Sordid politics in East Nashville

Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 11:45pm

Councilwoman Pam Murray’s “caravan,” as opponents call it, always seems to stop outside the condo development at the corner of McFerrin and West Eastland avenues.

“Murray, Murray, Murray!” chanted a carload of supporters on a recent Sunday, honking horns as they shouted.

The target is unmistakably the residence of Murray’s District 5 special election rival Jamie Hollin, a 35-year-old attorney and the first-ever recall candidate to challenge a sitting Metro Council member.

The development itself — urban, trendy and new — is representative of a growing, changing neighborhood, one that’s caught in a sordid contest between predominantly white newcomers led by Hollin and longtime African-American residents who back Murray, the controversial sixth-year Council representative.

“This has definitely divided our community,” said Gerline Yokley, a 40-year area resident and a Murray supporter.

“We have a lot of new people moving in to the community, and they’re moving in with new ideas, and that may be one of the problems that is causing the divide,” she said.

Thursday’s election comes after Hollin amassed more than 1,200 signatures to recall the local lawmaker he characterized as unresponsive and absentee. Murray, by her own admission, works part-time for a clinic in Detroit. During the last few weeks, jawing between the candidates has escalated, each side charging the other of intimidating their respective supporters.

“I just think it’s funny,” Hollin said of the incessant horn honking. “You’re talking about a sitting Council member, an incumbent, and these are the tactics she employs?”

“He continues to tell mistruths,” Murray fires back. “He’s manipulating and he’s lying. Hollin should focus on his election. He wanted this thing; he brought it on.”

‘The other side of Gallatin Road’

Outsiders once referred to East Nashville’s District 5, which includes the neighborhoods of Cleveland Park, McFerrin Park and Maxwell Heights, as “the other side of Gallatin Road.” But as the popular Five Points area attracts more young professionals to East Nashville, homeowners have rapidly moved into new turf where houses remain relatively affordable.

Developers and homebuyers have seized on the area’s renaissance and have purchased old houses to refurbish. While the district is still home to considerable blight, median property values there rose nearly 18 percent from 2005 to 2009, according to data from the Metro Property Assessor’s Office.

According to Davidson County Election Commission figures, registered voters who have chosen to self-identify as ‘black’ account for more than two-thirds of the electorate there; the remaining mostly white.

Hollin, who is white, moved to the neighborhood nearly two years ago. Murray owns a home on Stockell Street and said she has lived in the district since 1983.

Sam McCullough, a black resident who ran unsuccessfully against her in 2007, said “the divide is not as much race as it is old versus new.”

But not everyone agrees it’s simply the old-versus-new narrative at play.

Larry Eaton, president of the Homes at Maxwell Heights Neighborhood Association and who is white, has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years and supports Hollin. He said the influx of newcomers has improved the area, making it a friendlier place to live, work and recreate.

Eaton and his African-American wife Priscilla, who is Hollin’s campaign treasurer, suggest that race is unfortunately a consideration to some District 5 voters.

“I’ve heard comments from other blacks in regards to the fact that, ‘We as blacks shouldn’t let the white man come in,’ ” Priscilla Eaton said. “We have neighbors who resent other neighbors because of signs that are out. It’s disheartening that we’re in the 21st century and we’re acting like we’re in the middle of the 20th century. We are regressing.”

Underscoring the cultural and racial demarcation in the district was an Aug. 28 story about the political contest in Nashville Pride newspaper. “Carpet (bagger) bugs invade Metro District 5,” the headline read. “There has been an infestation of Carpet (bagger) bugs (CBB) in the 5th Council District,” the story began.

“This infestation was spotted by Councilor Pam Murray who mentioned that these bugs may be ‘coming from the rotting remains of opponents she defeated in the last two Council elections,’ ” it continued.

When asked whether race has become a factor, Murray conceded that it has — but not because of her, she claimed. “For [Hollin], it has, but not for me,” she said. “He uses his title as ‘attorney’ to go and intimidate people with it.”

Low turnout, high drama

During the election’s early voting, which ended Saturday, an average of only 20 people a day participated. In all, Election Administrator Ray Barrett said he expects fewer than 1,000 to vote — strangely, less than the number of signatures Hollin had to secure to get on the ballot. But though turnout is likely to be light, the bad blood between the candidates is off the charts.

A month ago, Murray filed a police report against Hollin for allegedly following her 21-year-old son with a video camera, which the officer concluded to be unfounded. Before that encounter, she claimed, Hollin was outside her house looking through her garbage.

“What he does is he tries to intimidate people,” Murray said. “He follows people around with video cameras and constantly takes pictures of us. They’re not going to find any of my paperwork in my trash can because I don’t even use the public trash cans much.”

Hollin said he uses a camera to document the campaign, and that he was campaigning door-to-door when Murray’s son blocked his access onto a street and started to rev up his engine.

“That’s when I turned my video camera on and started filming,” he said. “As soon as I did that, that vehicle was gone.”

In more recent weeks, Murray, a Nashville native whose part-time, out-of-state job is at a methadone clinic, has accused Hollin of being on drugs because of what she characterized as “bizarre, erratic and impulsive” behavior.

“The best thing he can do for our neighborhood is submit to a urine drug test and a hair sample,” she said. “I will pay.”

Hollin, a Memphis native with a pronounced Southern drawl, called the drug accusation “ridiculous,” but granted that some of his campaign workers have criminal records. He said he associates with them because of his belief in “rehabilitation.”

“If I’m saying that’s what I want to see happen, I better be doing it,” he said of his desire to help ex-felons become productive members of society. “And I’m doing it.”

Origin of the skirmish

The Hollin-Murray feud originated with a heated rezoning battle earlier this year involving someone who wanted to subdivide into four separate units a building on Cleveland Street zoned for single residential.

Some residents maintained the property owner had long failed to abide by Metro Codes requirements; that the building was essentially a slum. Neighbors handed Murray 155 signatures in opposition to the rezoning change, but she still backed the developer before finally withdrawing the bill after 11 community meetings.

“It shouldn’t have taken the neighbors that long to get the response that they wanted,” Hollin said.

As the rezoning battle played out, reports surfaced that Murray, who describes herself as a social worker and sociologist, spent considerable time living in Detroit.

“If you want to work in Detroit, that’s fine,” Hollin said. “If she was doing that job and her [Council] job at the same time, it would have been less of a concern. It became a major concern when the fundamentals of the job weren’t happening.”

But Murray categorically denied ineffectiveness. “There’s no way that I have abandoned my duties,” she said. “Why is the city allowing this to happen? That’s the question.”

Soon, momentum for the recall movement began. Hollin said he approached seven or eight potential candidates before deciding he should be the one to take on the embattled lawmaker.

“My career was doing just fine,” he said. “I never envisioned myself holding public office.”

Murray, who questioned whether some of the signatures were forged, said the recall was “planned by my opponent since January. The rezoning is just a front; it’s a ploy they’re using.

“This is the third time they’re running against me,” she said. “They’re still upset because we beat them out of the first race [in 2003].”

‘Not what it’s about’

Hollin’s supporters say their efforts to unseat Murray followed her refusal to respond to some 7,000 emails, answer phone calls and support constituents.

Amy Bryson, a District 5 resident against whom Murray filed a harassment complaint, said she’s excited about being part of a district that’s exercising its civic rights.

“Any time, I think, you have an election at any period of time, you’re going to have some kind of a division. That’s what the democratic process is all about,” Bryson said.

“What concerns me is people are trying to play this is as the haves and have-nots, that this is a black-white issue, that this is a poor-rich issue,” she said. “That’s not what it’s about.”

Meanwhile, friends of Murray see the special election as an unfair attack on an elected official who led efforts to clean up Dickerson Pike and the surrounding area, spearheaded crime reduction and supported economic development.

“This community has come a long way with the Council people who have been here,” Cleve Yokley said. “Murray has worked with other Council persons to get things done for the city.”

Both candidates, confident in victory, claim to have built strong coalitions of supporters comprised of voters who are young, old, black and white.

“From people outside looking in, there appears to be a racial division, but ride around with me and you’ll find out what it’s about,” Hollin said.

Murray said the recent growth in the neighborhood is good, adding that one of her goals since she took office has been to increase diversity. But the special election, she insisted, is just more of the same from unrelenting opposition.

“We’ll win,” Murray vowed. “But I believe this has been terrible for our community.”

32 Comments on this post:

By: eastnashville37207 on 11/9/09 at 2:24

Ever since I met Pam Murray she has done nothing but try to divide the people of her district.
Murray has turned herself wrongside out trying to fight the white people from coming into her district.
According to Yokley's neighbor Murray has done nothing about the crime problems in the McFerrin Park Neighborhood which had gone on for over 30 years. Within 1 1/2 years there where over 30 people shot within walking distance of Yokleys home. Most not mentioned at Murray's request. Murray and friends at times was hiding criminals from the police. How about the "Open Crack Markets" Guardian Angels being called in because of the crime.
Before Hollin ever made it to District 5 Murray wasn't taking phone calls, wasn't coming to Neighborhood Meetings, wasn't responding to e-mails or concerns regarding the District.
Murray claims Hollin lies and I suppose Channel 5 lied also while doing the story about her employment in Detroit. Seems the only one that lies is Murray herself.

By: frank brown on 11/9/09 at 6:46

Pam Murray represents herself primarily and secondarily her underclass followers. This group of people are growing throughout the United States. Get ready responsible citizens you are the ones that will have to pay for their folly.

By: frank brown on 11/9/09 at 6:46

Pam Murray represents herself primarily and secondarily her underclass followers. This group of people are growing throughout the United States. Get ready responsible citizens you are the ones that will have to pay for their folly.

By: frank brown on 11/9/09 at 6:46

Pam Murray represents herself primarily and secondarily her underclass followers. This group of people are growing throughout the United States. Get ready responsible citizens you are the ones that will have to pay for their folly.

By: KBrooks on 11/9/09 at 6:59

"Some residents maintained the property owner had long failed to abide by Metro Codes requirements..."

Not accurate...the landlord himself confessed several times he had long failed to abide by Metro Code requirements. Yet, as a financial supporter of Murray his desires to create transient housing got her complete backing. It was astonishing to see her actions at meetings and in the face of such clear and vocal opposition to his violation of the laws and the local neighborhood plan.

By: BillFelk on 11/9/09 at 7:21

I wish we had some political drama like that over here in Cool Springs!

By: Lischey_Ave on 11/9/09 at 7:34

It’s a shame some have made this about race. It’s also a shame that such a big deal is being made out of “newer people.” Aren’t all residents entitled to the same representation by their government? Do I not pay property taxes as much as someone who has been in the neighborhood longer than my 2.5 years? Further, I have been active in my community since day one, yet didn’t meet Murray until just a few months ago; the very same community in which Murray supposedly lives full-time. I don’t feel that wanting to better our community – and bring someone in who is able to do that – equals “sordid politics.”

By: yank283 on 11/9/09 at 7:51

Hey Bill, maybe there should be more political drama in Cool Springs. A good place to start would be to prevent developers from continuing to build big box strip malls, pizza joints and subdivisions on sacred Civil War battlefields (developers just dug up a dead soldier recently as covered by a surpisingly indifferent local press). I have heard there is a group that is trying to reclaim some of the land. Kudos to them.

By: BigPapa on 11/9/09 at 9:12

I am always amazed at how black racism draws no ire or raises any eyebrows. IF this was the other way around. Say a large number of blacks were moving into a neighborhood and the whites were quoted as saying the exact same things that are in this article you'd have CNN, Jesse Jackson, Oprah, and everyone else wanting to come grand stand.

By: localboy on 11/9/09 at 9:24

The councilwoman sounds defensive - scared perhaps?

By: karman37206 on 11/9/09 at 9:34

I disagree that it is a divide between the "have" and "have- nots' or "rich" and "poor". Both sides seem to have their share of "well-to-do" supporters and supporters (like me) who are just trying to protect what we have from people who have different ideas of what is best for the neighborhood.
We all want to protect what we have worked for and whether it is someone who has lived in the community for thirty plus years or someone who has put their whole life savings down on a former drug house and are in a hurry for the property values to skyrocket so our kids will have a "zip code".... feelings run deep.

By: artsmart on 11/9/09 at 9:52

Big Papa:

I did not grow up here so I do not come with the bagage of the past on which everyone down here seems to dwell. I for one am quite tired of the race card. Do i believe racism still exist sure, but I believe it exist in all races. I try not to get overly concerned though because I can do nothing about it. Who knows how the current case works out and I;m not sure why going to your neighborhood school is a problem People can now live in any neighborhood they like so I'm not sure how going to neighborhood schools is segregation. That is the reason most people who overcome poverty do so, to get a better lot in life for their family. I would love a home on the ocean but I cannot afford it. If it was important I would work as much as need be to get it.

By: nature on 11/9/09 at 10:02

Racism sucks! And if it's racism towards whities, it is very trendy. I, a white man, has fought all my years to fight racism towards any race, sex, or religion. This fight is for the District 5 special election. This an election tobring in a person that can represent District 5 better.
I now live in East Nashville and am glad to be part of helping to make this neighborhood a better place for all to live. 6 yrs. ago I would never have gotten off the interstate exit to Shelby St. I now understand that my feelings toward this part of town was wrong. But, I still find myself not feeling comfortable when in the neighborhood on the "on the other side of Gallatin Rd." Why? Racism still raises it's ugly head. I will vote for whoever I want to without allowing a person to tell me I'm being racist! Vote! Show people you care by voting for the person you feel will represent your neighborhood the best. Let's stamp out racism before it tears our area of town down.

By: karman37206 on 11/9/09 at 10:29

"6 yrs. ago I would never have gotten off the interstate exit to Shelby St.".....

Could CM Murray have had anything to do with that? I think there are a lot of us who remember back a few years when things were quite different. I don't believe you will find anyone who does remember who will not give her a trememdous amount of credit. Just how many that will be....we won't know until Thursday!

By: nashtnman on 11/9/09 at 11:29

This issue is about which candidate will represent the district the best, not race. I personally am tired of the race card played every time “change” enters into the picture. As a member of an interracial marriage, I despise this tactic in an attempt to resist the facts or in order to draw support from residents that do not keep up with the facts. Yes, the area has been improved but let’s face it, anything would be an improvement from 3-4 years ago and there is still much more to do to improve the lives and property values of those of us that reside here. I personally was undecided as to whom to support but after reading about the “caravan” and the harassing and childish behavior by yet another elected official, my decision has been made. I will not support an elected official that thinks this is a way to influence constituents. I think it is time for change.

By: BigPapa on 11/9/09 at 12:15

The fact anyone would want to keep East Nashville "like it was" is reason enough to vote them out of office. It's backwards thinking personified.

By: karman37206 on 11/9/09 at 12:21

Supporters on both sides seem to agree it is not about race now...if ever. I don't agree with the "caravan" idea either but I don't think we can blame CM Murray with all the actions of her supporters. No more that we could blame Mr. Hollin when some of his supporters were making calls to Murray and leaving screaming messages on her voicemail. I didn't hear it but I talked to people who heard the tape. I doubt if Mr. Hollin was very proud of that but there is not much either candidate can do when adults exhibit such childish behavior.

By: trtay2004 on 11/9/09 at 1:28

If you signed the original petition for this election, you really need to be at the polls on November 12th if you haven't already been. We deserve fair representation for all of our investment in our city and our district.

By: GeorgeTurklebaum on 11/9/09 at 1:51

You know, all anyone has to do is ask the airport authority how often Ms. Murray's car is parked for free at the airport to determine whether her Detroit job is "part-time" or not. Council members get free airport parking and it's a matter of public record.

By: cayr01 on 11/10/09 at 12:42

karman37206 said "I don't believe you will find anyone who does remember who will not give her a trememdous amount of credit."

I will have to disagree. Council Member Murray was a decent elected official for about two years (2004-2005). I have to assume that most of her supporters remember that and haven't needed her since. Anyone who has sought her sustained engagement in the community since that time has ended up disappointed.

On the rare occasions when she is not absent or unreachable, she attends community meetings and dominates them with little regard for the agenda or for others. With the exception of her two active years, she has been a HINDRANCE to progress, takes credit for the work of others, and is belligerant and condescending to anyone who disagrees with her.

On the subject of trying to categorize this between different types of constituents, it is not about race and it is not about new vs. old. It is about constituents that haven't needed her who THINK it is about race, class, etc. vs. those that have sought her assistance and found none (or worse: found a fight).

By: shinestx on 11/10/09 at 7:25

I'll vote against Murray just because of what her "caravan" is doing to the neighbors. Murry could call those dogs off, but she obviously does not want to.

By: EquinsuOcha on 11/10/09 at 9:50

"Eaton and his African-American wife Priscilla, who is Hollin’s campaign treasurer, suggest that race is unfortunately a consideration to some District 5 voters"
judging from the 95 percent of blacks who voted for hussein in the prez election,it's not just district 5 voters who consider race a factor

By: rbhuffi on 11/10/09 at 10:59

I have to state that I was not raised by my family to look at issues from a racial stand point. I am appalled that I moved to a mixed neighborhood and have been treated and/or deemed a outcast, by some folks or those who represent me. Yes, I support Jamie Hollin in this campaign but did support Pam Murray in her last two. I am tired of hearing Ms. Murray refer to constituents (People who have actually lived here for 5, 10 , 15, 20 years) as newbie’s or causer of genderfication. As she states "We need blendafication (I can’t find this word in the dictionary), and constantly is insinuating a racial split. I was very disappointed to see that Ms. Murray would claim race a issue as well as would stand by a property own, at 837 Cleveland when 99% of her constituents in the immediate area stood against the rezone. When I went door knocking (which she refused to do)and talked to my neighbors and met a some too) they all stood opposed to this issue. She was not receptive at all, to the people who live in the immediate area. I recall at the planning commission (when there were only a handful of supporters of 837) her daughter speaking and two board members from Greenwood, one of which has stated that he thought Greenwood should support Mr. Blackwood due to the fact that he allowed the neighborhood to place a Geenwood sign on his property.
I was recently at a meet and greet campaign rally for Mr. Hollin at McFerrin Park, it was a wonderful mix of neighbors, all races. What the World should be like. I think of our constitution, “All men created equal”, powerful words, not to be taken lightly.
As for the nasty phone calls, Ms. Murray claims she has been receiving and has yet been able to produce the recordings for the detective or for anyone else who has requested to hear them. I know that one of the numbers, she gave, is a DSL only line (no voice calls), hmmmmm. I think she should post the recordings on U-Tube today for the entire world to hear, TODAY. I am 100% sure this will not happen as I believe they are fabricated, if she actually has some type of random records.
It is a sad sad sad time for not only the district but the world when people who have open minds to all fellow humans are labeled as newbie’s. Yes I am sad that Ms. Murray has failed to do her job, I had such trust and faith in her.

By: ByLiberaliMean on 11/10/09 at 1:45

Check out PAM MURRAY'S incomprehensible WRITTEN answers.

Local political consultant Elizabeth M-K Sullivan, a neutral third party living in a nearby District, put together a candidates survey, which includes 11 substantive questions from 80 submitted by the public, mostly from residents of District 5.

“This is a substantive survey that allows both Council member Murray and Mr. Hollin to express their intentions to the District on the issues that really matter,” Sullivan said.

Questions address both citywide issues, such as the coming Convention Center proposal and the city’s budget shortfall, as well as issues specific to the District - including topics such as economic development, how the Metro Council member and the community can best work together, and how to address issues of “old versus new” ideas. Due to the contentious nature of this election, the survey also asks each candidate to address reconciliation within the District.

Here are her answers:

What relationship skills would you use to interact with constituents, council members, and others on divisive issues?

PAM MURRAY: Being the focused person that I am, I utilized much thinking, listening and patience when dealing with conflict.

How would you address this community issue and, more personally, reconcile with your opponents’ supporters?

PAM MURRAY:One of my primary goals when I became a council member was to increase Diversity in our community. We are right at the beginning stage of starting to meet this goal. (6 YEARS LATER!!!!)

What do you believe to be the role of families and individuals in improving our neighborhoods?

PAM MURRAY:The role of families and individuals are physical involvement in the community.

What zoning issue have you delved into over the past year that you believe shows your philosophy about how the District should go forward (if multiple, pick most relevant example)?

PAM MURRAY: My activities with zoning displays a courageous act. In the past, The most important issue with our community is zoning. After several years of consultation & studying an unstabilize community,
I moved forward with many zoning issues to stabilize the community

Some believe District 5 needs more commercial development – i.e. banks, grocery stores, shops, and so on. Do you agree with this idea? Explain what you believe should be done to be successful based on your perspective.

PAM MURRAY: Absolutely, first, we must present our neighborhood as one where business would be “welcoming”. (WELCOMING?)
I was successful in bringing such developments as the Subway and Godfather Pizza to Dickerson area. (PIZZA AND SUBS?!?!?!?! AWESOME ACHIEVEMENT!!!!)

Election Day is Thursday, Nov. 12 VOTE Jamie Hollin and kick this idiot out once and for all! We deserve better.

By: 806sulmers on 11/10/09 at 3:44

All in all this is about someone using this opportunity to seize power. While it’s unfortunate that the District VOTED an incompetent person into office, she won an open election. What the supporters of the recall have done is create a lane if/when he wins to have the seat without much scrutiny.

The CM’s term ends in 2011 and she isn’t allowed to run for the seat again. If there wasn’t this need to oust someone for being on the wrong side of a zoning issue, the District would have the opportunity to hear out all people with an interest in being involved in the progress of our neighborhood. I’m unclear why supporters of the recall don’t want their candidate to run in an open election? If this results in a win for them, they will get access and the opportunity to run as an incumbent – which holds a cache that could deter anyone who had designs on the direction & future of the District contrary to their group.

Or maybe that’s the point.

And maybe that’s why there’s a shred of resistance in “we know what’s best” attitude that can be construed as divisive.

Either way, this is hardly atypical of what happens in neighborhoods going thru gentrification.

By: karman37206 on 11/11/09 at 4:40

Thanks 806sulmers...Great point of view!! We need a chance to select a candidate who is qualified to represent all the people and the choice we have on Thursday is leaving a lot of those I have talked to feeling it's not worth the trip to the polls! Could the selection get any worse??!!

By: ByLiberaliMean on 11/11/09 at 8:13

Pam Murray is DISGUSTING.

Why would we want someone who speaks broken 'english' to represent our area?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Sad thing is she might just win through fake signatures, busing people in etc.,

There is NO CONTEST between these two people. One is educated and intelligent and the other is totally incompetent.

Jamie Hollin for District 5

By: karman37206 on 11/11/09 at 1:23

If ByLiberaliMean is correct, I can't wait to see just how many educated and intelligent people there are in the thing for sure they WON'T all be voting for Mr. Hollin. And if Pam Murray wins "through fake signatures and busing people in"...then Mr. Hollin shouldn't be wasting his time reading The Secrets of the Hopewell Box, trying to figure out how it's done. He can just ask Pam!

There is no doubt Murray and Hollin are both educated candidates....intelligent - that's a stretch!

By: 806sulmers on 11/11/09 at 3:24

I don’t believe a choice can be made without knowing what the candidate would like to do. It’s interesting that neither the candidate or his supporters can muster how this benefits our District other than “It’s not the current Council Member.” To repeat, the current CM will be unable to run in 2011.

I’m just unclear what makes this such a clear cut choice when all his supporters seem to do is everything but put forth a compelling argument. To reduce the debate to name calling and questions of ones intelligence reeks of Rove-esque tactics from people who keep touting how the choice is obvious. WHY CAN’T THERE BE A SUBSTANTIVE CONVERSATION? Or again - maybe that's the point?

By: Lischey_Ave on 11/11/09 at 4:01

Actually, 806sulmers, information about what Mr. Hollin would like to do for our neighborhood is readily available. He has also held many neighborhood meet-and-greets for people in the area to hear where he stands on current issues. If you’re interested, please email Ms. Sullivan at for an election survey answered by both Hollin and Murray. The survey has been widely published in District 5 via email, list serves, etc. As for a compelling argument, I wonder who you're actually talking to...or again, perhaps that is your point. Thank-you.

By: Lischey_Ave on 11/11/09 at 5:27

Oh - and it's not just Murray's supporters out on that "caravan," it's Murray herself. My house happens to be on the parade route; I have the frazzled nerves to prove it.

By: msmeridian on 11/12/09 at 5:35

I guess according to Pam murray, as a new east resident I should not have conplained about the drug dealers that moved in next to me or the others the lived down the street before I got here. By making a complaint they are now gone and my block has come a long way. Time moves on and change is good.