Yesterday I let loose with my worries about Megan Barry’s candidacy for mayor, and the rhetoric that I’ve heard out of her supporters. Apparently I struck I nerve because I’ve heard from a variety of folks, both supporters of Megan and supporters of David Fox, both praising and chastising my post. The feedback has been good, and as I’ve thought more about what I said yesterday, there are a few things I need to clarify.
First, there was one accusation I made about Megan Barry accepting donations from the private corrections company, CCA. I have since been informed that my information was incorrect and that donations were accepted from individual staff members of CCA, nor any sort of corporate donation. I wish to set the record straight that, as I understand it, Megan has refused corporate donations as a matter of principle. Certainly there is nothing wrong with accepting donations from individuals who may work for a company profiting off of policies that you may differ with. My point, however, still stands. Politics as it exists today requires lots of money and no one is completely pure. Attacks from either side about the other side’s donors is an attempt to suggest that a candidate my be beholden to the political positions of those donors. While there may be some truth in that, I fear our cynicism may lead to hyperbolic responses to the effects these donors have on the candidate. As long as big money is part of the system most everyone’s hands are dirty.
Second, there were some who thought that my critique of Megan Barry represented a tacit endorsement of David Fox. This is not the case either. As I said in the post I am nervous about both candidates, and there are concerns I have about David Fox’s candidacy as well. This post is an attempt to address some of those concerns.
Understand that I respect David’s repeated assertions that we have overspent under the previous administration, and that it may be time to tighten the belt. We’ve built some cool buildings and facilities, but we’ve put ourselves in a precarious financial situation. Pro-development types like Mayor Dean, and Megan’s public stance, seem to think that continuing the current policy of growth and development will increase revenues to the point where we can meet our debt load without any problem. I tend to be more cynical, fearing that we are approaching a development bubble. I sat in a meeting last week in which Metro Property Assessor George Rooker showed architects renderings of shiny high-rise upon shiny high-rise, all built in the urban core, and I found myself wondering who are the folks who are actually going to live in those buildings, especially since their rents are hardly affordable. I know what rents are currently going for in the Gulch and I (who makes an acceptable salary) can’t afford to live there. Maybe these will spur new residents to Nashville, but unfortunately our current infrastructure is straining under the weight of our existing residents and adding folks will come with a cost which is rarely structured into the development expenses. Most of all, in the wake of all the spending to develop, I’ve seen services for the poor and marginalized cut, and no energy given to addressing the difficulty folks making under $30,000 have in finding housing. I think it might be time to slow down the rate of development and focus on some of the core needs of our city which aren’t particularly sexy, but very necessary.
However I confess that I worry about David’s approach to dealing with our current financial realities, thinking that the belt-tightening will again come at the expense of the least of these. David’s approach to dealing with affordable housing, that is, to attempt to fund the Barnes Housing Trust through outside donations, seems to a regular mantra of conservatives, but as the leader of a non-profit (albeit a religious one in nature) I can say that it sounds good in theory, but the reality is much harder. I’m a believer in public/private partnerships (were working on some here in Madison right now) but both parties have to have skin in the game, and we cannot fully address the obtainable housing shortage through outside philanthropy in my opinion.
As I said in my previous post, David has always been straight with me one-on-one, and I generally have trusted him along the way. I’m not especially concerned about the PAC established by his brother, although many of my friends think it’s an abomination. However I am concerned with the decision to turn over the management of his campaign to consultants who represent the more extreme ends of the Republican party, as well as the recent move to hire a communications coordinator with deep ties to the Heritage Foundation (Israel Ortega), a group who identifies themselves as an organization “…whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” This is troubling to me because I don’t think it was necessary. David was ALWAYS going to appeal to the more conserving in our city. Given the history of these organizations in the past, it’s easy to imagine a significantly more conservative presence in our city. David has said that his faith leads him to be a moderate on social issues (“live and let live,” he says is his philosophy). However that IS NOT the agenda of the organizations that are providing underlying support to his campaign, and while I don’t want to fall into conspiracy theories, it does make on have to wonder.
Some of that is tied to David’s tenure at the chair of the board of Metro Public Schools. Several times I’ve heard the story of David’s decision to keep his decision to not seek re-election until the very last minute, so that his hand-picked successor would be able to run unopposed. Some would say that was simply good political thinking, and it may be, but it also suggests a willingness to eschew openness and transparency, something which I believe is the cornerstone of good governance. We’ve spent 8 years of an administration which has failed to appreciate that transparency can be an asset rather than a liability, and those past behaviors have to make one think.
However, the bottom line for me with David really isn’t that different from my issues with Megan — an unwillingness to clearly define how their administrations will pivot to a different focus. David will spend less, but his model of a good mayor is the same as Megan’s — Phil Bredesen, the original architect of edifice spending and take no prisoners politics while failing to address the needs of the poor. One of the reasons we struggle today in our relationship between Meharry and Metro General Hospital was due to the dysfunctional arrangement Bredesen established to meet his political needs, and not consider the long-term needs of providing a safety net hospital for those in need. That Mr Fox lifts him up as his model for leadership should make us all pause for a moment.
So my friends, I’m not jumping on the David train without more thought either. I think David has strengths and weaknesses, just as does Megan Barry. Clearly there are those in our city who believe that Megan has the gifts to lead us — just consider the endorsements she’s received, and I have to take those under advisement. There are aspects of David Fox’s approach to governance that I have to take under advisement as well.
The path is not clear, and I may be too late to leave the station. But I’m not buying my ticket until I have a better sense of the path upon which we are headed.