Clown Shoes

Knox County's most famous commissioner wonders why people don't like him

I don't know who finds Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert more exasperating—his enemies or his friends.

Lambert first made news giving away a worthless World War II rifle with each car sold from his lot. The free gun promotion got him on the Today Show. He was a prominent figure in the anti-wheel tax referendum, famously showing up in a costume as a taxpayer with a giant screw through his body. The notoriety gave him the name recognition to get himself elected to the Knox County Commission.

He is a member of the anti-faction opposed to Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and has frequent clashes with commissioners on the other side. He certainly provides memorable quotes. While his reliable vote may be a help for the anti-Ragsdale faction, his comments often are counter-productive to his cause.

One of his allies in the wheel tax referendum effort now says "Lumpy has put clown shoes on County Commission."

It's hard for Commission to have a serious discussion about wrongdoing and argue the necessity of cleaning it up if the public is distracted by photographs of Lambert towering over an African-American woman, calling names and making asinine arguments.

His allies have asked him to just shut up; he can no more do it than he can stop breathing.

A feature writer from The New York Times had a story in Monday's paper recounting the travails of Knox County government over the last year. When the reporter attended a recent Commission meeting, Lambert provided him with the perfect coda to his piece when Lambert attacked Commissioner Mark Harmon as a "university twit." Harmon might be a twit, just as Lambert is a redneck—that's what passes for diversity on the Knox County Commission. But the implication that education puts you out of touch with the average Knox County voter is an insult to the populace.

Lambert has gotten some serious advice out in his district of late—telling him he has gone too far, is making a fool of himself, and is in danger of ending his political career. For someone who shows no hesitation in hurling insults in the heat of an argument, Lambert also wants people to like him. He often quizzes people about why the "media" doesn't like him or why he is often attacked.

Lambert has taken the criticism to heart and has consulted friends on what he ought to do to repair the damage.

Herewith, some free advice:

Forget getting the media to like you. It ain't gonna happen. Be content that they will seek you out for quotes. You will continue to see your name in the paper and your face on the evening news. Usually it will not be flattering, but you won't be ignored.

You have two years left on your term. If you learn to sit quietly, avoid fights, avoid making personal attacks, and avoid press coverage, you have time for it to die down before your next election. However, we both know you can't do that. So you might as well let Lumpy be Lumpy. Be content to get all the media coverage and be famous when you get voted out after one term. But it is certainly possible, given the state of Knox County politics, that you will be famous enough to get reelected regardless of the amount of embarrassment you engender.

One thing you could do would be to stop bragging about how you are in the pocket of the developers and will give them whatever they want. You could stop doing things like re-writing a storm-water ordinance during a Commission meeting—an ordinance that took experts a year to negotiate.

You might concentrate on legislation rather than argument. Maybe something to do with road kill, posting the Ten Commandments, or asking your colleagues to go on record as to whether they love the Baby Jesus.

You could be a one-term Commissioner. You could get elected to higher office. One never knows.