Chatter: Dean makes his mark by ruling as ‘middle man’

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 3:04am

When Mayor Karl Dean was running for office, a legion of real estate developers considered him a pariah.

It was guilt by association.

Dean was a relatively unknown quantity with his association to Mayor Bill Purcell being the only reference point. After all, Dean was the legal director during the legal battles with Harding Academy, perhaps Purcell’s most notable neighborhood-friendly effort.

Former Congressman Bob Clement built part of his platform on the fact that he wasn’t Purcell, the Neighborhood Mayor, and developers lined up with their support and money.

Dean has surprised developers in his first nine months, leading to the perception that the pendulum has swung far away from the neighborhoods and anti-big-deal mentality and into the former Mayor Phil Bredesen years.

Developers and observers say the perception misses the mark. In their minds, the pendulum has swung more to the middle, a more balanced approach than Purcell or Bredesen.

Purcell had swung the pendulum far away from Bredesen’s highly pro-business attitude instead of taking a more balanced approach.

It just looks like a big swing for Dean because the pendulum had swung so far into Purcell’s direction. That may have been more of a perception, too, since neighborhoods didn’t score a lot of huge victories.

Harding Academy won nearly every, if not every, legal battle, including the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Mostly, though, observers point to Purcell not striking major incentive deals and letting some corporate headquarters scoot out of the county when he wouldn’t deal.

Of course, there are developers and others who sure would like the Bredesen years back. But one developer noted that’s not what’s needed now. It was good at the time and what Purcell should have done is brought it to the middle.

Instead, the feeling is that Purcell set the city back by kowtowing to the anti-business interests.

But probably more importantly, Purcell didn’t fight an effort to require a popular vote to raise property taxes. That’s a legal murky area now and has created an environment in which Dean has to look for ways to increase the tax base while paring expenses with a tight budget.

One way of building the tax base is by encouraging more real estate development. That is why the May Town Center has appeal within the administration.

It comes down to fighting a handful of people (relative to the whole county voting population) who don’t want the development or defending and selling an increase in property taxes to voters.

Not many politicians want that fight, especially at a time when the national economy is sluggish.

The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to

Filed under: City Business
By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If the city did not subsidize a sport that only 5,000 Davidson Countians had an interest you would have money for important things.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

But you can cut a bunch of people's jobs and that is not near as glamous as ice wont see plaster doing a radio a thon to save those people's jobs or even pay their health insurance... but let a gagle of millionaires not make enough $$ and we have telethons for them.

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Talk about having nothing better to do, you guys make me laugh! IS there possibly another subject you could talk about or debate. this one is getting stale.....