What’s a political campaign without a little fear mongering on the crime issue? Leave it to Bob Clement to deliver the red meat in the mayor’s runoff. All month, he’s been flaying Karl Dean for representing criminal defendants as Metro’s elected public defender in the 1990s. But what Clement needed was a really terrifying face to associate with his attack—like Willie Horton gave George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.
Now, Clement has found his Willie Horton, and his name is Paul Dennis Reid.
At Monday night’s televised debate, Clement couldn’t wait to bring up Reid, the notorious lunatic who murdered seven people at fast food restaurants in Nashville and Clarksville in 1997 and now resides on Tennessee’s death row. After Reid was convicted of his crimes in Nashville, he went on trial in Clarksville, and Dean sent Metro public defenders to represent Reid there, too. Early in the debate, Clement asked, “Why did we have to use local tax dollars in Montgomery County to represent Paul Dennis Reid?” Dean said state funds, not local tax dollars, paid for Reid’s representation. But for the case Clement is making against Dean, that distinction is irrelevant, as the lawyers would say.
“You haven’t seen our poll,” Clement strategist Bill Fletcher explains when questioned about the wisdom of making Reid the poster child for the attack against Dean. All Clement wants is for voters to remember that Dean represented Reid. That fact alone is a big negative for Dean, Clement’s polling undoubtedly shows. To the inattentive voter—that is to say, most of the electorate—none of the details of how Reid’s defense was bankrolled matters, or at least that’s the way Clement’s campaign sees it.
In an election that African American voters could decide, it’s also no coincidence that Clement’s campaign is singling out Reid, who is white, from the other criminal defendants who passed through the public defender’s office during Dean’s tenure. If Reid were black like Horton, Clement could have been accused of trying to arouse racial fears.
Clement has never stated exactly why it was wrong for Dean to do his job as public defender. That’s because even Clement realizes he’d sound silly if he started saying Dean loves criminals. So Clement has gone through various contortions of logic to justify his criticism. At first, without elaboration in TV interviews, he merely slapped Dean for representing “the worst of the worst criminals.” But pressed on the matter last week in an interview with the Scene, Clement said, “It’s not that half his public life he’s represented murderers and rapists and child molesters. Everyone deserves representation.”
According to this new interpretation from Clement, the real problem is not that Dean represented the accused but that he did it well. “...His nickname is ‘Magic,’ ” Clement claims. “Karl Dean, they call him ‘Magic’ because he’s gotten people light sentences and was able to get people out who ought not to be out on the streets again.” Here’s more from the interview:
Scene: “So because someone has been public defender, is that person disqualified from serving as mayor?”
Clement: “No, I’m very supportive of public defenders. But I’m talking about people who have committed heinous crimes.”
Scene: “So they’re the ones who shouldn’t get a fair trial?”
Clement: “No, they should get representation.”
Scene: “Just not very good representation?”
Clement: “Well, you gotta use some common sense and good judgment. These people are a threat to society. Aren’t you doing them a favor by keeping them incarcerated and locked up? You’ve got cases where certain people should not be back on the street because of their record and the number of their crimes. That’s where the public defender and the prosecutor and all should come to the table and say, ‘If this person gets out, we’re going to have trouble. This person is going to do it again, and how many more lives do they have to destroy?’ ”
Scene: “What you’re saying, Congressman, is that if a guy is bad enough, what the public defender should do is just lay down and toss in the towel? What should Dean have done?”
Clement: “Represent them, No. 1, but No. 2, be sensitive to the community. Share information with the prosecution. You’re doing the person a favor by incarcerating them rather than turning them back onto the street where they can commit horrible crimes again.”
To counter Clement’s barbs, Dean is airing a TV ad featuring an endorsement from A.A. Birch, the first black chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. “He fought honorably for his clients, and he never gave up,” says Birch, who retired last year.
Dean himself says, “It’s a criminal justice system where your job is to represent the client and do what’s best for him and they’re guaranteed that by the Constitution. They’re guaranteed a vigorous, zealous defense.”Wonder how the Bill of Rights would fare in Clement’s polls?