Campaign efforts of the fairgrounds-area organization Neighbors for Progress aren’t funded by actual fairgrounds neighbors.
Rather, the group’s modest amount of money has come from former Mayor Karl Dean strategist Will Pinkston, investor John Cooper and a political action committee dubbed Building Nashville Together, financial reports submitted to the Davidson County Election Commission last week reveal.
The organization, which supports Dean’s vision for redeveloping the 117-acre property, has made only one political play during Metro’s election season: issuing a negative campaign mail-piece against District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman, who is trying to fend off challenger Sarah Lodge Tally and her army of pro-Dean supporters. Holleman has questioned the mayor’s handling of the fairgrounds issue.
“I think the disclosure demonstrates that Neighbors for Progress was a political attack operation, not any kind of neighborhood organization,” Holleman said.
Financial documents show Neighbors for Progress paid $3,318 to send out the mailer, which alleges, “Jason Holleman wouldn’t listen” when fairgrounds neighbors approached him last fall about new opportunities for the fairgrounds. Holleman sponsored the decisive amendment to a bill, which ultimately opted against demolishing the fairgrounds speedway.
Pinkston, a former aide to Gov. Phil Bredesen who briefly worked on Dean’s re-election team, contributed $1,000 to Neighbors for Progress. Cooper donated $700. Building Nashville Together contributed $1,500.
“Four year ago, I gave money to Jason Holleman, and I’ve regretted it ever since,” Pinkston said. “Jason is a good guy, but he’s unfortunately turned out to be a real antagonist on the council.
“He did not deal up front with neighbors in South Nashville during that whole [fairgrounds] episode,” Pinkston added.
Colby Sledge, who chairs Neighbors for Progress, said he doesn’t believe the outside money is an issue.
“The truth of it is, we as neighbors don’t have the money to put together something like this,” Sledge said. “We’re a low- to middle-income neighborhood. We don’t have the dollars that it takes to get involved on that level.”
Ethan Link, who is employed by the Southeast Laborers District Council, chairs the pro-union Building Nashville Together. Link worked as campaign manager for attorney Jeff Yarbro’s unsuccessful run last summer to unseat conservative state Sen. Douglas Henry. Yarbro has endorsed Tally’s candidacy.
“One thing that Building Nashville Together has as a goal is not just supporting candidates that we believe will support job-creating projects, and put people to work, but we want to make sure that when those people are in office, they’re held accountable,” Link said. “We made a contribution to them because we believe they have the same spirit on that.
“From my view, it was a way to help another organization that was trying to hold a council candidate accountable to some of the policies they voted on over the past four years,” he said.