District 18 voters to decide Council seat today

Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 2:39am

Only 152 votes separated Kristine LaLonde and Stephenie Dodson in last month’s special election for the vacant District 18 Metro Council seat.

The runoff election Thursday between the two candidates likely will come down to get-out-the-vote efforts, both agreed in the weeks leading up to today’s vote.

“It’s going to be about getting more people out to vote,” said Dodson, who trailed LaLonde in the March 26 special election.

Dodson has stressed her experience working on neighborhood issues, while also painting LaLonde as having a conflict of interest that would damage her ability to represent District 18.

LaLonde is a professor of leadership studies at Belmont University, which is a prominent neighbor in the district. A harsh mailer from the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund, which endorsed Dodson, painted LaLonde as having a conflict of interest for Belmont-related issues that would come down the pike.

LaLonde said she would represent the neighborhood’s interests.

“On the campaign trail I’ve been happy to talk to everybody about whatever their issue may be, and I do get asked about it,” she said. “I told them my job will be to facilitate discussion.”

Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper said there would not be a direct conflict of interest that would preclude LaLonde from serving on Council, but he said she would want to recuse herself from voting on Belmont-related issues.

LaLonde, 40, earned the endorsements of several union groups, including the Metro Nashville teachers. She has painted herself as a neighborhood advocate, who’s worked on the Parent Teacher Organization board and the Hillsboro cluster advisory council.

But Dodson believes her longevity on the Hillsboro West End Neighborhood Association — she’s been a member for more than nine years — combined with her 22 years living in District 18, mean she’s more familiar with the neighborhood’s concerns.

Dodson, 55, directs the before-and-after school program for children at Percy Priest Elementary School.

LaLonde came into today’s election with a larger campaign war chest, which contained about $10,000 more than Dodson. She’s downplayed concerns about her employment at Belmont and promised to recuse herself from votes if necessary.

“First of all she’s not going to win,” Dodson said. “But if she does, I’m going to hold her to that and I’m going to make sure the people of the 18th District are represented.”