The city’s homeless people say they’ll hold the mayoral hopefuls to their pledge to fend for themselves for a night alone on the mean streets of Nashville. The candidates promised to “take the urban plunge,” as the street people call it, at last week’s forum sponsored by the Nashville Homeless Power Project.
“We want them to feel it individually, alone,” says Clemmie Greenlee, a leader in the group. “We don’t want them to be comfortable. They will hang out in the park, be around the drunks, the filth, all the bugs and the grittle. They will find out that it’s up to them to find a place to sleep. They’ll have to sleep on one of these hard rocks or a bus stop bench or just on the street. They cannot even bring a blanket. They may have to cover themselves up with cardboard.”
One candidate, Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, has already done it, doffing his business suit in favor of a running outfit and baseball cap and hitting the pavement in March. Late that night, after realizing he had no safe place to sleep, a disgruntled Gentry went to the Union Rescue Mission in search of a bed with four other homeless men, Greenlee recalls. “He took his ball cap off and told them, ‘I’m Vice Mayor Howard Gentry and I need a bed for me and these four guys.’ And the young man at the desk told him, ‘I don’t give a damn who you are. We don’t have no bed.’ ”*Editor's Note: The Scene incorrectly reported last week that Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, while spending the night on the streets with homeless people to learn about homelessness, was turned away from the Nashville Rescue Mission. In fact, the anecdote the Scene recounted never happened. Gentry never asked the mission to let him sleep there, and he instead walked past the mission and spent the entire experience on the streets.
The fact that homeless people can host an election campaign forum says something either about the vibrancy of democracy in Nashville or the desperation of the candidates for votes. Either way, Greenlee says, “They committed to take the plunge and we are definitely calling their bluff. We want them to understand that it’s not fair for anyone to sit around and watch us as human beings live a Third World life.”
First, it was The Tennessean that snubbed Kenneth Eaton, refusing to feature the irascible used-car salesman in its series of mayoral candidate profiles. Now, he has been disrespected by organizers of the first televised candidate forum.
West Nashville neighborhood associations, which are hosting the event this week, decided Eaton couldn’t participate because his campaign hasn’t raised enough money.
“We did not invite Eaton,” says Irwin Venick, one of the forum’s organizers. “We decided to invite those candidates who had raised at least $100,000 prior to March 31, 2007, which, in our view, was an indication of the ability of a candidate to mount a viable campaign for mayor.”
Eaton is outraged. “It’s a little ridiculous,” he says. “It’s just unreal that they single out one candidate just because he doesn’t have the money that they think he should have in the bank.”
The first televised forum takes place Thursday night at Montgomery Bell Academy. It will be broadcast on WTVF’s NewsChannel 5+, which is cable channel 50, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday. There are at least two more debates on TV in July.
Almost nightly occurrences, the forums so far have been spiritless affairs, with the candidates responding in monotones to questions about sewer systems, historic overlays, potholes, sidewalks and the like. The candidates do sometimes supply a little comic relief, usually unintentionally. Here are two of the latest gems:
“I’ve been color-blind all my life.” —Bob Clement, trying to woo the mostly black audience at the Bordeaux forum.
“The greasy wheel sometimes gets the noise.” —Buck Dozier, getting confused.
Too bad they won’t let Eaton on the stage at MBA. Although basically uninformed on the issues, he’s probably the wittiest of the candidates (Howard Gentry has even been stealing some of Eaton’s lines) and Eaton has been the only one willing to criticize any other candidate.
“Bottom line is I’m kicking ass in the forums but the media are just not recognizing that I’m a candidate,” he says. “It’s really baffling to me.”
Clement runs out of ideas
Bob Clement’s “30 Ideas in 30 Days” campaign gimmick has finally ended, and his aides must have been really sorry they ever started it. Each idea came complete with an Internet video, and Clement tossed out some passably interesting suggestions early in the marathon—ending the magnet-school lottery, creating a Nashville police crime lab and opening Metro offices on weekends.
But by the end, he was clearly running out of steam. He thought it was a good idea that someone else come up with ways to improve the fairgrounds, and he was solidly in support of someone else’s plan for enlivening the riverfront. As one of his “new ideas,” he ripped off a state government education program.
Finally in apparent desperation, Clement’s campaign reported, “Today, as idea #29, he announced that he will constantly solicit ideas from the people of Nashville...” Idea No. 30 was to constantly solicit ideas from the businesspeople of Nashville.
Clement, thinking that voters might have grown a little weary of his act after a lifetime in politics, is trying to prove that he’s forward-looking. His rivals are getting ready to tar him as a relic of the past. An early signal is the TV spot that Karl Dean has been airing for the past three weeks. Dean takes an obvious slap at Clement, saying Nashville needs to keep the best of its past like the Shelby Street Bridge but “get beyond what doesn’t work anymore, like the old-style politics.”
David Briley, taking a page from the campaign playbook of new Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty, has decided to start standing on street corners waving at voters as they pass by.
Fenty was the Energizer Bunny of Washington’s 2006 mayoral election. In addition to greeting voters at busy intersections with what he called “the morning wave,” he pounded the pavement, knocking on doors at night for months before the election. Like Nashville’s campaign, Fenty’s race had five major candidates. Like Briley, Fenty was a relatively unknown council member when the race started.Holding a campaign sign, Briley was standing at a West End intersection for two hours Monday. “He was out there at 7 o’clock in the morning and he’ll be out there on some other street corner at 7 o’clock Friday morning,” campaign manager Emily Passini says. During his first “morning wave,” there were only five supporters standing with Briley, but “we’re building momentum,” Passini says.