You’re not alone. Public opinion polls are showing a great multitude of still-undecided voters—despite all the TV ads, neighborhood meetings, letters, fliers, phone calls, yard signs, billboards, buttons, refrigerator magnets and obsequious candidates ringing your doorbell. In fact, if pollsters pressed people, they might learn that many voters have been trying really hard not to think about the election at all.
To the rescue (whether you like it or not) comes the Nashville Scene with this CliffsNotes-style guide to the mayoral campaign. We may not be able to explain why those trumpets are blaring in Bob Clement’s TV ad or why Karl Dean won’t comb his hair, but we can answer some of your questions about the candidates’ positions on the important issues. Nashville will choose a new mayor at a time when everyone is saying we’re at a crossroads. One way leads to nirvana—an enlightened and prosperous city alive with educational and cultural opportunities. The other leads to crime-racked slums, dilapidated schools, traffic snarls and strip malls as far as the eye can see. As elections go—believe it or not—this one might actually matter. Scary, isn’t it?
What’s even scarier is that so few voters might wind up deciding it. At most, about 100,000 people are expected to vote, only a third of registered voters. On Friday the 13th, ominously the first day of early voting leading up to the actual Aug. 2 election day, there were more sign-waving, screaming candidates than voters at any given time at the polling station.
Why so little interest? One reason may be that many rational people are reluctant to venture into totally chaotic situations. There are a whopping 122 candidates running for mayor, vice mayor and Metro Council. As election day careens toward us, voters need forklifts to empty their mailboxes, and the white noise of all the campaigning is rising to an ear-piercing pitch. Last week, one mayoral campaign was circulating false rumors that a rival candidate had a stroke. A Clement supporter got into a fistfight with three of Buck Dozier’s volunteers on the mean streets of Joelton. What were they fighting over? You guessed it—yard signs. “Everybody needed a little medical care when it was over. There was no clear winner,” a source in the Clement camp reports.
Dirty tricksters are on the prowl in our neighborhoods. Even family pets aren’t safe. In East Nashville, one council member, Pam Murray, has been accused of poisoning Puppy, the dog of her challenger, Sam McCullough. Little Puppy just keeled over mysteriously in her backyard. Murray suggests that McCullough did the deed himself so he could accuse her. “He’s desperate,” Murray says of McCullough. “How low can we get?” Good question.
Gritty Woodbine was the scene of an imaginative dirty trick. Rainbow-colored signs mysteriously appeared on busy Thompson Lane declaring “Gays and Lesbians for Anna Page.” It was a surprise to Page, a council member locked in a tough five-candidate race. Her supporters quickly pulled up the signs before they could upset many non-gays and non-lesbians. “It’s kind of childish,” says Page, a flower shop owner. At least her dog hasn’t been poisoned. “Oh, don’t say that,” she gasps. “I have a German shepherd who comes to work with me every day. I don’t think I’ll leave her alone for a moment until this campaign is over.”
If voters aren’t uninterested, they’re probably disgusted, and that may be another reason for their apathy. But the five major candidates for mayor, all government insiders, deserve most of the blame for running timid, almost farcical, utterly uninspiring campaigns. No one is expected to receive a majority of the vote on Aug. 2, and that means the top two candidates will meet in a Sept. 11 runoff. With Clement solidly in first place, the rest of the field has been essentially campaigning to finish second. Each candidate is loathe to offend his rivals’ supporters because he’ll want their votes in the runoff. So instead of meaningful debate, we’ve been forced to endure a lot of the usual windbaggery.
We have learned that all the candidates are for better schools, against higher taxes, etc.—not especially useful information for the discerning voter. It hasn’t helped that whenever they’ve drifted off-script, several of the wannabes have suffered from an unfortunate tendency to say stupid things. “Cleanliness counts!” Clement blurted once. “Antioch was a mistake,” Howard Gentry told an Antioch community forum. “I’m not a messiah,” Dozier said inexplicably.
They wouldn’t admit it, but at least two of the candidates are actually hoping for a low turnout. Gentry and Dozier don’t enjoy much appeal outside of their bases of support—blacks for Gentry and Church of Christ members for Dozier. They wouldn’t stand a chance if turnout were high. (How either one plans to win after making the runoff is anybody’s guess.)
For one brief, shining moment, Clement seemed to be trying to inject life into the campaign with a much-ballyhooed “30 Ideas in 30 Days” initiative. Boy, did he fool us. Just about all the ideas were pilfered from his opponents or from previous mayors, and, in a rare moment of candor, one of his staffers confessed the strategy behind the gimmick was to “devalue ideas” by tossing out so many that no one else’s—no matter how worthwhile—would gain much notice. “Ideas aren’t worth a plug nickel anymore in this campaign,” the staffer boasted.
On that depressing note, we offer a synopsis of the candidates and their views in the hopes that you may find some reason to like one of them well enough to vote for him. True, there are no Barack Obamas or Fred Thompsons in this bunch but, to be fair, they do have their moments. Each candidate has taken at least a few interesting positions. So go ahead, stop procrastinating and make up your mind. Who knows? The guy you choose might make a great mayor. Hold that thought.
David Briley, 43, is the grandson of the late Beverly Briley, the first mayor under Metro government. His brother is state Rep. Rob Briley. A lawyer and an at-large Metro Council member, he has been endorsed by the Metro Nashville Education Association, also known as the local teachers’ union. He has emphasized environmental issues, promising to making Nashville the greenest city in America. He has been last in the polls. To prop up his campaign, he has loaned it $100,000 and says he may use his home’s equity to borrow money to keep his TV ads on the air.
Bob Clement, 63, the son of the late Gov. Frank Clement, served on the old Public Service Commission, the TVA board and as president of Cumberland University. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1978 and for the 7th District congressional seat in 1982, losing to Don Sundquist. He won the 5th District congressional seat in 1988 in a special election. He gave up that seat to run for the Senate in 2002 and lost to Lamar Alexander. He has led the mayoral campaign polls from the beginning and boasts the biggest campaign war chest.Karl Dean, 51, was the law director for seven years under Mayor Bill Purcell and served as public defender, elected countywide, before that. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Columbia University and law degree at Vanderbilt, and he’s an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt law school. He started the campaign as a virtual unknown to the public but has used his family wealth—his heiress wife is independently wealthy—to air 10 weeks of TV ads that have made his campaign competitive. Buck Dozier, 63, is an at-large Metro Council member and former Metro fire chief. He also worked as council liaison for Mayor Phil Bredesen. He says his grassroots effort is the strongest, with 800 volunteers knocking on doors and 3,000 yard signs distributed. He won endorsements from Metro’s police and firefighters. He also enjoys support from senior citizens, the reason his campaign says that he speaks so slowly in his television commercials. Howard Gentry, 55, is Nashville’s first black vice mayor and the son of the late Howard Gentry Sr., a popular Tennessee State University professor and athletics director. The younger Gentry worked as a Metro court officer before becoming a TSU administrator, a job he ultimately left. He won an at-large council seat in 1999 and became vice mayor in 2002 in a special election following then-Vice Mayor Ronnie Steine’s political implosion over revelations of shoplifting. He has enjoyed the support of Nashville business leaders as well as the black community. He earned headlines in 2003 for casting the tie-breaking vote to kill a measure protecting gay and lesbian Metro employees from discrimination.
Briley: “A lot of the mayor’s job is about setting expectations for where we’re headed as a community.”
Briley favors district oversight of failing schools but wants to “untie the hands of principals and teachers who demonstrate success” and give them more control over their classrooms. He would appoint a deputy mayor for education to act as a liaison between the school system, the mayor, parents and businesses. He would recruit volunteers to mentor students in middle school. He supports charter schools. He’s for guaranteed multiyear budgets so parents won’t have to suffer an annual “crisis in confidence” over school funding.
Clement: “When more than 30 percent of our students don’t graduate on time, we need to change the way we’re doing things.”
Clement wants schools to offer career and technical classes again. He says he’ll challenge businesses to create and maintain small learning communities in each high school to train students for jobs. He wants to open a career and technical magnet school and expand an already existing high-tech training program for high school students at Nashville State Community College. He promises to crack down on truancy by stepping up police sweeps of kids playing hooky and establishing attendance review boards in every middle school and elementary school to meet with parents. He wants churches and businesses to send tutors and mentors to schools.
Dean: “There are no throwaway people in our society.”
Vowing to improve graduation rates, Dean favors more flexible school hours, job internships and access to technology, as well as more music and art classes to keep children interested. He calls for smaller class sizes and more reading specialists. He wants to aggressively recruit high-quality teachers for low-performing schools. He favors increasing the teacher recruitment budget “to allow for innovative approaches, such as signing bonuses, so Nashville can stay competitive with other markets.” He wants to expand pre-kindergarten classes to make them available to all families. He proposes more nurses, guidance counselors and attendance workers to help students make “positive life decisions.” He would make it easier for parents to become involved by encouraging businesses to provide leave for school activities.
Dozier: “If we all agree that Nashville should be the Athens of education in America, then each of us will have to think big and think outside the box on multiple fronts.”
Dozier proposes a “historic call to action” to raise $1 billion in private funds to establish an endowment for schools to be managed by an independent group of community leaders. He wants the endowment’s annual interest—which he estimates at $75 million—to go for additional teachers, smaller class sizes, pre-K programs and music and art instruction. He also wants to re-introduce vocational education. He pledges a thorough analysis of the education budget “to identify funds that are not reaching our children in the classroom.”
Gentry: “My goal is to mobilize and unite all of Nashville so that we can finally have a world-class school system in a world-class city.”
Gentry promises to organize “all the public and private groups working on our communities’ and schools’ behalf” into a task force to “face head-on the fact that more than half of our public school children are below the poverty line, and more than 17.5 percent (13,000 of our 74,000 students) are classified with a non-English language background.” He would create the Mayor’s Awards for Education Excellence for students, teachers, support staff, parents and volunteers.
Briley: “My first priority is to have 70 new officers doing quality-of-life enforcement, looking for trouble before it happens.”
Briley says Nashville should follow the model of New York City under Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s. He wants to add 10 new police officers in each precinct focusing on less serious crimes such as vandalism and car break-ins. He promises to add up to 300 new police officers over time and wants to offer incentives for new recruits, suggesting student loan repayment and help making down payments on homes. He also calls for hiring more probation officers for juveniles.
Clement: “The No. 1 threat to our quality of life in Nashville is juvenile crime.”
Clement vows to crack down on juvenile crime by assigning more police to fight youth gangs and by strengthening schools so students don’t drop out. He wants to install video surveillance cameras in elementary schools. He would send misbehaving schoolchildren out onto the streets to clean up graffiti. He would encourage property owners and businesses to offer discounts for police officers living in Nashville. He promises to seek federal money to create a Metro crime lab for quicker processing of evidence.
Dean: “Government efforts to reduce crime have to be supported by residents taking ownership of their communities.”
Dean touts his experience as Nashville’s public defender, when he says he supported increased penalties for illegal gun possession, and as Metro law director, when he used the public nuisance laws to close more than 30 houses of prostitution. He promises to encourage prosecutors to curtail plea bargaining in gun-crime cases. He wants to shift police resources to high-crime areas, launch a violent youth offender enforcement unit and reinstate the use of plainclothes officers in unmarked police cars for daily patrol.
Dozier: “Public safety is all about preparedness.”
Dozier would revamp the Office of Emergency Management “to ensure seamless deployment and coordination of all city, state and federal agencies in times of crisis.” He proposes creation of a new 911 center “to replace the existing outdated and cramped facility.” He would work more aggressively to fill the 100 funded but vacant police officer positions. He favors building a new police station for Madison and putting four new ambulances on the streets.
Gentry: “Right now, we are experiencing a 16-year low in crime overall. We should continue to do what’s necessary to continue that downward spiral.”
Gentry promises to fully fund and staff the police and fire departments, focus on juvenile crime prevention and step up efforts to curtail school truancy. He touts his Mayor’s Community Action Task Force, an initiative to deal with “social and cultural problems,” as a long-term solution. He says he can recruit new police officers by selling “the city, the quality of life, the ability to raise your family in a city that’s welcoming and friendly.”
Briley: “Part of living well means taking care of our natural environment, building the kind of sustainable, economically efficient communities we want to live in.”
The first candidate to detail an environmental platform, Briley would create an Office of Sustainability to coordinate public and private sector initiatives and expand environmental education in schools, among other duties. He promises to implement green building standards for all public and private construction. He would allocate 1 cent from the property tax levy toward buying open space for the public, generating $20 million annually. He would expand curbside recycling, buy a fleet of hybrid vehicles for Metro, and plant at least 1,000 trees every year.
Clement: “We need more connected communities, more greenways, bikeways and walking paths.”
Clement commits to implementing the city’s Parks and Greenways Master Plan, which calls for a greenway within two miles of every Nashville neighborhood in the next 25 years. He points out that he helped pass legislation that made it possible to build the Stones River Greenway in the Donelson/Hermitage area. Clement says he co-authored legislation that created more walking paths and bikeways nationally. He supports legislation to establish $4 billion in federal energy and environment grants.
Dean: “Now is the time to address our traffic problems.”
Dean calls for adding more sidewalks and bicycle lanes and for investing in a bus rapid transit system to operate on arterial roads. He calls for creating bus-only lanes at major intersections and installing bus stops with real-time route information and fast pay options. He calls for replacing traditional light bulbs in Metro facilities and traffic lights with more efficient bulbs and wants to switch Metro fleets over to alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles. He wants to expand parks and greenways and to plant more trees on public property.
Dozier: “Our recycling program in Nashville has been just totally ineffective.”
Dozier has not emphasized environmental issues. He supports environmental standards for public buildings and more green space, especially in South Nashville. He wants to consult with experts to figure out how to revamp the Metro recycling program. He wants a more fuel-efficient Metro fleet but says he won’t act quickly for fear of investing in the wrong technology.
Gentry: “We have to have a balance between green space and development.”
Gentry hasn’t said much about environmental issues. He wants government buildings to meet environmental standards “as quickly as possible.” He would create incentives for developers to build environmentally friendly developments and encourage citizen involvement in projects such as recycling. He wants to expand green space but at a slower pace than Briley.
Briley: “The new economy is one of ideas, not one of burgers.”
Briley vows there’ll be a laptop for every child if he wins. He says he wants to blanket the city with wireless Internet access and give laptops to children beginning in middle school. How would he pay for a Wi-Fi city? Nashville would donate space for antennas on city buildings and light and phone poles. In return, he says he would insist on free wireless Internet access for Metro schools. He would hit up the private sector for the cost of the kids’ laptops. He’s the only candidate to openly side with historic preservationists over developers in most situations.
Clement: “We need to get the word out to entrepreneurs and young people that Nashville is the place to come and start your business.”
Clement promises to create a working group consisting of Nashvillians with successful business start-up experience, venture capital experts and university representatives to develop a plan to make Nashville “the start-up capital of the nation.” He backs an existing plan for riverfront development, calling for boardwalks and a fountain at the end of Broadway. He supports more music and art festivals—especially a major eclectic arts and music festival, like the Summer Lights Festival of the 1980s.
Dean: “I want business owners to know that if they’re thinking about moving their company, I want them to come talk to me first and see what Metro can do to help them stay here in Davidson County.”
Dean has called for a small business summit to take place during his first year in office—focusing on issues such as working with Metro government, access to capital and employee benefits—and says his economic development efforts will focus on small and existing businesses in Nashville. To help minority business development, he would create equity funds, work with incubation centers to start businesses and have an active minority program for government procurement. Like all the candidates, he supports a new downtown convention center.
Dozier: “I’m tired of hearing the statement, ‘It’s hard to do business in Nashville.’ That must stop.”
Dozier says he’ll “look for ways to continue to cut local government red tape” and appoint a staffer to be an advocate for small-business interests. He would promote tourism and “reach out to Nashville’s creative community to identify potential for growth and expansion of the arts, film and music interests.” He promises to be “the city’s cheerleader and be involved in direct business recruitment and business expansion.”
Gentry: “I want every business person in Davidson County to know he or she has a friend in the mayor’s office, a friend who will not only listen, but will be proactive to help them prosper.”Gentry pledges to streamline procedures to help business owners get faster action and quicker answers at City Hall and centralize government information for small businesses. He says he’ll “create a level playing field” so that more military veteran-owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses receive Metro contracts. He would create an Office of Music and Entertainment to promote that industry.
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