Idea Man 

Nashville smells smoke as Clement puts on thinking cap

And all this time you thought Bob Clement was dumb. Clement, working hard to dispel that widespread notion, is trying to remake himself as the deepest thinker in the mayoral campaign with a “30 Ideas in 30 Days” publicity blitz.
And all this time you thought Bob Clement was dumb. Clement, working hard to dispel that widespread notion, is trying to remake himself as the deepest thinker in the mayoral campaign with a “30 Ideas in 30 Days” publicity blitz. (And no, Idea No. 1 wasn’t “having 30 ideas in 30 days in an attempt to look smart.”)

Clement’s first idea—which he pronounced like Buddha from his campaign headquarters—was to let Metro employees work flexible hours. With all the important issues facing the city—poverty, illegal immigration, whether mayoral candidates should sit or stand at community forums—Idea Numero Uno was making life easier for Metro workers.

“This plan is a win-win,” Clement declared. Yes, it’s a win for Metro workers (as if the pothole crews need permission to spend more time at Krispy Kreme). And it’s a win for the Clement campaign because it’ll make Metro workers more inclined to vote for Clement. But what about the rest of us?

Clement says flex-time would allow staggered hours for Metro offices for public convenience. But what if offices are open an hour or two later and there are only a couple of Metro employees on hand to serve the customers? How could the city ensure that offices are adequately staffed? Maybe that’s Idea No. 29.

Clement turned to education for his second idea, which was to expand the magnet school program by creating small learning communities within neighborhood schools. Just one problem: “We’re already doing that,” says Marsha Warden, chair of the Metro school board.

Warden points out the city won a $5 million federal grant just last year to create special academies within eight high schools. As for ending the magnet school student lottery, another Clement idea, what’s the point? Students who don’t make it into magnet schools can still transfer into other programs at other schools that are just as academically rigorous, Warden says.

At press time, Clement still had to enlighten voters with 23 more utterances (picture the brow-furrowed candidate sitting in the lotus position in a darkened room, incense burning by his side), so we’re keeping hope alive on the Idea Watch. But so far, his communiqués have been fairly humdrum and fuzzy on implementation.

Clement says he wants to create a Metro crime lab, hold more music and arts festivals, and increase school attendance. To his credit, he does give some inkling of how he’d pay for the crime lab. (He’d go after a federal grant and charge fees to conduct tests for police in other cities.) And he did offer a few ways to stop kids from playing hooky. (Volunteers would start cracking knuckles if Clement is mayor.)

His supporters say Clement is showing courage by making proposals and opening himself up to scrutiny and nitpicking, and some give him credit for attempting to inject substance into the usual election-year windbaggery. But Clement’s so-called ideas are all broadly popular and hold no political downside for his campaign. Some have blatantly pandered to special interests—maybe Clement set up a suggestion box outside his campaign headquarters—and others, like calling for a fountain on Lower Broadway, are trivial. He’s doing what every old-fashioned, backslapping politician does best—he’s making promises.

Tree-huggers with chainsaws

With Idea No. 6, Clement raised the ire of one of his rivals in the mayor’s race with a seemingly innocuous promise. Clement said he wants “to make Nashville more environmentally friendly” and backed green design standards for new Metro schools and taxpayer-funded buildings.

“I will approach all new development with an eye toward future generations,” Clement said.

That drew fire from his opponent David Briley, who has already staked his claim as the green candidate in the mayor’s race—and isn’t about to relinquish it to a latecomer like Clement.

“The only thing ‘green’ about Clement’s ideas is the fact that every idea so far has been recycled,” Briley campaign manager Emily Passini fumed.

Passini then proceeded to unleash a choice page or two of the Briley campaign’s research into Clement’s congressional record. A sampling:

Clement voted against raising fuel-economy standards on light trucks and SUVs in 2001; Clement voted against moving $36 million from fossil fuel development to winterization for low-income families in 2001; Clement voted to prevent communities from knowing if smog levels didn’t meet new EPA standards in 2000; and Clement voted repeatedly to force taxpayers, not the offending companies, to pay to clean up toxic waste dumps.

Schooling Dean

Karl Dean is airing his second TV ad of the mayoral campaign and attracting criticism because the spots were filmed at elite private schools.

Dean says he went to University School of Nashville and Montgomery Bell Academy to shoot the commercials because Metro schools, trying to avoid the appearance of partisanship, don’t permit political ads to be filmed on their property.

Still, it’s a little weird to see Dean, the former Metro law director, talking about poor kids in trouble while he’s standing in front of a bunch of rich kids in private school. Dean’s own children attend private school, by the way.

“We wanted to shoot the ads at public schools, but they said, ‘No, absolutely not, no one can shoot in public schools,’ ” Dean campaign manager Jim Hester says. “There have been no political ads shot at public schools ever. Any candidate who does an ad is going to have to do it at a private school. That’s important to point out.”

Mr. Cellophane

Council member Buck Dozier is pledging “total transparency from day one” if he’s elected mayor. In a news release, he says he’d make all meetings in the mayor’s office open to the media and public.

“In my opinion, what occurs in the mayor’s office is the people’s business, and as such there should be no hidden agendas,” Dozier says.

Sounds great—until you read the fine print in the last paragraph of the executive order that Dozier says he’d issue on his first day as mayor. It makes an exception for anyone meeting with the mayor who doesn’t want anyone else to know what’s said. In that case, Dozier says, the meeting is closed.

So Dozier will be totally transparent except when he’s meeting with someone who prefers total secrecy. How often do you think that will happen? Dozier is more transparent than he realizes.

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