A recent poll of frequent Metro voters indicates there are several prominent politicians who could defeat Mayor Phil Bredesen if he were to run again next year.
The poll, conducted by the local independent firm Prince Market Research and commissioned by a consortium of candidates in the May 5 primary, focused on races held earlier this month. But it also asked questions about next year’s mayoral race, which could possibly include Bredesen.
Released to the Scene by a source who requested anonymity, the poll indicates that both former Mayor Richard Fulton and U.S. Rep. Bob Clement would beat Bredesen in head-to-head contests. Fulton has plans to run for mayor next year, but only if Bredesen doesn’t enter the race. Meanwhile, Clement has expressed no interest in the mayor’s office.
In response to the question “Assuming that Phil Bredesen runs for reelection, would you vote for Bredesen or the following potential candidates?,” 46.4 percent of the 400 voters polled said they would vote for Clement, while the mayor got support from 26.7 percent. In response to the same question, 35.1 percent of those polled said they would vote for Fulton, while 32.2 percent said they would vote for Bredesen.
Vice Mayor Jay West, who also plans to run for mayor if Bredesen doesn’t, closely followed the mayor with 31.9 percent to Bredesen’s 33.8 percent. Former state legislator Bill Purcell, the only mayoral aspirant who hasn’t said whether he’d back out if Bredesen were to run, got 26.2 percent to Bredesen’s 35.3 percent. In a separate question, the poll showed Purcell to be the least-known of the mayoral candidates. A stunning 72.6 percent of those surveyed said they had no opinion of him, compared to West at 50.4 percent and Fulton at 30.4 percent.
Opponents in agreement
All three of the major candidates planning to run for mayor next year say they support Mayor Phil Bredesen’s proposed 12-cent property tax increase for Metro schools.
Former state legislator Bill Purcell, who announced his mayoral candidacy last summer, says he’s for the tax increase. “I have my daughter in public schools here in Nashville, and based on what I know, I believe our schools need the money,” he says.
Vice Mayor Jay West and former Mayor Richard Fulton, both of whom are preparing to run next year, say they also support the tax hike to fund capital building projects and a voluntary desegregation plan for schools.
A fourth potential candidate, Radnor Baptist Church pastor Paul Durham, says he opposes the tax increase and would advocate finding the money for the voluntary desegregation plan elsewhere in Metro’s $1 billion-plus budget. Durham describes the tax increase as “the cop-out way to fund the problem,” adding that he “totally” disagrees with those who believe the tax hike is necessary. “On the other hand,” Durham says, “I recognize we need to do something for schools.”
Silence in the classroom
Meanwhile, the president of the local teachers’ union says his organization has not and does not plan to take a position on the mayor’s proposal for a tax increase to fund the desegregation plan.
Without addressing the merits or demerits of the deseg proposal, Erick Huth, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA), says the union membership is upset at the school system for proposing teachers’ raises of only 1 percent next year and for stalling talks on other bargaining points as well.
“In that sort of a bargaining climate,” Huth says, the union will not “advance” a costly desegregation plan that may mean smaller raises for school employees.
But teachers’ unions have a tradition of taking positions on pressing matters related to education, even if they’re wrong. For example, MNEA’s big sister organization, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), jumped into the fray several months ago when the General Assembly was considering a bill to create charter schools. Charter schools, widely supported by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, as well as bipartisan legislative alliances in most states, would have allowed individuals, companies, or other entities to apply to local school boards to establish and manage schools.
Opposing the program, at least in part because it would have allowed unaccredited professionals to teach students, TEA singlehandedly torpedoed Gov. Don Sundquist’s proposal, characterizing it as a strictly Republican idea intended to sabotage and undermine public education.
Even though the $206 million voluntary desegregation plan, for which funding is currently on the table in the Metro Council, is the most significant issue Metro schools have faced in years, MNEA isn’t inclined to take a position on it. Instead, the union is ignoring the historic issue and complaining about personnel matters.
In avoiding the issue, MNEA is helping to reinforce its image as an organization less interested in students than in labor negotiations. And that’s not the sort of public-relations problem MNEAor other teachers’ unionsneeds to perpetuate.
For example, a visit several months ago to the union’s offices near the Tennessee State Fairgrounds found a handwritten description of “the perfect school year” displayed in the conference room. While it was surely a joke, it didn’t help improve public-school teachers’ collective reputation as professional complainers.
The message went something like this:
“The perfect school year:
1. Start after Labor Day
2. Take off all holidays recognized by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists
3. Have a spring break week before and after Easter
4. End before Memorial Day
5. Allow for 10 built-in snow days (the remainder of which are knocked off of May)
6. Get birthdays off (or the Friday/Monday closest to it if it falls on the weekend)
7. Only 4-week months allowed”
To reach Liz, call her at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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