Vice-Mayor Role Could Get Big

If Haslam wins the governor's office, that secondary position could change. So who's next?

The possibility of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam being elected governor in 2010 sharpens interest in this year's City Council races because a council decision come December may have a major bearing on who becomes the city's next mayor.

Should Haslam resign the office, the vice-mayor immediately assumes the post for 10 days. Then a special called meeting of City Council will select a new mayor from among its members. Since the vice mayor will have been chosen previously by council, the vice mayor would presumably be in a good position to assume the job on a permanent basis. But council can pick any one of its members to serve in the post.

The new mayor is supposed to call for a special election within 90 days, unless there are fewer than 10 months until the next election. Should Haslam be elected governor and resign shortly before being sworn in come January 2011, there would not be time for a special election. Thus the appointed mayor would be an incumbent until the election—or, put another way, be running for the office in 2011 as an incumbent.

Being selected as the vice mayor this fall becomes a prized position in preparation for a mayoral run in 2011, should Haslam win.

There are five positions on City Council up for election this year and all the incumbents are term-limited. This includes current Vice Mayor Mark Brown and potential mayoral candidate Rob Frost. Also term-limited off council are Barbara Pelot, Steve Hall and Joe Hultquist.

So five new council members and the four incumbents will pick a vice mayor.

Marilyn Roddy is an incumbent member of council, also believed to be considering a race for mayor. She could make a good case for being elected vice mayor, given her experience, making her the incumbent in 2011. The same can be said of incumbent Joe Bailey, who has been active in the local Republican Party and delivered county wins for President Bush and U.S. Sen. John McCain. Both council members have been elected to at-large seats, citywide.

In Hultquist's South Knoxville district, Nick Pavlis has indicated he will run for the seat. Madeline Rogero also lives in South Knoxville. She has not indicated an interest in running for council, but has said she plans to run for the mayor's office, which she narrowly lost to Haslam in 2003.

But it would be risky for Rogero. Should she lose a council race, it would be very damaging going into a mayoral race. And since she isn't a Haslam, she most likely couldn't give up her current city job.

But imagine a scenario on which Pavlis or Rogero gets elected to council, wins the vice-mayor post and would thus be an incumbent going into the 2011 election.

Considering the large number of potential candidates for mayor, each having a group of supporters, there may be some sentiment to select as vice mayor this fall someone who would pledge not to be a candidate for mayor in 2011.

That would be good for Frost or Brown or any other non-council member candidate, like Alvin Nance or Larry Martin. Or Rogero, should she by-pass a council race to run for mayor.

Considering that the make-up of City Council this fall could play a role in the mayoral race, there will be a lot more interest in City Council races. Any mayoral candidate would have an interest in who gets elected to council, whether they are on council, hope to be on council, or would be on the outside looking in at an incumbent council member running as an incumbent mayor.

It would behoove Roddy or Bailey to support a slate of new council members pledged to support them—assuming their candidates win. Otherwise, not so good.

Council candidates will emerge and the permutations are geometrically complex. But the usually lackluster City Council elections suddenly become a lot more interesting.

Should Haslam lose, well, never mind.