Forget about Bill Purcell and his now-famous oak desk for just one moment. Thursday’s elections also delivered fresh, interesting faces to the Metro Council, which for years has been about as dynamic as the checkout line at H.G. Hill.
Take Brenda Gilmore, the victor in remote District 1, which includes both rural Joelton and urban Bordeaux.
In a contest polarized along racial lines, Gilmore, who is black, triumphed over the incumbent Regina Patton in part because she campaigned hard throughout the district. Gracious and insightful, Gilmore has a master’s degree in human resource development and works at Vanderbilt University heading up both their mail services and recycling efforts. In contrast, Patton seemed to exemplify the Council’s intellectual inebriety by voting for the stadium deal, which provides a handful of jobs, and against the Dell deal, which could provide as many as 10,000. That kind of logic hasn’t exactly helped the Council build that bridge to the 21st century.
If her aggressive campaign is any indication, Ginger Hauser, a research analyst for the state Comptroller’s office, will also add some much-needed vitality to the Council. In the race to replace the well-regarded Stewart Clifton in Hillsboro Village’s densely populated District 18, Hauser trimmed attorney Jayne Gordon by 10 votes.
Early on, Gordon was considered the favorite. She lived in the district for nearly 20 years, was a founding member of the Hillsboro Village Association, served on the NES Citizens Advisory Committee, and racked up endorsements from both The Tennessean and the Scene. But Hauser, 30, campaigned with grim determination, planting yard signs and marching door-to-door in the scorching heat, while her more esteemed opponent rested on her laurels. Come election day, Hauser’s youthful supporters, some of whom probably weren’t old enough to drink at the election party later that evening at the Iguana, manned the precincts and helped provide the tight margin of victory.
Yet another new spark is District 28 victor Jason Alexander, who at 25 will be the Council’s youngest member. Don’t compare this Antioch politico to Chris Ferrellthe plodding Alexander doesn’t yet have much of a visionbut at least give him credit for besting Hemal Tailor, who was endorsed by countless organizations. Other promising newcomers include Jim Shulmanchief of staff for House Speaker Jimmy Naifehwho waltzed unopposed into David Kleinfelter’s Green Hills District 25 seat, and in District 16, attorney Amanda McClendon, a tough-talking Vandy grad with a double major in economics and history.
Of course, the Council’s infusion of new blood is more the product of term limitsstill think those are bad, anyone?than voters’ disgust with incumbents. Actually, 15 of the 20 incumbents on the ballot won outright. Gilmore and the feisty Tony Derryberry, who won in his rematch against incumbent Charles French, were the only challengers to prevail without runoffs, although District 6 Challenger Lee Domann gave the relentlessly unimpressive Eileen Beehan the political scare of her life. In Districts 8, 23, and 29, incumbents Lawrence Hart, Eric Crafton, and Saletta Holloway all face tough runoff opponents. Out of that trio, Crafton, who trailed challenger Bob Bogen by 5 percentage points, may be the most vulnerable.
Overall, there are nine runoffs for district seats. In the well-to-do District 34, which includes Belle Meade and parts of Green Hills and Forest Hills, the surprising Lynn Williams is locked in a razor-sharp battle against GOP golden boy David Berndt, who led Thursday’s election by just seven votes. The other candidate, Pat Miller, finished a distant third. Since both Miller and Berndt received the endorsements of the Davidson County Republican Party, the bulk of Miller’s supporters might gravitate toward Berndt.
Other interesting runoff contests include West Meade’s District 24 race between former Council members Ralph Cohen and John Summers, and District 21, formerly a wild six-candidate race now whittled down to a duel between Edward Whitmore, retired from the auto parts business, and Debra Joyce, director of the Black Healthcare Commission of Tennessee.
Now on to the Council-at large race, in which 21 candidates were vying for five seats. As expected, incumbents Chris Ferrell and Leo Waters won outright, with Ferrell leading the ticket with 45 percent of the vote, a tad higher than Waters. Just four years ago, the boyish Ferrell finished sixth before prevailing in the runoff. Now he and the well-regarded Waters return to the Council as elder statesmen.
Six candidates will battle for the three remaining at-large seats. Of the six, former Tennessee State University Athletic Director Howard Gentry, former Nashville Sounds owner Larry Schmittou, and attorney David Briley are the favorites. They finished right behind Ferrell and Waters on Thursday. But remember back in 1995, former Sheriff Hank Hillin finished fourth, only to be leapfrogged by both Waters and Ferrell one month later in the runoff. That should give a bit of hope to the other three candidates in the runoff, educator Carolyn Baldwin Tucker, Music Row businessman Tandy Rice, and radio funny man Adam Dread.
Because a low turnout is expected, all six remaining candidates are expected to focus on the districts that still have contested races. That should make for a fragmented campaign, one that might ignore whole stretches of the city in favor of specific street corners. If that’s the case, don’t be surprised to see one or two of the candidates toiling behind an oak desk on the lawn of a neighborhood near you.
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