After they learned last week of press secretary Tam Gordon’s impending departure from Mayor Phil Bredesen’s office, Nashville political reporters were so full of self-pity that theythe Scene staff includeddidn’t stop to consider what it really meant.
Reporters were scrambling to figure out how Gordon’s move to the Freedom Forum/First Amendment Center was going to affect their own lives. Who was going to replace Gordon? And when? Would the replacement be like Gordon, or would she be followed by a stone-faced keeper of the gate? Never mind that the rest of the Nashville community had little, if any, interest in the career moves of a member of the mayor’s staff.
The story is not really that Gordon is gone. The story is that her departure raises the question of who will fill a power void in the mayor’s office. No one in the mayor’s office is closer to Bredesen than Gordon is. Even Bredesen’s closest advisors were shell-shocked at Gordon’s announcement, and even they are wondering how it will all shake out.
What’s more important is the fact that Gordon’s departure signals a sort of wind-down of Bredesen’s tenure as Nashville chief executive. Despite the universal recognition that Gordon’s new job is a good one and that the salary is extremely handsome, her move strongly suggests that the mayor won’t seek a third term in office, that he probably will not run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998, and that he won’t make a run for the U.S. Senate any time soon.
If Bredesen had planned on running for something else, Gordon’s loyalty would probably have kept her with him. But since she’s leaving, odds are the mayor is going to have more time to enjoy the new home he’s building in Jackson Holewhich, in fact, is where he’s spent the last week. In addition, he’ll have more time to get involved in health-care business start-ups.
Even if Bredesen had decided to run again for mayor, some are of the opinion that the Metro Charter would prohibit him from serving a third term. A term-limits amendment to the charter was approved a few years ago, but the Metro Legal Department seems to think Bredesen would be clear to run. Other attorneys say he would not be eligible for another term. If he tried to run again, there would almost certainly be a legal challenge.
Other factors corroborate the theory that Bredesen is simply a mayor biding his time until he plunges into his next private business venture. Metro Department heads can be heard making comments such as, “I don’t think you’ll be seeing [Bredesen] at a whole lot of neighborhood functions anymore.” What’s more, former mayor and Bredesen supporter Richard Fulton is acting very much like a mayoral candidate these days, something he probably wouldn’t do so openly if he weren’t convinced Bredesen was going to be out of the picture.
Bredesen’s political plans, or lack thereof, may have been solidified privately as far back as a year ago, but the rest of Nashville hasn’t been privy to them. Now perhaps they are. In a very real way, Gordon’s departure marks the beginning of the end of an era.
Rumor du jour
Meanwhile, a rumor floating through downtown has it that Bredesen was being considered for a cabinet-level post in the Clinton administration, namely that of commerce secretary.
Those close to Bredesen professed ignorance, if not complete surprise, about such a scenario. “News to me,” said a close Bredesen associate.
Bredesen will keep a fairly high profile at the upcoming Democratic convention in Chicago, which might lend credence to the theory that he would be interested in getting a job like commerce secretary. He plans on throwing a major bash for the Tennessee delegation, and two of his staffers were dispatched to Chicago last week to look at possible party sites. Tops on the list were either a skyscraper penthouse party room or a boat.
But Bredesen also threw a party at the 1992 Democratic convention in New York City, at the Harvard Club. The rumor also loses steam when one considers that Mickey Kantor is already serving as commerce secretary, having replaced the late Ron Brown. It is known, however, that Kantor is said to be less than enthused about his new post.
On the rumor scale, this one probably doesn’t have legs.
Now that the dust has been stirred up in the federal investigation of Davidson County Clerk Bill Covington and his office practices, additional information is also surfacing about the witnesses who have testified before the federal grand jury.
One of the grand jury witnesses, Rev. Enoch Fuzz, a Baptist minister who told the Scene last week that he didn’t think “the media should be talking about what our government is doing,” has also been investigated by authorities in the past.
After political candidates alleged that Fuzz squeezed them for money in exchange for votes from the black community, the Davidson County district attorney’s office requested a TBI investigation of Fuzz and his political action committee in 1991. The district attorney’s office was trying to determine if Fuzz had broken the law. That was four years after Fuzz’s five months of seasonal employment with Covington’s office.
According to records filed with the state Registry of Election Finance, the district attorney’s office found insufficient evidence to proceed with criminal prosecution, but the investigation exposed other violations, including hopelessly incomplete recordkeeping on Fuzz’s part and improper filing of the financial disclosures required by state law.
Fuzz repeatedly failed to file PAC disclosure statements, and, when fines were issued against him, he failed to pay those as well. Finally, the Registry of Election Finance had to take Fuzz and his PAC to court, where, in 1992, Davidson County Chancellor C. Allen High found in favor of the Registry and ordered Fuzz to pay $250 in fines.
Election finance records show Fuzz collected $5,250 from various candidates during election seasons in 1990, including money from then-Criminal Court Clerk Joe Torrence, General Sessions Judge Mike Mondelli, and Vic Lineweaver, who is now a member of Metro Council.
An itemized statement of expenditures shows that $2,225 of those contributions went to Fuzz himself, who reported to the state that he used the money to pay poll workers. In a list provided to the state Registry of Election Finance at the time, many of the poll workers were identified by first name only.
Fuzz’s well-known association with sleazy business practices could work either for or against Covington. On the one hand, what was a character like Fuzzwhose reputation was already shaky, even during the time he was associated with Covingtondoing working for the city? On the other hand, if Fuzz has something negative on Covington, the minister’s own credibility is sure to be questioned.
Since last week, Covington has hired former U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin to represent him during the investigation. In the past week, Covington and Hardin have ably fielded questions from the media and have refuted allegations made by other former employees such as Edith Stromatt and former Metro Council member Pat Frye, whose unpopularity as a Council member was monumental.
Covington has dismissed Stromatt’s allegations that he used his office for political gain. Instead, Covington says his refusal to support her in her quest for a tax-free Metro pension led her to act vindictively. As for Frye, Covington says many of her allegations about his office practices relate to a time when she wasn’t even working for him.
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