The prospect of Bob Clement as mayor is becoming more real every day, and for scores of Nashvillians that’s not an appealing political forecast. It’s not that there’s no good alternative to the benign government insider with the cadence of a small-town Mississippi pol. It’s that there are probably too many—one too many, actually. In which case, it occurs to us that there are but a couple of Nashvillians who could save the city from this impending leadership misadventure, and to do it one of them would have to engage in self-sacrifice.
We’d prefer it be Clement himself, an uninspiring picture of mediocrity—an embarrassment, really—who, by the way, we’d not have to be so blunt about were he not running to oversee a $1.5 billion city. Even though he has the most money, the most name recognition and the longest political career, Clement is topping out at only 30 percent in the polls—and actually losing ground as he’s exposed to more voters. This is a candidate trying to make his final political lap for lack of anything better to do. It’s not a good enough reason to run. Nevertheless, he’s ahead and, unfortunately, would never step aside for the good of his city. The conventional wisdom, which we buy, is that without a fresh, starkly different opponent in a head-to-head runoff, Clement may well squeak by simply by default.
So to avoid a Clement administration, we’d argue for throwing idealism—and either candidate Karl Dean or candidate David Briley—overboard. Dean is a smart, thoughtful, accomplished person who, despite that indifferent New Englander thing he has going on (sort of a Herman Munster poise), we like. Briley is a gifted 43-year-old attorney, an intellectual, a student of sound public policy and an amiable person. Both are just the kind of candidates the Scene tends to support and respect. But it just so happens that, with only five weeks until the election and after having spent half a million bucks, Dean is polling at just 12 percent. It’s an underwhelming showing, especially given that he’s the only candidate who’s begun media. Briley, who has yet to go up on TV and whose campaign believes his numbers will move dramatically once he does, remains in single digits at this writing.
There’s no question that these two candidates are cannibalizing one another. Separately, it’s unlikely that either could leapfrog ahead of candidates Howard Gentry and Buck Dozier to make the runoff in September. But were their supporters to unite behind one of them, there’d be a shot at avoiding what now seems like an inevitable four years of ceremonial ribbon cutting and mealymouthed leadership.
Briley has expressed optimism that there’s room for both him and Dean in this race: “To a certain extent we’re fishing in the same pond,” Briley told a group of bloggers last weekend when asked about the Scene’s recent analysis of a Dean poll showing Briley at just 7 percent. “But I think at the end of the day, whichever one of us runs the best grassroots campaign and has the best message is going to be the one that gets outside of our pond and picks up enough votes to make the runoff. That’s what it’s really all about. Neither one of us can win just fishing in our own pond. Nobody in this race can rely just on their sort of core and win, and I’m confident that we’re running a better grassroots campaign than anybody, that we have the best message, and I’ve improved my speaking ability a little bit over the last few months and I feel like at this point I’m the best messenger in the race.”
We admire the enthusiasm, but the math just doesn’t add up. Gentry will get the black vote and will have 18 to 20 percent locked up. Clement will keep his 29 or 30 percent. Dozier will draw the social conservatives, the churchy crowd, good for another 20 percent, give or take. The field is too fragmented, and it amounts to some bad juju for Dean and Briley.So, gentlemen, we know it’s not fair to ask one of the two best candidates in the field to abandon your pursuit. But politics is rarely a fair game. Once Briley’s TV is up and there’s a clear sense of your respective support, one of you needs to get out and throw your support behind the other. Do what’s best for your city. You wouldn’t have to make a pact with the devil—only with one another.