Knoxville Elections '11: Metro Pulse's Endorsements

Before we present Metro Pulse's endorsements in this year's primary elections, we would like to encourage our readers to acquaint themselves as well as possible with the various candidates and, of course, reach your own conclusions about who is best suited for office. You can find excerpts from our candidate questionnaires in this week's print-edition cover story, and the full questionnaires plus all of our coverage of the campaigns on our website. (For just the current issue's coverage, go to this page.) We are holding off on an endorsement in the 5th District Council race until the general election.

These endorsements were arrived at by consensus of the Metro Pulse editorial staff. Participating in the discussion and decisions were Coury Turczyn, Jesse Fox Mayshark, Jack Neely, Matthew Everett, and Cari Wade Gervin.

MAYOR

There is no question that Madeline Rogero will be the best mayor out of the crowd of candidates. She has a range and depth of experience that nobody else can match, and political skills honed over decades of public and nonprofit work. When Rogero talks (as all the candidates do) about carrying forward the momentum of Bill Haslam's administration, it is important to recognize how much of that momentum she helped create. When she ran against Haslam in 2003, she arguably set the agenda for the campaign more than he did, and by extension for much of what Haslam pursued once he took office. She also, of course, served in his administration, taking command of a troubled department and by all accounts setting it right. While Haslam himself has stayed out of this year's race, his top two deputies, Bill Lyons and Larry Martin, have both enthusiastically endorsed Rogero. She is pragmatic and attuned to the ground-level concerns of neighborhoods across the city. At the same time, she has some big (if still sort of vague) ideas about building on the urban redevelopment of the past decade and making Knoxville "the greenest city in America." She has the broadest base of support of any candidate, and that diversity reflects her engagement with and knowledge of all the disparate corners of Knoxville. We are confident she will maintain the levels of service and accountability that Knoxvillians expect from our government, while also bringing in some much-needed new voices and perspectives.

CITY COUNCIL

At-Large Seat A is the hardest call for us. We like John Stancil's insistence on fair application of codes enforcement across all neighborhoods. Paul Berney provided well-informed and thoughtful answers to the questions on our candidate questionnaire, and his commitment to sustainable development is commendable. But against our own expectations, we think George Wallace would be the strongest Council member of the three.

This endorsement requires some caveats: By "strong," we mean that we think Wallace has the experience and the determination to pursue and see through projects or initiatives he takes on as a Council member. His demonstrated ability to work with others—both in professional organizations and in civic volunteer positions—should serve him and the city well on Council. At the same time, we are not kidding ourselves about his background: As a prominent Realtor, he will undoubtedly be sympathetic to the local developer community, and more broadly is likely to be a strong ally of the Chamber. This gives us pause, because the "developer community," as it has demonstrated during its histrionic attack on the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan, often seems uninterested in good public process or policy: It just wants what it wants, now. Likewise, the Chamber has a shaky track record of supporting bad ideas (the convention center, "Universe Knoxville," whatever hot idea some salesman has turned up with this week) and opposing good ones (the aforementioned Hillside plan).

But Wallace promises (and his answers to our questions show) a thoughtful approach to complicated issues, a willingness to listen to a range of viewpoints, and a concern for the broader interests of the community. He could be just the kind of business-community representative we need on Council. We expect to disagree with him on some issues, but we think he will bring a valuable perspective and, we hope, an open mind.

In At-Large Seat B, we appreciate Bill Owen's depth of civic experience and knowledge, and do not doubt his sincerity in wanting to share them by returning to public office. But Owen's years of political insiderdom come with some baggage. On balance, we find Marshall Stair a more appealing candidate. It is true that Stair has a limited political résumé, but his activity in recent years with various civic groups shows energy and commitment to improving the city. And his youth and experiences living in other cities and cultures will, we hope, bring some creative thinking to the Council table. (We also like that he is beginning his political career with a run for Council, rather than trying to jump straight to the executive level like some other scions of prominent local families.)

At-Large Seat C is the easiest call. Finbarr Saunders is, by temperament and background, just the kind of public servant local government needs. He is well versed in a range of issues, committed to thinking seriously about the future, concerned about conservation and preservation, and a strong proponent of civil civic discourse. Like Wallace, he may be sometimes a little developer-friendly for our tastes, but overall we think he will be a fine Council member. Of his opponents, Sharon Welch seems well-intentioned and committed to improving her community, but she can't match Saunders' experience and grasp of the challenges facing Knoxville. Ron Peabody, meanwhile, is a tedious blowhard who seems less like a candidate than a sort of live-action Internet troll. His refusal to answer questions about who was involved in his anti-Ten-Year-Plan group last year, and who is involved in his campaign this year, is at stark odds with his calls for transparency in government.

We realize that in these At-Large races, we are endorsing three affluent white guys from West Knoxville (even if Stair now lives downtown). While we like the candidates, we're not particularly happy about that demographic monopoly. We hope the next time an At-Large seat comes open, there is more diverse field of strong candidates. In the meantime, should Wallace, Stair, and Saunders win, we urge them to take seriously their responsibility to represent the interests of all Knoxvillians.

6th DISTRICT STATE SENATE

We will hold off on an overall endorsement until the general election, when the Republican nominee will face Democrat Gloria Johnson. But in the Republican primary, the three women running to replace Jamie Woodson are a lot alike. Victoria DeFreese, Becky Duncan Massey, and Marilyn Roddy are all pro-business, anti-regulation. They all support some type of education reform, more so than what was passed in this most recent session. We have misgivings about all three, but we are most comfortable with Marilyn Roddy.

Roddy waffles on issues. She gives noncommittal answers. She seems more attuned to political expediency than principle. However, she seems the least likely of any of the Republican candidates to get worked up over hot topic push-button social "issues"—the types of things Sen. Stacey Campfield regularly tries to push through. She seems the most likely to actually separate church and state. (She's the only one of the three who does not call herself a creationist.) And in a district where a Republican is quite likely to win in November, we can't stress enough that having someone kind of like Woodson to replace Woodson is not a terrible thing. Woodson was, after all, the sole Republican on the Senate Education Committee to vote against Campfield's "Don't Say Gay" bill. Roddy is the only one of the three who has stated she wouldn't have supported it. Roddy might be the lesser of three evils, but we firmly believe the less evil, the better.