Meddling in Metro Council races in a halfhearted scheme to thump adversarial members Jason Holleman and Duane Dominy didn’t pay off for Mayor Karl Dean. Both won easily. The success of his politicking to unseat Antioch conservative Robert Duvall is still pending, with a runoff to decide that election.
Still, largely because of term limits, several of Dean’s most critical eyes and loudest voices — liberal and conservative — have exited council chambers, leaving behind new and smoother political terrain for Dean’s administration to push its legislative agenda. Gone is a gaggle of Dean skeptics who periodically proved to be roadblocks for the mayor’s office, most notably Jamie Hollin, Mike Jameson, Eric Crafton, Michael Craddock and Jim Gotto.
“You always need somebody who’s willing to ask the tough questions, and not be afraid to take a tough stand,” Crafton said. “It will be interesting to see who steps up and fills that role.”
But the narrative of an easier road for the mayor might be shortsighted. Such thinking could look foolish even one year from now.
If second-term history is an indicator, Dean won’t be sailing. Former Mayor Bill Purcell’s last four years were marked by moments of friction with the council. And though much of Dean’s past council resistance has left the building, the political voices of what will be 17 (perhaps 18) newly elected members among the 40-person body still aren’t clear.
Critics are sure to emerge. As one courthouse insider put it, with each passing day, Dean inches closer to his final days of office. Slowly, this observer noted, Dean’s political clout will seep through the cracks as his second term nears finality. Lame-duck status will arrive at some point.
For now, though, it’s clear that big personalities have said their goodbyes at a pivotal moment: On the docket in the near future could be financing a new Nashville Sounds ballpark or finding a local revenue source to bankroll greater mass-transit advancements, big-ticket items to go along with the looming challenge of budgeting city services during a slumping economy.
“There are definitely some colorful characters who are moving on, and some who have certainly had no hesitation to voice their opinions when it was called for,” said Jameson, who’s departing his East Nashville seat. “But I think if you look back at their political careers, you would have seen a group of people who could have been described as quiet or introspective. Eric Crafton, for his first six months, was a wallflower.
“We’re a co-equal branch of the government, and we have to act like it,” Jameson said. “That sometimes includes raising your voice if you don’t feel like your branch is being listened to.”
How loud will voices get? If the mayor’s critics numbered nine or 10 during the last council, half that crew remains. Councilwoman Emily Evans, who questioned the mayor on various financial calculations during the past term and still occupies her Belle Meade-area seat, is confident the 2011-2015 council will carry out its role.
“From everything I can tell from the new council members, they’re going to do their jobs, which is to vet all legislation that comes through us,” Evans said. “They’ll all come at each of those problems with different backgrounds and different biases and different frameworks for analysis.”
Bonna Johnson, Dean’s spokeswoman, said the mayor is pleased with the ideological diversity of the new council.
“Mayor Dean looks forward to working with the new Metro Council to continue Nashville’s progress,” she said in a statement. “He has a good relationship with the current council, and together they advanced some major initiatives. ”
This type of public statement is to be expected, and publicly the mayor has been no more specific about the new council. But privately, key members of Dean’s inner circle are sizing up a new council they believe can be much more receptive. They’re giddy with what they see.
Among those making an exit is Hollin, who turned into Dean’s sharpest thorn over the past several months, working votes behind the scenes to defeat the mayor’s fairgrounds initiative last winter before spearheading a successful charter amendment to make it more difficult to redevelop the property. He opted against a second term.
Jameson routinely objected to what he perceived as the administration’s unilateral approach to achieving its objectives. On the other end of the political spectrum, the conservative Craddock will no longer be gracing the floor with his made-for-television speeches aimed at the mayor. His ally Crafton, who made a living agitating Dean’s troops, ran an unsuccessful campaign for an at-large council seat. He’s term-limited. And Gotto’s duties are now with the state legislature as a Republican representative.
Councilman-elect Steve Glover, fiery in his day as a one-term school board member, is Gotto’s replacement. A self-described conservative, Glover said his top priority is to work collectively to find solutions for Nashville.
“I don’t want us to act like Washington,” he said, referring to the partisan divide in the nation’s capital.
Still, Glover indicated he’s more than happy to play the role of council cynic if he disagrees on certain issues.
“If I think it’s a good thing, and if it’s the mayor’s initiative, great,” Glover said. “If I don’t think it’s a good thing and it’s the mayor’s initiative, we’ll talk about it. What I would hope is that we can agree to disagree, and have a relationship from that standpoint.”
Burkley Allen, elected to fill the council’s Hillsboro-Belmont seat vacated by Dean ally Kristine LaLonde, said she plans “to be a listener” during the early stages of her council career. She favors a “cooperative spirit.”
“It’s important to hear facts and evaluate each proposal on its merits,” Allen said. “I certainly have no intention of going in as a critic. I tend not to operate that way. I think the mayor’s done a great job with some of his initiatives — healthy living, energy efficiency and a focus on schools and public safety.”
At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, who during his time as a district council member butted heads with Purcell, said he expects most newcomers to take time to adjust to the council’s learning curve.
“Most of the ones I’ve talked to, or met, or been around through the campaign, have an attitude of, ‘I need to get my feet wet. I need to sit and learn. I need to ask questions,’ ” Tygard said. “Even the ones who may have taken a no-tax pledge or are staunchly anti-taxes don’t seem to be the kind that are going to be leading the protests.”
Even if new council members are more vocal than others have been in the past, Gotto said he believes the mayor is positioned to have most of his way.
“The unfortunate thing in Metro is, the way the charter is constructed in Metro, there’s an awful lot of power [that] rests with the administration, regardless of who it is,” he said. “That’s just the way the charter is written.”