East Nashville Metro Council candidates Dave Rich, admittedly loud and assertive, and Peter Westerholm, reserved and introspective, had to sell their competing personalities to the electorate Tuesday night as the two squared off in a debate. Did they deliver?
At least one person thinks so.
"People want someone who can affectively advocate for their interests,” said outgoing District 6 Metro Councilman Mike Jameson, who holds the council seat at play and moderated the discussion. “The question that Peter had to address was: Can he effectively advocate? The question Dave had to address was whether or not his interests were their interests.
“I thought they both did a good job of selling that point,” Jameson said.
Rich and Westerholm, two notably young candidates competing in the council’s District 6 Sept. 15 runoff, agreed the state overreached when it nullified Metro’s nondiscrimination bill; that mass transit options must be advanced; and that school vouchers would undermine existing schools. The two discussed these and others issues before a crowd of nearly 100 at a Davidson County Young Democrats-sponsored forum Monday.
Real differences were personalities, fleshed out when the two candidate were asked to discuss their individual characteristics and whether they would be cause for concern if elected.
“While I may not be the loudest voice in the room, I have established myself as a consensus builder working with other people in the neighborhood and the leaders of the community as a whole,” Westerholm said. “I believe that my relationships are the result of people seeing that I’m passionate about East Nashville.”
Up next, Rich acknowledged they have different approaches: “I wouldn’t say I’m the loudest voice in the room, but I think a lot of people realize there is a distinct difference between our personalities.”
Rich attributed his ways to his passion for East Nashville before referencing his professional career as an attorney, arguing that it gives him the skills to navigate and reach agreements in a 40-member council.
Their jobs presented a real moment of contention Tuesday when candidates were allotted time to ask questions to the other. Westerholm cited a recent City Paper story in which Rich was quoted as saying: “The lives of my clients are affected by my performance. The other candidate’s only requirement is to show up to work for the government.”
Westerholm works as a budget analyst for the state government.
Westerholm asked Rich: “If you don’t seem to hold public servants to high regard, why are you running for Metro Council?”
Rich said he objected to the premise of the question, adding that he was offering the reporter distinctions between their candidacies.
“I am an attorney,” Rich said. “I made that statement specifically to get [across] the point that I advocate for my clients similar to the [way] you advocate for your neighborhood on council.”
Westerholm also asked to Rich to describe “four specific examples of how you’ve been a part of this community,” seemingly a jab at the fact Rich was previously zoned in a different district before the council redrew new lines in the spring.
Rich pointed to his residency, involvement in clean-up efforts following the 2010 flood and pro bono legal work for neighborhood clients. He also said his hard work during the campaign has revealed his dedication to the area.
Candidates agreed Tuesday that the Gallatin Specific Plan — a set of guidelines that steer development along the busy corridor — has its merits, but is far from perfect. Some critics have said the plan’s design standards have actually stalled growth and hurt development.
“I certainly think the SP is a living, breathing document,” Rich said. “There was an excellent process where the neighborhood came together to create the SP with an excellent idea behind it.
“But it’s not the gospel,” Rich said. “I don’t think it was written by Mark, Luke or John.”
Some East Nashvillians liked what they heard when both candidates said “mass transit” when asked what major civic project should be pursued within the next decade. An ongoing study is looking at transit options — including a modern streetcar and light rail — extending from West End to Broadway, across the Cumberland River to the Five Points district that is the epicenter of the east side.
“I wish we didn’t have to wait 10 years,” Westerholm said.
“If we’re able to invest in mass transit and public transit here in East Nashville, economic growth will generate,” he said.
On another point of agreement — opposition to the state’s overturning of Metro’s nondiscrimination bill that affected Metro contractors — Rich made a bit of news when he said, if elected, he would support a bylaw to prevent state representatives from simultaneously serving on the council. U.S. Jim Gotto, also a councilman, was instrumental in defeating Metro’s nondiscrimination law.
“I think that is an inherent conflict of interest, and it should be prohibited by the council,” Rich said.
Early voting at the downtown Metro Office Building started last Friday and continues until Sept. 10. Election Day is Sept. 15. Four other council seats will also be decided by runoffs.