Somehow, it makes perfect sense that, for months now, Metro legal director Karl Dean has been pondering a run for mayor without so much as a peep, except to friends and close associates. He’s never waved his arms around about this ambition, never called a press conference, never dialed a reporter to convey the most hackneyed expression in politics: “people have approached me.”
But it’s true. The 51-year-old pretty boy of Metro Government, whose cerebral gifts exceed his good looks, is characterizing himself as a full-on “maybe” for the August 2007 mayoral race, whose three declared candidates have generated little more than widespread fear for the city’s well-being.
“I’d like to do something with the city, and I’m very interested in the position,” Dean says. “It’s a great job. Nashville right now is in a really exciting place. If I did do it, it would be not to run against anybody. I’d be running because I think I could, as mayor, keep the city moving forward and focused on the basics—which I would say are education, public safety and maintaining infrastructure.”
Dean’s now-public deliberations come at the same time that at-large Metro Council member David Briley is reconsidering his bid for vice mayor in favor of the city’s top job. While neither Dean nor Briley perfectly represents the antithesis candidate who orbits a sphere other than politics—Dean was elected countywide to three terms as public defender, Briley is a second-term council member—either, or both, would constitute a real alternative relative to the others in the bunch.
The difference between the two, both of whom are lawyers? Dean is probably less politically calculating than Briley, for one. And Dean is a west-side guy (Richland) to Briley’s east (Inglewood). But, on the whole, the two would attract the same sort of supporters: smart, young, averse to crusty government types who have overstayed their welcome—dare we say “progressives,” whatever that really means. (Not to get too David Brooks on you, or actually, yes, to do just that: we picture a young father dressed in REI garb popping into Bongo Java for an iced coffee with baby in tow—propped in a three-wheeled jogging stroller, of course. Later, he’ll deliver his non-curbside recycling to the nearest drop off, then get a touchless wash for his VW Passat wagon. If there’s time, he’ll stop in Wild Oats for some overpriced fruit.)
Briley has the benefit of polling showing him a contender with former Congressman Bob Clement, a benign political presence who is regarded, quite unfortunately, as the front-runner in the race. Briley also has been pondering this fourth-candidate scenario more publicly than Dean, securing commitments that the Metro law director may not yet have. Dean, meanwhile, is pretty sure he would fare poorly in polls or name recognition surveys and isn’t at all interested in commissioning them. Whereas Briley is expected to make an announcement after the Nov. 7 election, Dean says his deadline for a decision is the end of the year. If he makes the run, he’ll resign his legal director job.
“Part of my deal is I’m never mentioned on any of the [mayoral] lists, and somebody in like your position has never inquired about it, so I didn’t know how realistic it was,” Dean says of his chances. “So it’s not one of these deals that everywhere I go out, people are saying, ‘Hey Karl, you need to be mayor.’ I can go days and nobody says anything.”
Self-deprecation noted. Points for that.
“I haven’t done any polling, and my sense is that I would not do any polling. I have to make a realistic decision as to whether I can raise the necessary money and whether I have a chance of winning. And so those are what I’m going through.”
Asked whether he would defer to a Briley candidacy, Dean says that other candidates aren’t part of his consideration. “Ultimately, if you decide to run for political office it has to be because you think you can do it and do it well and can bring something unique. And that’s where I would be.”
So there you have it. A dogfight—or at least a potential one—among the progressives. Let’s just hope at least one of these guys emerges from the ring strong enough to take on the three-headed beast.