If there were just one word to describe the current version of the Metro Council, it would be “agreeable.”
Not long after settling into office, it was widely remarked how much more cooperative and less showy this collection of Nashville legislators was. Many of the camera-hungry Council members, who thought the first and third Tuesday of each month was their time to shine on Metro3 public access television during the previous term, were gone.
The effect was shorter, less contentious Council meetings, thanks in large part to the efficient direction of Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors. It also meant smooth sailing for Mayor Karl Dean, whose closest call on a Council vote was a 24-14-victory margin on a proposed amendment to his new stormwater plan.
Although there have been a few off-camera arguments and some natural political divisions, mostly the new Council has worked together quite happily.
But, thanks to term limits and the 2010 countywide election, the let’s-get-along attitude on Council could yield way to members battling each other for attention in efforts to advance their own political careers.
Already two Council members have committed to running for countywide offices in 2010 — District 29 Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite for juvenile court clerk and District 4 Councilman Michael Craddock for criminal court clerk.
And two others, District 12 Councilman Jim Gotto and District 28 Councilman Duane Dominy, are considering running for the state House of Representatives next year.
“Term limits mean you have to be thinking about your next move, and that’s natural,” said Howard Gentry, the former vice mayor and 2007 candidate for mayor.
A ‘large’ issue
While some Council members are gunning for different Metro offices, others are eyeing coveted at-large seats in 2011.
Problem is, all five at-large seats on Metro Council will be occupied by incumbents, and that doesn’t bode well for district members thinking about making the leap to the front row.
In the history of Metro government, no incumbent at-large Council member has lost a bid for re-election.
Even still, effective district Council members will be term-limited from running again and may eye at-large seats in order to advance their political careers.
District 32 Councilman Sam Coleman is one of those who have openly pondered running for such a seat, becoming more vocal of late. The councilman has interjected himself into hot topics like guns-in-parks and the nondiscrimination ordinance in a purported effort to up his name recognition with voters.
At the Aug. 18 Council meeting, Coleman pleaded with At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard to defer legislation that would opt Metro out of the new state law allowing guns in parks. Maynard refused, to Coleman’s chagrin, which has left some Council members wondering if a division isn’t forming between the two.
Should Wilhoite lose her run for juvenile court clerk next year, her name could find its way onto the ballot as well.
Also in a position to make an at-large run are district Council members Erik Cole, Greg Adkins and Gotto, should he not run for state Rep. Ben West’s seat in 2010.
All five current at-large members are leaning toward a run for re-election, although rumors persist Charlie Tygard could return to the district level and challenge Bellevue rival Bo Mitchell.
At-large Councilman Tim Garrett, who garnered the most votes in the 2007 election, confirmed he intends to run, although he could consider running for another office as well. At-large Council members Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine and Maynard are all but certain to run.
“District members have to remember that just because they’re popular in their district, doesn’t mean they’re popular in the whole county,” said one at-large member.
In fact, only two Council members who previously served at the district level went on to win at-large seats — Tygard and Garrett. In 2007, four former district members from the previous Council ran for at-large seats and only Tygard ended up winning.
If the mood strikes…
One player to keep an eye on is former vice mayor Gentry, who narrowly missed making the run-off in the 2007 mayoral election. Gentry told The City Paper he is concentrating on his current job with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce for now.
“I’m not thinking about running,” said Gentry, who would appear to be the most likely of the 2007 candidates to run again.
However, he did confess that the thought has crossed his mind about what he could have done differently in 2007 to alter the outcome and perhaps bump either Dean or runner-up Bob Clement from the mayoral run-off. Yet, Gentry was adamant he would not run again for mayor in 2011.
“I think a mayor deserves the opportunity to serve the full two terms, provided they’re doing an effective job, and I think Mayor Dean is,” Gentry said.
But he offered no promises that he wouldn’t run for an at-large seat in 2011.
“Every now and then the fire has started flaming up in my belly,” Gentry said, calling his years of serving on Council a “thrill.”
A final Council member to watch is perhaps the most controversial one: Eric Crafton.
The running logic seemed to be that the District 22 Councilman’s political career was in trouble after his English Only effort failed at the ballot earlier this year. But Crafton has lost a countywide referendum before (on the bond issuance for the Titans stadium) and survived just fine politically.
It’s widely known Crafton thought about running for a seat on Metro’s Board of Education last year and it’s hard to argue with the notion that he has about 50,000 votes built in from English Only supporters.
While Council members ponder their next moves, the net effect may be a less cooperative legislative process in general as political futures are prominently considered.
Despite the best efforts of the vice mayor to keep an agreeable house, it’s possible that the floor of Metro Council could become a campaign podium. And that chummy mood that’s permeated the last two years may just go flying out the Metro courthouse window.