Dear Gail Kerr,
I have to give you credit for this morning’s commentary on the election in the Tennessean. It was much less effusive than past articles, perhaps I suppose because you helped in creating the climate in Nashville where no candidate of any note would challenge Karl Dean. Yes, the mayor is running against folks that have no chance, who seem disengaged, and is assured of re-election. And since that is pretty much in the bag, it’s natural that he, and you, will go after the fairgrounds referendum.
I have to say that the commentary was wonderfully crafted in many ways. You worked hard to suggest that those who wish to keep the fairgrounds as is represent a minority, noting that only 20% “are passionately in favor of” the issue, while giving no similar statistics on those who are passionately opposed (thus, representing certain votes on election day). Likewise, you do a great job of suggesting that voting for the incumbent at-large candidates represents a vote for Dean and the fairgrounds without actually saying so.
What I loved the most however was the closing line, when you suggest that the city’s ability to get a new baseball stadium, an amphitheater, or effective mass transit in Nashville “hinges” on whether the Dean camp receives their “mandate” (to use Pat Nolan’s word). The problem with this is that it assumes that those who opposed the mayor on previous issues like the fairgrounds or the convention center did so out of personal spite or ideological reasons rather than an ability to look as specific issues individually and determine the best solution in their mind. What you want is what Dean wants of the Council, a group of meek sheep who rubber stamp his agenda without serving as the sounding board and the check and balance against unfettered mayoral power. When intelligent council members step out to question the details of an issue, pushing to make sure that we are responsible to the needs and desires of city taxpayers, then somehow they are seen by this administration (and I think you as well) as disloyal to the mayor. This doesn’t bother me for in fact, the role of the council is not to be loyal to the mayor, but rather to be loyal to the voters who send them into office. In Nashville, where we give lip service to the notion that our local elections are non-partisan, this means that each member is to be an island unto themselves, looking at the administration’s plans from the perspective of their constituents (with only five given the power to look at that city at-large). Sometimes they will support those plans; other times they won’t. But their loyalty is not to an individual but to the ideal that we call Nashville.
I think the Jason Holleman situation is one that illustrates this. The Dean machine are going after Jason for his supposed lack of support for the mayor’s agenda. And yet, when you look at the votes, Jason follows that agenda 85% of the time. Jason is not on the right wing like Duval or Crafton who reflexively oppose the mayor out of spite. Jason is in the moderate to progressive wing of the Council which is more likely to support the mayor’s plans. And yet, in the case of two issues, Jason looked at the plans (or the lack of them in the case of the fairgrounds) and made a decision based on the feedback he was getting from his constituents and his analysis of the situation. That’s what he’s supposed to do.
You see, having now known several of these council folk, I have confidence in their ability to take each project as they come, look at them on their merits, and make what they think is the best decision for our city. Having a consistent voting block which rubber stamps the decisions of the mayor is our best interest. Would you have wanted a council that lined up 100% behind a mayor like Bill Boner? I would much rather have a body that is made up of people with critical thinking skills who are willing to ask the hard questions so that the projects our city (that’s right, these are OUR projects, not Karl Dean’s) have a reasonable chance of success and are well designed. We may indeed need a new baseball stadium or publicly funded amphitheater (and we definitely need better mass transit) but it’s important for the council to ask questions about whether we can afford it given our billion dollar debt on the Convention Center. IS the need for a new stadium about functional concerns, or is it that we are jealous of some of the other cities who have monuments to baseball that they are still laboring to fund? Do we need a publicly funded amphitheater or will the private sector pick this up out at the old Starwood property or for that matter in the grandstands at the fairgrounds?
Karl is going to win. The people of Nashville will decide what should happen to the fairgrounds. This too will pass.
But are we willing to let the council be the council? Can we elect folks not for their loyalty to an individual, but their loyalty to a city? If we can, then they should be intelligent enough to discover when the mayor is right, and when he is wrong as well.