing night and not have yours to come up until 11:30,” she says.
Neighbors says she believes she has “a deeper understanding of some of the issues that our city faces, and I think that perspective would help me be a strong leader for the council.”
Tucker didn’t return the Scene’s calls for this story, but she has previously told this newspaper that “I want everybody’s vote.” She often invokes religion during council debate (she is a Church of Christ member), and is known for singing in a quavery falsetto to voters at the polls. Asked a series of questions about her faith and her politics, she has previously replied to the Scene with Bible verses. “The Bible says when the righteous rule, the people rejoice.”
Tucker passionately opposed a 2003 ordinance outlawing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation within city government, including schools. When it was defeated, she called it “a victory for Nashville, a victory for the children, a victory for the Lord.... I am sure it will raise its ugly head again, and I’m sure we will have to deal with this again. But if it’s the Lord’s will, we will prevail.” Neighbors was not yet in the council at the time, but she has since cast at least one vote sympathetic to the gay community.
Neighbors says the debate over the Metro Council’s English-only bill also demonstrated a stark difference between her and her opponent. Tucker voted for the bill, whereas Neighbors found the legislation sectarian and unnecessary. (Neighbors was absent during the vote, as she was being treated for breast cancer.) In the end, Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed the bill, which was not only unconstitutional but divisive and born of anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Several of us were trying to slow the train down” on that legislation, Neighbors says. “That just seemed an extremely divisive vote.”
As in all local races in which many voters are woefully uninformed, turnout will be key to the outcome of the vice mayor’s race. Tucker, who is black, is expected to garner much of the African American vote and may well clinch support from fundamentalists too. Neighbors should get the better of East Nashville’s and upper crust West’s voters—call it the Davis-Kidd/Marché crowd.
But those are our words. Neighbors sees the race as a bit more nuanced. “The folks I talk with say she doesn’t have a lock on the Church of Christ vote, she doesn’t have a lock on African American votes,” she says. “We both have supporters in both of those camps.”
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