A well-connected local attorney who almost made it to the state House once before is preparing to run for Rep. Rob Briley’s District 52 seat — even if the embattled Briley chooses to run for re-election.
Attorney Mike Stewart narrowly lost a race for the 52nd District seat to former mayor Bill Boner in 1996, and Stewart told The City Paper over the weekend he is preparing to run for the seat again this year.
“My interest in public service is not new,” Stewart said in an e-mail to City Paper staff over the weekend in response to questions about his candidacy. “I ran a strong race for this seat against former Mayor Bill Boner in 1996 and have always been interested in representing the 52nd District. … I am preparing to run for the 52nd District House Seat.”
Whether Briley runs again is apparently not an issue for Stewart, who said he would pursue the seat even if Briley runs.
“I am focused on my own preparation, not what others may or may not be doing,” he said.
Stewart is not alone. At least one other local lawyer announced his intention to run earlier last week, and Briley’s decision about whether to seek re-election is still up in the air after a year that included a very high-profile DUI conviction and an accompanying personal scandal centered on his recent divorce.
Eric Stansell, a local attorney and business consultant, went so far as to pick up a petition to run for Briley’s seat last week. In addition, Metro government insiders suggest at least one Metro Council member is also likely looking at running, though Stewart supporters say privately he already has commitments from some of the Council’s more influential members.
In fact, Stewart’s answer when asked why he wanted to serve in the 52nd District seat was filled with answers that seemed to cross over into Metro government territory.
“We need an effective representative who can work with Mayor Dean and Gov. Bredesen to keep our neighborhoods moving in the right direction,” Stewart said. “For instance, with the state taking an enhanced role in the Metro schools, we need an experienced advocate who can ensure that the process serves the students and parents and doesn’t just add a layer of bureaucracy.”
Briley’s seat became the source of political speculation last year after he was arrested on DUI, evading arrest and a variety of other charges in Wilson County in September. He recently pleaded guilty to DUI. Also during that time, it was alleged in a Nashville Scene article Briley had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
Briley at one point after the arrest checked into the Cumberland Heights rehabilitation facility only to leave and was later found on a casino floor in Tunica. In an extensive, exclusive interview with The City Paper, Briley later said he had fought alcoholism for many years and that memories of an undisclosed childhood abuse recently triggered his falling out of sobriety.
Stewart did not criticize Briley when asked his opinion of Briley’s recent brush with the law.
“From what he has said, Rep. Briley is struggling with alcoholism, a very tough burden for anyone,” Stewart said. “He is a talented person, and I hope he beats the disease so that he can again work on issues of public importance.”
Stewart’s bid may benefit from his place of employment, the law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis. Democratic-leaning members of the firm have been involved at a high level raising money for and working in the campaigns of key Democratic candidates in recent years, including former Mayor Bill Purcell, Mayor Karl Dean and former Congressman Harold Ford Jr.