In true Southern fashion, one of Nashville’s most politically influential Baptist preachers is contemplating a run for the mayor’s office. It’s the first sign that the 1999 race will be worth watching.
Two years ago, Rev. Bill Sherman, the likable and down-to-earth pastor of Woodmont Baptist Church, nearly took on incumbent Mayor Phil Bredesen. Sherman might have had the support of other Bible toters who, like him, opposed the sale of beer in the arena, but he ultimately shied away from the race.
This time around, one of Sherman’s fellow pastors is the more likely candidate. Over the past few years, Rev. Paul Durham, pastor of Radnor Baptist Church, ventured into the public arena, and apparently he’s liked the experience. Durham, who’s more slick and flashy than Sherman, worked with the Woodmont Baptist pastor several years ago when the arena beer-sale issue consumed the mayor’s office and Metro Council.
The two preachers put together an alliance of citizens opposed to alcohol at the Metro-owned building, but they were ultimately outdone by the more politically powerful Mayor Phil Bredesen, who maintained that beer sales were vital to the economic success of the arena. Still, Durham enjoyed the media attention, and he was always around when a tape recorder or television camera was rolling.
Durham, who’s become wealthy through a host of real-estate and business ventures, has spent the last few years as a member of Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission. He currently serves as chairman of the commission and has taken the lead on downtown-related issues such as traffic flow and regulations for street vendors.
Durham’s unsteady relationship with Bredesen came to a head during the beer debate, and it’s been on-again, off-again ever since. Durham is in favor of strict regulations that would make it difficult for street vendors to set up shop on downtown streets. Bredesen likes the vendors hawking their wares because they contribute to the feel of downtown Nashville as a fun, touristy Mecca.
Durham, at least for now, isn’t commenting on his interest in the mayor’s office, but neither is he denying it. Still, his interest in the office is no secret. Plenty of people are encouraging him and plenty of people are aware of his aspirations.
It would be interesting to see how a Baptist preacher, who’s also a businessman, would fare in a race to run the new Nashville, a city with growing numbers of transplants who are Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim, but also a city that likes its leaders to have solid business experience. Baptists still form a great percentage of the population here. If religious affiliation were the only consideration, Durham would probably be a shoo-in.
If, however, you subtract the number of Baptists who go home after work and have a few drinks, the fate of Durham’s candidacy looks somewhat less sunny.
Metro boards and commissions that oversee departments or serve in an advisory role for city agencies are filled with volunteers appointed by the mayor.
They are traditionally passive bodies, rubber-stamping the recommendations of departmental staffs. But every now and then they stir, itching to take some action not initiated by hired staff.
Such was the case recently when the Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) board voted that MDHA director Gerald Nicely should be removed entirely from the development of Nashville’s $70 million library because he is married to library director Donna Mancini Nicely. The board said the relationship was a “conflict.” Instead, they decided, one of Nicely’s subordinates should oversee the project.
It’s always nice when volunteers take it upon themselves to come up with an idea and make something happen. However, removing Nicely from the equation simply doesn’t make any sense. A “conflict” only exists when interests are incompatible or in direct opposition. Gerald Nicely, the newlywed, should have every incentive to do a good job on the library project, given his wife’s dedication to the plan. Likewise, Donna Nicely, the newlywed, should have every incentive to be cooperative and helpful throughout the construction.
The board’s vote is well-meaning but overeager. “I find it difficult to figure out what the conflict is,” Mayor Phil Bredesen says. “It seems [Gerald Nicely] would have every incentive to break his back and do a good job.”
Still, Bredesen says, the board has been “sort of hypersensitive” to any possible, or perceived, conflicts of interest. “I think it was probably an excess of caution,” Bredesen says. “As time goes on, the board may decide [Gerald Nicely] needs to be a little more involved with it.”
Pay as you go
Those who own and lease property in downtown’s Central Business District may wind up paying 20 cents more in property taxes when the tax bills go out in the fall.
Legislation was filed this week that would create a Central Business Improvement Districtor CBIDsimilar to the ones that exist in other cities across the country. In a CBID, a separate tax is assessed on businesses and property owners in a defined section of downtown. Revenues from that tax are then used to make street and safety improvements there.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the CBID, and has also obtained more than the required number of signatures from downtown property owners who say they’d be willing for the proposal to be considered by Metro Council.
The extra 20 cents would raise about $600,000 a year for improvements. Metro Council is set to consider the bill on first reading in August.
We’re looking forward to resolution of the Wal-Mart debate, which has inspired the very worst pettiness in activists on both sides. The Scene, for example, got an anonymous voice mail the other day that went like this: “I just wanted to let you know that this guy Todd Rogers, the head of the citizen group against Wal-Mart that everyone keeps quoting in the newspaper, the reason he’s against Wal-Mart is because he owns stock in Kmart.”
Rogers says he used to own a few shares in Kmart but sold them before this debate surfaced. The point is, though, who cares?
To reach Liz, call her at 615-244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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