Election Day arrives in Nashville

Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 10:05pm
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Illustration by Thomas James 

Consider yourself an outlier — or just someone who believes in the democratic process — if voting crosses your radar during this year’s local elections. 

As expected of a Metro general election without a competitive mayor’s race, turnout during early voting was lackluster at best. Some 2,000 registered voters showed up each day at the polls during the early stage, setting up a scenario in which an overall turnout of 55,000 seems likely. More than 100,000 people took part in Metro’s election four years ago, when five high-profile candidates vied for the city’s top job. Davidson County currently boasts 285,000 active registered voters. 

“There’s no big mayor’s race driving the ticket,” Albert Tieche, Davidson County’s election administrator, told The City Paper, explaining the low turnout. 

Indeed, the dominating force in this year’s election is not Dean’s inevitable victory over three no-name opponents. Instead, taking center stage — though not necessarily boosting turnout — is a proposed Metro Charter amendment that would make it more difficult for city government to change the status quo at the 117-acre Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The referendum follows a year in which the mayor’s plans to redevelop the property for an unidentified corporate campus were roundly criticized and eventually stymied. 

Leading up to this week’s vote, several Metro Council incumbents have opted not to tout their records of support for Tennessee’s most expensive municipal project ever, the $585 million Music City Center. Rather, the message of preserving the fairgrounds has permeated the campaigns of numerous candidates — mostly challengers — across the county.

“I think of all the issues out there — and I’ve got it in my television ad — the general public is still more enthralled with the fairgrounds issue than they are with the convention center,” At-large Councilman Tim Garrett said. 

Of course, Election Day is just round one. If any of the district races fails to produce a winner (a candidate who receives 50 percent plus 1 of the total vote), then the two leading contenders will face off in a Sept. 15 runoff. At-large candidates, meanwhile, must garner at least 10 percent of the aggregate number of votes cast for that office to prevail on Election Day. More than likely, several at-large candidates will also be subject to the runoff. 

When all is spoken for, Nashville could be looking at a dramatically different 40-member council. Thirteen members are term-limited, and two others have opted against re-election. Five incumbents and two outsiders are running unopposed. 

While the thrum of election season will continue through mid-September, some important questions will find their answers in the coming days. 

 

Will fairgrounds preservationists prevail in the referendum, and how will yes votes compare with Dean’s re-election votes? 

Throughout the roller-coaster ride that was Dean’s pursuit of a redeveloped fairgrounds, one consistent message came from the mayor’s office: Fairgrounds preservationists were a loud but small minority. 

That will be tested Thursday. Dean, who figures to lose politically if the amendment passes, has not campaigned against it. The mayor has said it’s the “people’s right” to amend the charter, though it’s not something he recommends. Dean has also pointed out that altering the charter this way would merely increase the threshold of council votes required to pursue redevelopment. The mayor would need 27 council votes (instead of the current simple majority of 21) to reach that goal if the amendment passes. 

Most political odds-makers are forecasting a victory for fairgrounds backers. But such prognostications can be wrong — many predicted a victory for the English-only charter amendment during Metro’s controversial special public referendum in 2009, for example. 

Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin, who heads the group Save My Fairgrounds, which led a successful petition drive to get the referendum on the ballot, surveyed various polling locations during early voting. The outgoing East Nashville councilman called the fairgrounds issue “the driving force” in getting people to cast a ballot. 

Hollin is confident many who vote for Dean would also vote for the amendment. 

“The voters of the fairgrounds cut across all political spectrums — young, old, progressive, conservative,” he said. “It’s an icon in our city. Before there’s going to be change, there should be a public process.” 

 

Will Dean’s politicking in council district races backfire? 

While Dean’s re-election victory is a sure thing, it’s unclear how his clout will emerge after Election Day. If the fairgrounds amendment passes, of course, some of Dean’s critics are likely to hold it up as a political trophy. 

But the mayor has gotten involved in district council races, putting his name and face on three campaign mailers to help challengers. Like many of his most prominent allies (as well as former Gov. Phil Bredesen), Dean is supporting attorney Sarah Lodge Tally in her bid to unseat District 24 Sylvan Park-area Councilman Jason Holleman. The incumbent voted against financing for the Music City Center and questioned the mayor’s handling of the fairgrounds. 

With help from her high-profile backers, Tally raised more than $50,000 in the short time prior to the most recent June 30 financial reporting deadline. Dean and his allies’ public backing has been so overt that Holleman responded with a YouTube video in which he touted the support of his friends, neighbors and family. 

“You’ve heard a lot about who’s backing my opponent in this election,” Holleman says in the video. “So I want to take just a second to talk about who’s supporting me.” 

The mayor also dipped into his own campaign funds to help Antioch-area candidates Tanaka Vercher and Page Turner, who are challenging District 28 Councilman Duane Dominy and District 33 Councilman Robert Duvall, respectively. Dominy and Duvall are two of Dean’s most outspoken critics, especially when it comes to the mayor’s position on the fairgrounds. 

It’s not a stretch to think Dean could come out of Election Day on the losing end of the fairgrounds referendum, as well as the three district races he’s targeted. Would Holleman, Dominy and Duvall be strengthened as a result? Would Dean look politically weak? 

“How that impacts the relationship between the mayor and I ultimately is going to be up to how the mayor chooses to deal with it,” Dominy said when asked about a potential victory in his council race. 

Councilwoman Emily Evans, running unopposed in her Belle Meade-area district, said, “There’s nothing wrong with mayors expressing a preference,” adding, “I don’t think we’ve ever seen this level of involvement — ever.” 

Evans said she sees little upside in the mayor’s politicking. 

“The council is not the mayor’s Cabinet,” she said. “We’re an independent body. We’re there to balance his power. The downside of him getting involved is that if he succeeds, the city doesn’t have the checks and balances that the charter envisions. [And] the downside if he loses is, he has a council that is automatically — without even discussing the first issue or policy initiative — against him.”

 

Will a challenger break into the council’s field of five for the first time? 

Renard Francois has been doing all the right things in his bid to join the council’s group of five countywide at-large representatives. 

The former Bass, Berry & Sims attorney has held fundraisers hosted by big-ticket businessmen such as Bill Freeman and Mike McWherter. He’s released a television commercial, a series of Web videos on education, growth and development, and made the rounds at forums and other events across the county. 

But Francois and the others face a well-known systemic hurdle: Never in the history of Metro government has an incumbent at-large member lost re-election. This year, all five at-large members — Megan Barry, Tim Garrett, Jerry Maynard, Ronnie Steine and Charlie Tygard — are seeking a second term. At-large winners tend to enjoy countywide name recognition and fundraising prowess. 

“In the beginning of the campaign, it was viewed more as a barrier,” Francois said of the historic force he must overcome. “Now, as we’re coming closer and closer to Election Day, it’s actually being mentioned by others in terms of, ‘You have the ability to make history.’ Now it’s kind of that positive thing that’s urging us on.” 

Francois is just one challenger who seems capable of knocking off an incumbent. Others include term-limited district Councilman Eric Crafton and Joelton businessman Ken Jakes. Both men could capitalize if turnout spikes for the fairgrounds referendum. There’s also term-limited Antioch-area council members Sam Coleman and Vivian Wilhoite, both of whom enjoy name recognition. 

What role low voter turnout will play in the at-large race is something of a wild card. Political observers across the board are calling Maynard the most vulnerable of the crop, principally because he received the fewest votes four years ago. Still, Maynard — with Dean’s help — racked up an impressive $64,691 in fundraising during the last financial quarter. He said he plans to use the money for an aggressive mail campaign. 

Maynard said he doesn’t believe he’s vulnerable, pointing out that he didn’t finish too far behind the third- and fourth-place finishers in 2007. 

 

Can council conservatives hold their ground in district races? 

Fixing potholes and settling zoning issues, the saying goes, have little to do with partisan labels. Yet several races this year have a clear left-versus-right dynamic. 

Trying to promote a conservative voice in a legislative body that runs center-left, the Davidson County Republican Party has engaged in district council races more this summer than in the past. The party’s involvement follows a year when the council approved a few liberal-minded pieces of legislation, including a nondiscrimination bill — later nullified by the GOP-dominated state legislature — that directed Metro contractors to provide employment protections for gay, lesbian and transgender workers. 

“In the past, it’s been mostly the Democrats who have run it because Davidson County is blue,” Davidson County GOP chair Kathleen Starnes said of the council. “But we’re obviously in a big mess at this point. Instead of people that are rubber stamps, we need people to ask the hard questions.” 

Most notably, some high-profile Republicans — such as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and various state senators — have assisted in fundraising efforts for some from the council’s handful of conservative council members. Those include District 8 incumbent Karen Bennett, who’s hoping to fend off progressive candidate Nancy VanReece and challenger Nina Ground. 

In addition, Antioch incumbents Dominy and Duvall have benefited from Republican fundraising in their bids to stave off their progressive challengers. 

“Davidson County is nonpartisan, and I think it should stay nonpartisan,” Bennett said, downplaying the party’s backing. “We need to focus on the issues and what we can do for the community.” 

In a countermove, some Nashville progressives have rallied behind VanReece, Vercher and Turner. Meanwhile, Dean — a self-described progressive — has added his helping hand to Vercher and Turner. 

Local Republican leaders have also helped District 30 Councilman Jim Hodge’s re-election campaign; District 35 candidate Tanya Jones, who’s trying to dethrone incumbent Bo Mitchell, whom she claims is “in the pocket” of labor unions; District 4 candidate Dave Patterson; District 13 candidate Josh Stites; and at-large candidates Crafton and Jakes. 

“We know we can’t get them all, but if we can keep the ones we have and pick up three or four, we’d be thrilled,” Starnes said. “We all assumed it was going to be a nonpartisan race, but the mayor made it partisan.” 

Perhaps sensing an attainable victory against Dean, the Davidson County GOP has also organized pro-fairgrounds efforts, issuing a list of council candidates who the party says align with this goal. If the fairgrounds amendment passes, stay tuned for a triumphant Davidson County GOP press release to follow. 

 

Can women increase their representation on the council? 

Since its inception, the Metro Council –– like many legislative bodies throughout the country –– has looked like a boys’ club, with men far outnumbering women. Today, nine women serve on the council, a figure that seems high compared with 30 years ago. 

This year’s crop of council candidates features 30 women out of the more than 100 hopefuls. A few female candidates are in strong positions to win. 

“It’s not the main reason why I’m running,” said Davette Blalock, competing for the council’s District 27 (Nippers Corner-area) seat against Greg Dooley and Michael Leftwich. “But we definitely need equal representation. More women on the council definitely brings different views.” 

Of the current slate of female members, Councilwoman Wilhoite is term-limited, while Kristine LaLonde is not running for re-election. Wilhoite is running for council at-large. 

District 8 Councilwoman Karen Bennett, running for re-election in her redistricted Madison/Inglewood-area seat, is in a heated race. But if she were to lose, she’d be replaced by a woman — either Nancy VanReece or Nina Ground. 

Waging a strong campaign to replace LaLonde in the politically progressive Belmont-Hillsboro District 18 is Burkley Allen, who has dipped into her campaign warchest to air a television commercial, a rare move in a district race. Her opponent is David Glasgow, who came in third place in the district’s special election two years ago. 

Squaring off in Bellevue’s District 22, a seat currently held by the outgoing Crafton, are Seanna Brandmeir and Sheri Weiner. Also in Bellevue, former Metro Planning Commissioner Tonya Jones is putting up a spirited campaign in a race against incumbent Bo Mitchell. 

West Nashville’s District 20 Councilman Buddy Baker, meanwhile, is embroiled in another of the season’s most-heated races, with one of his two challengers, Mary Carolyn Roberts, demonstrating a strong showing. 

Of course, bolstering the number of women on the council means those seeking a second term need to hold serve. That could be a challenge, with District 17 Councilwoman Sandra Moore facing fierce opposition from three opponents: Ken Bogman, Jerry Graves and Lisa Leeds. Over the past year, Moore has been caught in the middle of the much-disputed future of the fairgrounds. Moore, whose district includes the property, has sided with the mayor on the issue, much to the consternation of some neighbors.  

Like Moore, District 16 Councilwoman Anna Page has also dealt with a bit of scrutiny over her fairgrounds stance in her race against Tony Tenpenny. Though Page’s Woodbine-area district doesn’t include the fairgrounds, the property is nearby. 

Meanwhile, across the river in East Nashville, former Councilwoman Pam Murray is looking to reclaim her District 5 seat two years after being removed via a memorable recall election. And in Bellevue, the District 22 Mitchell-Jones bout has gone off the Richter Scale in terms of nastiness. 

Winners, losers and answers begin arriving Thursday night. Tune in.   

26 Comments on this post:

By: whitetrash on 7/31/11 at 10:40

We fairgrounds folks have really let him Tim Garrett down. Garrett will go from being the top vote getter in 2007 to barely making the cut for the runoff this go around. Eric Crafton, Ken Jakes, Donna Crawford, and Charlie Tygard are more important to the fairgrounds effort than Tim Garrett.

By: Captain Nemo on 8/1/11 at 3:35

If it is the Fairground issue that decides Metros future, then we will get what we deserve. I would hope there is more to the voters than this one thing.

By: macjedi on 8/1/11 at 8:05

RIGHT ON, NEMO! Hanging out whole city's hat on that hell-hole is a sad, sad, sad thing. I hope that's not the case.

http://www.facebook.com/DontSaveTheFairgrounds

By: Captain Nemo on 8/1/11 at 8:23

Don’t get me wrong macjedi,I have not taken a side on the Fairgrounds. I can see the good and bad on both sides. I can see where the neighborhood can get screwed no matter what takes place.

By: 5 Fingers on 8/1/11 at 12:00

Details on Carl Bean's run in over at Nashville Bunion: http://nashvillebunion.blog.com/2011/08/01/man-arrested-for-public-drunkeness/

By: san r on 8/1/11 at 6:15

JAMES KEETON FOR MAYOR

By: girliegirl on 8/2/11 at 7:59

Talking points for most candidates focused on an out of date small patch of land that most of us never visit during the year, if ever at all. The 2 mile procession of Davidson County car tags to the Wilson County Fair pretty much says it all. And Gdia's comment (trash dealers) summed it up, otherwise. Low turnout? ....like never before.

By: bfra on 8/2/11 at 8:21

girlie - What do you do besides check car tags, at council meetings, at Fairground meetings & now the Wilson County Fair? Plus, since you never visit, if ever, the Fairgrounds, why always a comment? Do you just speculate?

By: titansjoe on 8/2/11 at 12:54

The fairgrounds issue is indeed an important issue. Just as the MCC was and is an important issue. When polls show that 85% of Nashvillians are against a risky venture such as MCC and the council and mayor pass it anyway knowing that consultant data was bogus, there is a serious problem with our government. When a mayor is hell bent on selling the fairgrounds against the will of the majority of the citizens of nashville there is a problem.

Dean is almost sure he is going to lose on the referendum so he is stacking the deck by helping his yes people get elected so he he can again go against the majority of nashville citizens. Actually i don't think he is even confident he will when or he wouldn't be spending hundreds of thousands in ads.

So....saying the fairgrounds issue might be what decides Metro's future, then you might be saying the fairgrouds issue is the final straw and we want out city back.

By: san r on 8/2/11 at 2:29

i agree titanjoe.

James Keeton for MAYOR.

By: MusicCity615 on 8/4/11 at 7:03

titansjoe-

Can you please provide the data that states 85% of Nashvillians were against the mcc. I am not affiliated with Dean nor the MCC in any way, yet I support both.

By: yogiman on 8/4/11 at 8:15

bfra,

What do you do besides scan posts on sites to ridicule a poster?

Its hard to read your making a positive comment to someone on this site.

By: yucchhii on 8/4/11 at 8:28

yucchhii Lol, I know that there are MANY suckers out there that will think that their vote will count...LOL. I already know it don't and I know it for a fact!! It would be nice if it did count! These crooks aren't about to let anybody vote them money out of their pockets. C'mon, be real here. I'll be 55 years old this month in august and I'd seen too much corrution going on to know that these guys might as be the organized crime bosses. The "LOVE" of money, is the root of ALL evil! They LOVE money too much to let somebody vote money OUT of their pockets! Serioiusly, THINK ABOUT IT!!

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 9:02

yogi - That's understandable, as you demonstrate with every comment, you don't comprehend what you "try" to read, anyway!

By: nester on 8/4/11 at 9:25

What's sad is that this is the issue that they're touting as the most important one on the ballot. Jame Hollin claiming this referendum allows for Council to take control and make descisions? They DID, in January -- when they voted "not to race" -- but to hold off on making decisions to demolish or promote until a master planning process had taken place to discover the best use of that property. The racetrack support financiers knew that a racetrack would not farewell with any, unbiased report from a urban planning company -- so they conjured this up, hoping they could use the terms "historic" and "the people's property" to convince voters to vote for status quo. That's the sham -- not people wanting something better for their fair, and for that space. The site, it's use for horse racing, and Fair Park were indeed historic and worthy of saving -- but oh wait, after the fire, they build that giant cement grandstand to hold mainstream autoracing -- in the name of progress. Racetrack supporters didn't care about the history they were killing -- they called NASCAR and that kind of auto-racing "progress". Well, regardless of this vote -- I vote in the name of progress for something MUCH BETTER then the current use of that 117 acre property. I'm not for or against racing -- I just think Nashville deserves so much more. It won't surprise me of voters are fooled by the rheteric, into voting -- and it won't matter what they vote, because the Council will in the end, still vote for the betterment of our City after consideration of what's best for that property. And it won't be "status" quo.

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 9:59

Nester - Guess that means you think carpetbagger Karl knows what best! The MCC (over budget, not half way finished), The big call center deal with taxpayer's money all ready on the table (they're broke), 2 of his clerk's crooked dealings (and yes they are under his watch, supposed to have been, Reiblieng (his crooked dealings, too numerous to mention, his underhanded antics for getting his hands on the Fairgrounds, and it could go on & on. We need someone that cares about Nashville, not an ego boosting wannabe.

Vote AGAINST Karl & FOR the Fairgrounds. Let's take our City back!

By: nester on 8/4/11 at 10:07

bfra -- you are full of inappropriate insults, using ugly names. It's clear you're angry about the MCC which has not even failed yet -- when this is a different issue. I didn't mention Mayor Dean in my post. I mentioned that I want what's best for that property, and the current use isn't benefiting Nashville -- at all. It's going to cost taxpayers when the "fund" designated for that space runs out this year. You have been using insulting names in a few of your posts....find another outlet for your anger.

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 10:20

nester - Then you haven't kept abreast of why the funds are not there. Due to Karl's lackeys, the funds have been misappropriated, vendors turned away, events denied & every other antic they could pull to keep it from showing profit. Example most recently, no charge for parking at the fair, can you remember ever going to the fair and not have to pay for parking? Of course if they charge for parking, that might show a profit. Buck Dozier should be banned from having any sayso about the Fairgrounds, anything to do with it.

By: nester on 8/4/11 at 10:54

All the parking or addition of events combined for a decade could not counter the millions of dollars it will cost in code updates. You're surfing these comments because you're angry about Mayor Dean. I'm here because I'm interested in the betterment of Nashville and public spaces. Again, go find another portal for your angry feelings about a political figure. I'm not here commenting on this issue -- it's not about the Mayor.

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 10:56

nester - The Mayor's ego is what most of the problems ARE about!

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 10:58

BTW - You are commenting under the topic "Election Day"!

By: nester on 8/4/11 at 11:12

Again, you are looking for ways to express your anger about the Mayor. I'm looking for ways to express my opinion about public spaces up for vote - in this case the fairgrounds. The Mayor is going to win a 2nd term, it's not even up for debate. And frankly, the betterment of our city and all of it's neigborhoods shouldn't be, either. Have a good day.

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 11:24

Thank you, I am! You have a good day, also.

By: kenwinter on 8/4/11 at 12:14

I saw campaign literature this morning for Keep Our Fairgrounds, the radical oppositionists to democratic, inclusive progress in this town. This flyer counsels Nashvillians to vote against Mayor Dean, vice mayor Neighbors, at-large council members Berry and Maynard, 17th District council representative Sandra Moore, and many other honorable people. And the flyer recommends voting for assorted, less able folks and an Amendment to the Metro Charter that would hog-tie the council in dealing with reasonable options for the fairgrounds property.

To be sure, the fairgrounds issue is complicated. I have participated in four years of fairgrounds discussions and planning. I oppose the abject dismissal of four dozen traditional activities there by the mayors' real estate development coalition. Still, I found the Keep Our Fairgrounds leadership to be unreasonable, anti-consensus building participants at every turn.

After considerable thought, I have come to support: (1) elimination of loud, financially unsustainable, and land-usurping stock car racing; (2) re-naturalization of Brown's Creek and its floodplain and low-impact recreation and cultural activities on that undevelopable one-third of the fairgrounds property; (3) 21st Century exhibition space, retail, office, and/or workforce housing on the remaining two-thirds of the acreage; (4) street scaping of surrounding thoroughfares and installation of light rail and other mass transit tying the entire southeastern quadrant together; and (5) retail, office business and high-density residential makeovers of Franklin Rd, Nolensville Rd, and other neighborhood corridors, behind which protected residential and cultural vitality could flourish.

By: bfra on 8/4/11 at 12:25

kenwinter - Most of what you post is just Karl & cohort's echo! But, what is your suggestion about all of the empty retail, office businesses, and high-density residential areas sitting empty now? How does it make sense to build more?

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 8/4/11 at 7:59

kenwinter - Loser in fantasyland, BWAHAAAAAA