District 18 Council race is still anybody’s game

Monday, March 16, 2009 at 1:00am

Things have certainly changed in District 18 of the Metro Council since 2007. Back then, a neighborhood association president built up so much pre-election support that he ran unopposed in the August Council election.

Keith Durbin points out that it was not by accident — in fact it took a great deal of hard work — that he found his¬ as the only name on the ballot. It was no small feat in a district which is as politically engaged as any in Davidson County.

However, now the tide has turned and instead of one qualified, popular candidate, District 18 boasts four.

John Ray Clemmons, Stephenie Dodson, David Glasgow and Kristin LaLonde are vying for the vacant seat, created when Durbin became Metro’s new director of information technology earlier this year.

At a community forum last month, at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry said she would be proud to serve with any of the four candidates, adding the district would be well represented no matter who wins.

What’s more, the candidates largely agree on the key issues facing the district. Each of the four point to traffic concerns as the biggest combined issue in the district. Each of the four acknowledge the importance of conservation zoning and balance between neighborhoods and development.

So the March 26 special election will by all accounts come down to a good old-fashioned get-out-the-vote effort.

“It’s harder than I thought,” Dodson said. “It’s a tough economy and people are holding onto their dollars, as they should, and so fundraising is tough. People aren’t coming to their doors as much as I thought. It’d tough, it’s harder than I thought.”

If the race comes down to a straight get-out-the-vote effort, it’s unclear which candidate would have the advantage, because all four are far from political neophytes.

LaLonde has been volunteering on campaigns for years, including the Barack Obama, Nashville for All of Us and Harold Ford’s 2006 senatorial bid.

Glasgow has worked in government for most of his career and Clemmons worked for then-Congressman Bob Clement.

Dodson has volunteered on campaigns as well, and has been involved in neighborhood issues for nearly two decades, providing her with contacts across the district.

“I think this race does come down to a get-out-the-vote campaign, who knocks on the most doors and who distributes the most signs,” LaLonde said.

Hillsboro restaurateur Randy Rayburn, who flirted with the idea of running for the seat himself, said with so much philosophical agreement on the issues, the race could come down to which candidate can lead outside of District 18.

“All four are positive candidates who are committed to the future of the district, to protecting the district,” Rayburn said. “The key will be which candidate can make the most impact in the Council on issues outside the land use issues in the district.”

When it comes to district issues, no candidate has as much history in the neighborhood as Dodson. A long-time member of the Hillsboro West End Neighborhood Association, in addition to serving on the Parent Teacher Organization of two neighborhood schools, Dodson has been intimately involved in various issues facing the district.

In fact, Dodson asserts she’s lived in the district longer than her three opponents combined. To that end, Dodson received the endorsement of the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund, which complimented all four candidates on their qualifications, but said she had the most experience with neighborhood issues.

The other key endorsement thus far came from the Metro Nashville Education Alliance, which threw its support behind Glasgow.

“I think it’s great, because they’re a third-party organization that none of us had a tie to, and I think education is always the first priority facing government,” Glasgow said.

All four candidates said the hot-button issue from conversations with neighbors is calming traffic and solving the lack of parking.

Clemmons said his campaign’s strategy is that one size doesn’t fit all. He said he’d take a block-by-block approach to what makes sense for each neighborhood in the district.

“I’ll go street by street, block by block and if people want permit parking, then that’s something that should be worked on,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons’ opponents agreed that permit parking should be considered. Several of the candidates pointed to the need for more traffic signage and street lights, but acknowledged efforts like that take Metro funds that are scarce these days.

“Most people don’t recognize that putting in a new traffic light costs about $100,00 and we have a backlog of needs for them across the city,” LaLonde said. “My approach is to be transparent and educate people so that when they ask questions, I can give them honest answers.”

Early voting in the district will run until March 21, with the election to take place March 26. If one of the candidates does not earn more than 50 percent of the vote then a runoff will be required for some time in late April.

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