The Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund sent out a negative mailer piece to District 18 voters this week slamming candidate Kristine LaLonde for employment with Belmont University and tying her to prominent Nashville lobbyists.
The NNDF is endorsing LaLonde’s opponent Stephenie Dodson in the April 30 runoff election for the vacant District 18 Metro Council seat.
The mailer asks on the front, “Why is Belmont president Bob Fisher smiling?” the mail piece asks. “Maybe [it’s] because he knows he will have even greater influence over the political process affecting Belmont University if one of his ‘employees’ is elected to the Metro Council.”
LaLonde is an assistant professor of leadership studies at Belmont.
“I would just say I think that the people in District 18 know where I stand because they’ve met me,” LaLonde said. “They know where I stand because of my past and current commitments and strong support I’ve received from neighborhood advocates and organizations looking out for working people.”
Fisher reiterated that Belmont does not encourage or discourage its staff from seeking public office. Fisher said he met with all four candidates for the District 18 seat before last month’s special election and came away convinced the university could work with each of them.
“My comment is that it’s very disappointing to see this type of campaigning that tries to pit the university and its leadership against some straw person out there, and to misuse that in an attempt to affect the outcome of the election,” Fisher said. “My belief is the people of this neighborhood are smart enough and good spirited enough and can think for themselves and they’ll make a good decision about the candidates.”
The mailer also tied LaLonde to prominent local lobbyists like James Weaver and Tom Lee from the law firm Waller Lansden, along with Peter Heidenreich from Hall Strategies.
Additionally, the mailer said LaLonde could have a conflict of interest because her husband is a doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“I’m not employed by Vanderbilt, my husband is employed by Vanderbilt,” LaLonde said. “I think we are at a stage in our politics where we recognize that candidates and their spouses are independent people.
“We have run a very positive campaign where we have talked about the issues and talked about the vision I want to bring to Council. We have talked about how I want to be inclusive and be positive and bring people together.”
Metro Council legal counsel Jon Cooper said in December there was no direct conflict of interest for LaLonde if she were to be elected to Council.
“In and of itself, being a professor would not preclude her from being a Council member,” Cooper said, pointing out that Metro ethics code would protect LaLonde’s employment as a Belmont professor provided she discloses it properly. “She would want to abstain on any votes that are directly related to Belmont.”
LaLonde beat Dodson by about 150 votes in last month’s special election.