Last week I took some time to unpack some of my feelings about the Nashville mayor’s race, suggesting that I was nervous about jumping on the train for either Megan Barry or David Fox. Of course some might ask what is the whole purpose of sharing this anyway? After all, since I don’t seem to like either of the candidates why bother with even voting? Isn’t the whole exercise futile anyway . . . politics is what it is, and why bother even worrying about it?
I get that, and there are moments when I want to wash my hands of the entire affair. That has been especially true in the name calling, rumor mongering, and character assassination originating from supporters on both sides of the campaign. I’ve seen intelligent people paint with broad brushes about the supposed evil of the other side in their support for winning over the other. They are passionate people who are convicted in the rightness of their beliefs, but in their assumptions and accusations they deflect from the real questions that need to be answered by both campaigns.
Yes, I’m nervous about the candidates as they appear in their campaign modes, with their platitudes and attacks on the other. However what worries me more are the questions that aren’t neither being asked or answered in the belief that questioning the Dean legacy is a short track toward oblivion.
I sat in a meeting today with community leaders in Madison and the rest of the city to talk about issue of homelessness in our neighborhood. While we heard wonderful stories of faith communities and others offering a variety of services to help and support our homeless neighbors, the conversation turned again and again toward the lack of housing for the poor. While both of the campaigns (and organizations such as NOAH) talk about affordable housing in general terms, they fail to define affordability, the place of MDHA in addressing poverty housing, incentives for landlords to retain or start accepting subsidized housing vouchers (section 8), and the increasing number of persons who are holding vouchers who are unable to find housing. There has been a lot of appeal to the Barnes Housing Trust Fund, something that I support, but not a lot of specifics for how those funds will address housing needs that are reaching crisis levels in some neighborhoods. There has been almost no mention of the success of the How’s Nashville campaign and how to build upon that success to alleviate homelessness.
There is a lot of talk about transit solutions, which is absolutely crucial to our city, but almost no conversation how to make transit affordable for folks at the lower ranges of the economic spectrum (something that is a struggle for many). There is never any critique of the flaws of Dean’s AMP proposal, a proposal which seemed geared to an affluent ridership while ignoring the needs of other communities.
Megan talks about continuing the prosperity of the Dean administration with the current rate of development trusting that developers are not over building and we aren’t creating a housing bubble that will undermine the increased tax revenues which are the hope of those projects. Megan talks about the economic prosperity of the Music City Center project without acknowledging that all the extra taxes collected are directed toward paying the cost of that project and are not directed toward city services. She fails to say if continuing in the Dean legacy means that she will continue his practice of cutting social services funding again, and again, and again.
While Fox talks about austerity in the face of the debt, he likewise fails to address concerns about social services funding. If cuts are coming under Fox, and there certainly will be cuts, are those across the board and if they are applied to social services and safety net entities like Metro General Hospital, how will we be able to sustain those services?
There is posturing on education — but in the end they offer no specific plans for addressing the unique needs of an urban school district in which the common practice for many years has been for affluent citizens to place their children in private schools starting in middle school, or to move to one of the surrounding counties. At what point do we undermine the success of our schools when we spend so much time talking about their deficiencies rather than their assets?
For me the question of who will serve on the leadership teams with the two candidates is important. I respect that no promises have been made, but I want and need to know from Megan if she is comfortable and wanting to retain the current leadership team employed by Mayor Dean, or if she thinks a different approach is called for. I want and need to know from David is folks like Israel Ortega will be the norm for his team, and how that doesn’t represent a move toward the hard right rather than simply right of center?
I want to know from both campaigns if the culture of accusation and attack will be the norms for their campaigns once in office. Will the “take no prisoners” approach of the Dean administration continue or will there be a kinder and gentler approach to leadership?
The problem with the campaigns for me are not the campaigns in themselves.
No, they are in the lack of serious engagement around the serious issues we face.
We aren’t asking the right questions.
And in our failure to do so, we find ourselves backed into the corner of mud slinging which we all hate, but still do.
God help us.