If Chuck Sanford, candidate for the newly vacant at-large Metro Council seat, were to win the Nov. 5 election, somebody would have to replace him as the president of the East Glencliff Neighborhood Association. And whoever that person is will be the lowest member of the political food chain touched by Sen. Fred Thompson’s decision earlier this year to leave Washington.
When Thompson bowed out of running for an almost guaranteed third term, ultimately winding up on the cast of Law & Order, it created a number of hotly contested open races, including the local 5th Congressional District. Former Vice Mayor Ronnie Steine decided to seek that congressional seat, only to watch his political career implode after admitting to a pair of shoplifting charges. That paved the way for former at-large member Howard Gentry to become elected vice mayor. Now eight other candidates are scrambling to take Gentry’s place. There are 40 members of the Metro Councilfive of whom serve as at-large members. Barring a runoff, the winner of the Nov. 5 election will serve the nine months left in Gentry’s term before having to run for election again in August 2003.
Candidate Adam Dread, one of the front-runners for the position, ran for the same seat in 1999. The former comedian, freelance columnist and Vanderbilt graduate ran a respectable campaign, making the runoff for three of the at-large seats, but finishing last among those candidates. Running as an “alternative conservative,” Dread garnered many enthusiastic supporters, while probably appearing to others as somewhat low on the gravitas scale. As a senior writer for the pop culture publication Dish Magazine, Dread is described in his Dish bio as a “rake and raconteur” who “plays a little golf, seduces women and drinks to excess.”
Now, however, he wants to be taken seriously. In fact, since 1999, Dread has been enrolled in the Nashville School of Law and has served on the Metro Beer Board. He has also become an effective community volunteer, serving on boards at the Belcourt Theatre and the Community Resource Center. This self-described “Man of Leisure” even interns at the Davidson County Public Defender’s Office.
“I made my living as a comedian and entertainer, and I don’t think I’d be in this position if I didn’t do that before,” he says. “But I think people realize that in the past three years I have been very serious about the welfare of Nashville.”
If elected, Dread says that he would focus on issues such as public safety, tourism and commonsense matters like having the city’s satellite libraries remain open during more normal hours seven days a week. He also promises to be “the most accessible member of the council.” Finally, he stresses that while he has a lot of ideas he’d like to bring to the council, none of them would require public funds. “I will not vote for an increased property tax,” he says.
Perhaps Dread’s toughest competitor in the race is former Metro Council member Charles French. That is, if French’s name is allowed to appear on the ballot. This week, the online Nashville Post reported that Metro Council attorney Don Jones thinks term limits prevent French from running. Because French had served in the council for at least two consecutive termslosing his 1999 reelection bidJones says he would not be able to run again until the current term is up in August 2003. Michael McDonald, Davidson County’s administrator of elections, says that his office has asked Metro lawyers for a formal opinion on the matter.
But French says that because his previous terms included stints as both an at-large and district membertwo different officestechnically he isn’t running for a third consecutive term. Even if his argument prevails, most agree that his candidacy violates the spirit of term limits, which county voters have resoundingly approved.
During his years in the council, French was known for being a pro-business, largely conservative member, who had nevertheless worked well with those on the other side of the aisle. One of his more divisive moments, however, came nearly 10 years ago, when he spoke against the city hosting a gay softball tournament. French says that his opposition to the event had to do with its violation of certain state statutes and not with the players’ sexual orientation. But others remember that the council member took a less than enlightened position, giving a clearly anti-gay speech during a Metro Council meeting. In any case, Two Rivers Baptist Church, where French is a member, decried the tournament like it was the apocalypse.
French says that his decades of experience in the city’s legislative body would be an asset to a council filled with “baby ducks and lame ducks.” He says, “I really enjoy being in the council. I was in there for 27 years and felt like I did a good job representing folks at-large and in my district.”
For those looking for someone to raise the IQ level of the Metro Council, Tracey Kinslow is worth a look. A political neophyte, Kinslow, 34, has the kind of credentials rarely seen in candidates for the city’s legislative body. A labor attorney for HCA and a graduate of Princeton and Vanderbilt Law School, Kinslow has also served as an attorney in the Air Force. He’s a member of the volunteer review team for the United Way and chairs a local development program for minorities. He’s not your average courthouse rat.
One of two black candidates, Kinslow says that he hopes to encourage more partnerships between the business community and local schools. He’s also interested in tourism, particularly marketing more of Nashville’s musical heritage beyond country music. He hopes to bring some fresh ideas to a legislative body that hasn’t exactly distinguished itself over the last three years. “I don’t want to be overly critical of what the council has done,” he says. “But considering where Nashville is going, it would be good to get younger leadership in there.”
Other candidates include Chuck Sanford, the president of the East Glencliff Neighborhood Association, who ran for Metro Council in 1995 and 1999, losing badly both times. Sanford, also an African American, stresses the importance of neighborhood issues and remains persistent. “I am trying to let voters know that I’ve been out there,” he says. “I’ve been out there with the police groups and the neighborhood associations. I’ve been out there trying to make things better with no title, and I would be willing to bet that I’ve gotten more things accomplished than people who have the title as council member.”
The sleeper candidate may be Shannon Stoner Bottoms, an artist and small business owner, who is the sister of state Rep. Sherry Jones. A Bellevue resident, Bottoms, 48, is a recent MTSU graduate. She has her own pet-sitting business, is a songwriter and works as dog trainer (a position whose skills might be transferable to the council). “I’m one of the working stiffs of Nashville,” she says. “I work for a living. I didn’t grow up with a lot of financial prestige, and I feel like I can communicate with everybody. I feel like I’m a good listener and I’m open-minded.”
Ed Rumage, a neighborhood activist, may be the only candidate running who promises to serve only for the next nine months. Rumage, 75, says he has a good reason. “At my age, I don’t believe I want to serve more than that.” A neighborhood activist, Rumage opposed the Titans’ stadium deal. “I wasn’t opposed to footballjust how the stadium was being financed.”
The other two candidates in the running are Randy Farley, whom we tried to reach but never did, and Kevin Wilkinson, the latter of whom ran in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional seat and got stomped by someone named Robert Duvall. (Alas, not the actor.) Wilkinson describes himself as a conservative businessman, “but with a conscience,” who’s interested in smart growth and who wants to bring in business while “deliberately and intentionally growing the city.”
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