Now that the sales tax referendum is out of the way, political tongues are back to wagging about a bevy of issues that folks have been too polite or preoccupied to talk about for the past few months. The general theme of this parlor game is “What’s next?” For example: what’s going to happen to Metro schools without more city money? Does Pedro Garcia have a future in Nashville? What will the next Metro Council look like? And who will lead it?
Oh—and does Bill Purcell really plan on running the city for 12 years? That’s the question, of course, that will impact a host of other ones, both the aforementioned and many more. After the mayor’s sales tax proposal so colossally flopped, it seems the polite moratorium on political speculation about Hizzoner’s present and future has ended. In fact, things will probably get a lot less cordial over the next two years as Nashville heads toward another general election.
But some decorum still holds in this town. This week, ever so graciously, Nashville dealmaker Lucius Carroll II confirmed to the Scene that he’s considering a run for the city’s top job. “I’m a businessman, not a politician. I seem to think it might be time for somebody to get in there without a lot of politics tying him down,” he says, echoing Phil Bredesen’s successful 1991 everyman-businessman appeal to voters. Like Bredesen, Carroll is a Yankee carpetbagger who found financial success in the South. (Unlike Bredesen, he’s not filthy rich and claims to like Purcell.) He’s worked in the business side of health care and now has his own management consulting firm—which, best we can tell, means he puts business interests together and gives them advice. That means backslapping, wining and dining, with a little work thrown in for honesty’s sake.
Carroll, a Vanderbilt alumnus and Belle Meade Country Club member, says the thought of running Nashville is about “using my skills to better our city and increase the quality of life for everyone.” Instead of talking taxes, he says the city should be focusing on recruiting businesses—although he’s not complaining about the low tax burden on his fellow wealthy citizens. He’s pretty modest about his accomplishments and seems only to be thinking out loud about the mayor’s job: “I’m not a perfect man by any means…. I am just a person who believes Nashville is poised for greatness,” says the owl-eyed Carroll, noting that he’s “just starting to ask around” about a potential run.
He’s got plenty of company. Bob Clement, who represented Nashville in Congress for 14 years, has been putting the word out far and wide that he may have room in his consulting schedule for a mayoral bid or a run at some other elected office. His current party line is the familiar, “People have been approaching me everywhere I go,” although his allies have been making overtures to local labor leaders, a clear sign that ambitions are afoot. When a second-generation, dyed-in-the-wool politician says, “I’m not doing anything political at this time”—and that’s a direct quote—you can go ahead and assume he’s got polling data on his desk.
Long-shot Carroll and the familiar Clement join local attorney Dewey Branstetter as potential Purcell opponents. Look for Vice Mayor Howard Gentry to run if Purcell opts out; at-large Metro Council member Buck Dozier may be in the race regardless. And at-large member David Briley is keeping his options open. (“With encouragement from friends, I am considering how I can stay involved as a public servant either as mayor or in some other capacity.”) The conventional wisdom on the smart, never-defeated incumbent mayor is that the 2007 race is his to lose, barring a court ruling that says he can’t serve a third term. Of course, the way things have been going lately, Purcell’s longtime supporters may be finding some space on their dance card.