The backlash has officially begun. The criminal court clerk race is a year away, and already progressive Council members are catching hell for supporting a guy who’s supposed to be their sworn enemy.
Logically, Michael Craddock ought to be the last guy to garner loyal support from his left-leaning colleagues on the Metro Council. The Madison-area Councilman has carved out a reputation as a conservative firebrand — one who broaches sensitive subjects with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer.
Yet just a few months into his campaign for next year’s criminal court clerk election, Craddock has found support from some unlikely places.
At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry has promised to host a fundraiser. District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman vowed his support months ago. Former Belmont area Councilwoman Ginger Hausser will be helping with the campaign.
All this for a guy with whom, politically anyway, they share virtually nothing in common.
Craddock won’t vote for Barry’s newly introduced nondiscrimination ordinance to protect Metro workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. During last year’s fight to rezone the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ in Sylvan Park, Craddock proved to be vocal opposition to Holleman’s efforts.
Craddock even supported the English Only proposal.
Yet, already 12 Council members have agreed to host meet-and-greets with Craddock. In fact, Holleman was one of the first Council members to offer support.
“I don’t agree with him on much, but I respect him a lot,” Holleman said.
Stereotypes don’t fit
Operating in an era of Nashville politics where mayors are born in New England and carry Ivy League diplomas, Craddock certainly doesn’t fit any stereotypes of what a popular Council member should look like.
The 53-year-old Craddock openly admits to being “fat” — a fact he unabashedly admits has been a sore spot throughout his life.
He speaks with an old-fashioned Southern drawl that recalls a good ol’ boys network that’s a mere shadow of its former self. Craddock, for all intents and purposes ought to be an outsider.
And in some circles, he actually is.
District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson said that he’s already received pushback for throwing his support behind Craddock’s challenge to incumbent Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence.
“I don’t think the office bears any sort of political ideology,” said Jameson, defending his support: “So despite the fact that Councilman Craddock and I are light years apart on social issues and political disputes, this is a guy that has a great deal of sensitivity to fiscal restraint and constant responsiveness and those are qualities that far outweigh any philosophical differences when it comes to this office.”
For his part, Craddock admits to being surprised that support has come not only from those on Council with whom he is politically aligned such as councilmen Jim Gotto and Rip Ryman, but also from his political spoils.
“I think it brings something to my campaign that would not normally be there,” Craddock said. “It brings credence to my campaign that wouldn’t typically be there if those people weren’t helping me.”
But why? Why are Council members who disagree with Craddock politically agreeing to help his campaign?
“There’s never any doubt about where he stands, either in private conversation or public comments,” Jameson said. “When I have gone to him and said, ‘Can you support me on this bill?’ where as others will hem and haw and eventually stab you in the back, Craddock will tell you ‘yes or no’ and he sticks with it.
“This is a guy I wouldn’t want setting policy as chair of the [American Civil Liberties Union], but when it comes to running an administrative office, he’s perfect.”
Stumbling into politics
Craddock said his love of local politics has always been there, but he sort of stumbled onto the local scene. He lost a race for the District 4 Council seat in the 1980s then worked on losing campaigns for Phil Bredesen’s bids for mayor and Congress.
He gladly points out that his interest in Council issues stems from his experience as a neighborhood association member — he started two organizations and served as president of both. In 2003, Craddock ran for Council again, only this time he won by a whopping 13 votes.
It didn’t take long for him to find his niche though. During the first budget cycle, Craddock delivered a stem-winder of a speech about wasteful spending, an experience he called an a-ha moment when he recognized his penchant for public speaking.
Since then, Craddock has become one of the most quotable Council members. During a hearing earlier this year about the uncertain future of the Community Education Alliance, which was in jeopardy because it had been paired with the school district’s public pools program, Craddock pointed out, “I’ve 53 years old and I can’t swim, but I can read.”
“He has a way of putting it in perspective,” Holleman said, pointing out that Council had to decide whether to save the subsidy to the adult literacy program. “It really was about reading versus swimming.”
Let it all hang out
Craddock has an emotional bent, though too, and sometimes he appears to let his mouth stay half a step ahead of his brain.
Last year, Council was considering reversing a zoning change by Ryman, which had drawn the interest of the federal government and left Metro’s land use policies under investigation by the Department of Justice. Metro Legal was pleading with Council to reverse the zoning change, but Craddock stood up and gave a long-winded speech in which he claimed Ryman deserved a medal for his efforts.
Last year, Craddock was the only Council member asking questions of Metro Legal’s recommendation to offer a $250,000 settlement to a firefighter who broke his neck while responding to a fire. On Barry’s nondiscrimination ordinance, Craddock has equated the discrimination of gay and lesbian Metro workers to his being made fun of as a kid for being fat.
“I’ve been made fun of my whole life,” Craddock said. “There are all sorts of people who get made fun of for different reasons.”
Just last month, Craddock got into a verbal sparring match with District 35 Councilman Bo Mitchell, which ended with Craddock saying Mitchell ought to be “ashamed of himself.”
Yet for all his emotion, Craddock points out that at least no one ever has to wonder where he stands on key issues. His passion on Council is finding ways to save money (his current pet issue is ridding Metro of take-home cars for workers).
“Not long after I was voted to Council, I had a talk with a little old lady on Emmett Avenue,” Craddock said. “She said, ‘In February I had to make a decision whether to buy medicine or pay my property taxes.’ And that made an impression on me. That was one of those defining moments. I said, ‘This lady right here and everybody like her is who I need to be watching after, because they can’t take care of themselves.’”
The very quality that Council members appreciate about Craddock — his straightforwardness — is the very quality those close to him appreciate too. Craddock’s son, Michael Craddock Jr., said his dad isn’t putting on some sort of act for the Metro 3 cameras when he delivers a fire-breathing speech.
“What you see is what you get,” Craddock Jr. said. “He’s honest and he’d do anything for you. That sounds cliché, but it’s true.”