Baptist preacher Paul Durham is continuing his exploratory candidacy for the mayor’s office by using a telephone survey of voters to figure out what his negatives might be in next year’s race. Meanwhile, he is pledging that if he runs and is elected, he won’t accept the job’s $75,000 annual salary.
Specifically, voters contacted for the survey are being asked whether they would feel any differently about the Radnor Baptist Church preacher if they knew he had filed for bankruptcy in 1986. Durham, chairman of Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission, was forced into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization 12 years ago after Congress passed major tax-reform acts. The legislation meant financial ruin for scores of investors whose portfolios were tied up in real estate ventures. The bill essentially removed many of the financial benefits and tax incentives of those investments.
“As far as how this impacts my decision to enter public life, a person should be judged on how they handle adversity,” Durham says. “Because of this experience, I am better able to counsel families who find themselves in financial difficulty and help them find light at the end of the tunnel.”
It’s not often a minister runs for public office in Nashville. If Durham were to enter the race, he’d stand out as the lone religious figure among a group of experienced public servants that includes former Mayor Dick Fulton, Vice Mayor Jay West, and former state legislator Bill Purcell. Perhaps that’s why Durham’s possible candidacy is so intriguing.
Also intriguing are the questions that Durham’s survey is posing. In addition to the question about his bankruptcy is another about his having been accused of fraud in connection with a former Kentucky business that went sour. Taken together, the questions reveal something about the man’s potential weaknesses and his intentions. Durham says that since the bankruptcy reorganization he has recovered and remains financially strong. He says he doesn’t accept a salary from his church, and he pledges to make a complete financial disclosure if he becomes a candidate, adding, “As mayor, I will not accept a salary from the taxpayers.”
The questions also suggest that Durham might consider running against Mayor Phil Bredesen, should term limits in Metro be clarified and the mayor choose to run for a third term. One of the questions asks implicitly how the voter would feel if Durham were to run against Bredesen.
Durham’s political consultant, Bill Fletcher, says this question was asked to gauge not so much Durham’s chances against Bredesen but voters’ loyalty to the mayor. “We want to know how many voters are thoroughly committed to the mayor,” Fletcher says.
While slightly paraphrased and not in the order in which they were asked, here are some of the other questions, according to one person who was surveyed:
* Mayor Bredesen pledged to take on neighborhood problems in his second term and instead has focused on downtown projects. What would you think if a candidate who is a minister and a businessman pledged to work on neighborhood problems and not on downtown projects?
* Paul Durham is a minister and, if elected, will hire someone to take over day-to-day operations of the church. If elected, should he be allowed to preach at the church on Sunday?
* Paul Durham is a friend of Bill Boner and has been critical of some of Boner’s personal behavior and has counseled him. Does knowing that make you more or less likely to vote for him, or does knowing that make a difference at all?
* Is the involvement of the Christian Coalition in politics a good or bad thing?
* Should public housing projects be broken up in favor of creating scattered public housing across the city?
* Should the two-term limit apply to the mayor’s office?
* Is traffic better or worse since Bredesen took office?
* How would you vote in a runoff between Jay West and Paul Durham?
* How would you vote in a runoff between Paul Durham and Dick Fulton?
* Is the NFL coming here good or bad?
* Are property taxes here too high, about right, or too low considering the services you get?
* If Metro had an extra $10 million, would you want the city to use it for education, attacking crime, or lowering taxes?
* Should Metro spend $250 million to get out from under court-ordered desegregation?
* Is gang violence a serious problem in Metro, a minor problem, or no problem?
* Are endorsements from The Tennessean, Nashville Banner, the Friends of Police, and the unions helpful?
Former Tennessee Public Service Commissioner Frank Cochran, a judicial candidate for this summer’s elections, was awarded a $162,000 judgment in Davidson County Circuit Court earlier this month.
A jury awarded the damages to Cochran after a Metro water tank, in 1994, burst and flooded his home and property in Oak Hill. The parties were never able to reach a settlement, so they went to court.
Cochran plans to run for the chancery court seat now held by Ellen Hobbs Lyle when all of the county’s judges face voters this summer.
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