This fall's city election will bring an unprecedented changing of the guard on City Council. All five of the seats that are being contested this year on that nine-member body will gain new representation, due in most cases to the imposition of term limits.
At least four candidates are competing in the Sept. 25 primary in each of the five districts for which early voting started Sept. 5. Under Knoxville's unique electoral system, the top two finishers in each district primary will then face off against each other on a citywide basis in a Nov. 6 general election.
As someone whose paramount interest is seeing Knoxville become a more progressive, dynamic city, especially where its downtown is concerned, one might suppose that I would be looking to endorse like-minded candidates. But I am also a great believer in diversity in many different senses of that term. Moreover, I put a lot of store in the extent of a candidate's prior interest and involvement in public issues and processes. Finally, and most judgmentally, I assign great weight to a candidate's ability to grasp all sides of an issue and to balance them in seeking a resolution.
These are the primary criteria I employed in making the endorsement that follow. I want to emphasize that they are purely my own and not those of Metro Pulse per se. Our editor, Jesse Fox Mayshark, disagrees with me in at least one case (the Second District), and he will be addressing that in a future issue.
First District: Joe Hultquist is an activist who has been more engaged on more issues over a longer period of time than any other candidates in this district. Unlike some activists who are long on passion and short on practicality, Hultquist seems to be knowledgeable and reasonable in his views.
Now age 48, Hultquist was co-founder and longtime president of the Island Home Park Neighborhood Association. Among many other accomplishments, he points with pride to preserving trees that were due to be cut down in the vicinity of the Island Home Airport. He has also championed the cause of South Knoxville riverfront development—as yet to less avail.
Hultquist's activism extends to citywide and regional concerns. As a longtime proponent of mass transit, including rail possibilities, he serves on the Regional Transportation Alternatives Committee of the Metropolitan Organization. He's served on the board of directors of Nine Counties/One Vision from its inception and is due to be named to its downtown development task force.
"Downtown and the core neighborhoods that surround it must be the top priority for city redevelopment policy," he states in his 10-point platform. The first plank, though, is that. "The key to community progress is genuine public involvement in all that we do as a city. The consensus and buy-in gained from true public participation are the foundation for sound civic decision-making." I heartily subscribe to that and believe that Hultquist will work hard to foster it if he is elected.
Second District: Barbara Pelot is a champion of neighborhood interests, and I believe that City Council needs a member to carry on the role that Carlene Malone and Jean Teague have filled for many years. At the same time, I believe that Pelot is broader-gauged and more balanced in her views about development than Teague, whom she is running to succeed. She more nearly resembles Malone in her extensive knowledge of zoning and sector planning issues on a citywide basis.
Pelot may be a thorn in some people's sides. Indeed, she has been in the past in her capacity as president of the West Hills Community Association. But she served well and harmoniously on the city's Charter Revision Commission and the Unified Government Charter Commission. The experience gained from serving on those bodies makes her all the more familiar with the workings of city government.
While she espouses the view that, "The city's strength comes from the health of our neighborhoods," she recoils against any notion that she's not supportive of downtown redevelopment. "In order to support out new convention center, downtown revitalization has to be a prime consideration.... It's so important to go forward with the Market Square redevelopment plan. Postponement would really scare me to death," she says.
One other factor in my Pelot endorsement: I consider her to be the best qualified woman running for City Council in any district, and it's hard for me to imagine Council without a woman on it.
Third District: I believe that both of the front runners in this race, Bedford Chapman and Steve Hall, are worthy candidates, and I have a hard time choosing between them.
As a realtor with extensive civic involvement in the Norwood area, Chapman may be somewhat more sensitive to the needs of that community. Moreover, he impresses me as someone who will be very conscientious and exercise good judgement.
As a successful businessman whose headquarters are on East Depot Street, Hall may have a better citywide perspective. His business location bridges the gap between downtown and East Knoxville, and he is sensitive to the needs of both. This is reflected in the fact that economic development is his number one campaign issue. His executive experience should be an asset on Council in pursuing this and in other ways as well.
On balance, I give the nod to Hall.
Fourth District: Rob Frost has probably been more diligent in doing his homework over the past year than any other candidate. He's attended nearly every City Council meeting and public hearing as well as meetings of neighborhood associations throughout his district. As an extension of his law practice and his passion for historic preservation, he steeped himself in the city zoning and building codes.
At age 33, he brings a youthful enthusiasm to his candidacy that is welcome, but his campaign is anything but amateurish. The host committees of his fund raisers are models of diversity, and he's been far ahead of any other candidate in airing TV spots and placing yard signs throughout the city. His professionalism should stand him in good stead if he's elected.
Sixth District: Mark Brown stands out in this crowded field of seven candidates. At a recent candidate's forum, he alone spoke succintly to each of the questions addressed to them, whereas the others tended to repeat the same themes they had sounded in their opening statements. It was a testament to his listening as well as his speaking skills and also to his poise.
To some extent, these attributes may stem from his greater experience in the public arena. As chairman of the Knox County Election Commission until becoming a candidate, he gained a reputation for fair-mindedness. As president of the Knoxville Area Urban League prior to going into law practice in 1993, his was always a voice of reason.
Others may sound more passionate about inner-city needs, but I believe that Brown will be more effective in addressing them as well as the needs of the city as a whole.