Predicting who will make for the best Hero of the People is always a crapshoot; but we can confidently offer our opinions on who might be good public servants—and this year, we have many fine candidates for Knoxville City Council. The following endorsements reflect the opinions of our editorial staff, after review of our interviews with each candidate, their backgrounds, and their financial disclosure statements. We believe that together these representatives would make for a good mix of experienced hands and fresh faces.
—Coury Turczyn, ed.
1st District—Robert Marlino
This is an especially difficult choice, as these South Knoxville candidates perfectly complement each other. On one hand, Nick Pavlis has a strong record as a two-term City Council member during the Ashe years who did not rubber-stamp that mayor’s initiatives; on the other hand, he’s part of the establishment enough that his donors include attorney Arthur Seymour Jr. and former TVA Board Chairman Bill Baxter. Meanwhile, Robert Marlino is a political newcomer with progressive ideas who may not come with any baggage, but who also hasn’t demonstrated a lot of involvement in local politics (though he’s on the City Council’s Transportation and Mobility Committee). So, who to pick? While both are excellent candidates, we’re going with Marlino. The gestating South Waterfront Project has the potential to be a great boon to the district, but it could use the oversight of a representative with a background in urban design and preservation. Marlino, a production manager for Smee+Busby Architects, is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Knox Heritage. Despite Pavlis’ many qualities, the fact that he’s being supported by the developer-defending Seymour and by Baxter, the chairman of Holston Gases (which sits on the riverfront amid the proposed project) is enough to make us pause. So we opt for optimism—that Marlino will be a quick study on local politics.
2nd District—Duane Grieve
Duane Grieve might seem almost overqualified for City Council. The former national treasurer for the American Institute of Architects has also served as president of that vigorous professional organization’s local, state, and regional chapters. Here, he’s a former chairman of the East Tennessee Design Center, former member of the Knoxville Historic Zoning Commission, and a member of several mayors’ task forces. Grieve has already had more positive influence on our city than most councilmen ever get around to. He began practical work toward a downtown revival, with personal investment, back when few believed it likely: Almost 30 years ago, he led the development of Emory Park. Later he was the individual most responsible for the still-astonishing renovation of the landmark Miller’s Building, both as its advocate and its architect. His easygoing temperament disarms would-be opponents. He knows the city’s problems and potential as few officeholders do. Except for the fact that he’s a downtown booster and an unapologetic preservationist, Grieve appears to be open-minded and moderate on most divisive issues. In the primary, he was the overwhelming choice of his westside district’s voters. We expect him to be a voice of reason on City Council.
3rd District—Gerry Holman
For the 3rd District, covering the northwest, 66-year-old Republican Gerry Holman edges out 63-year-old Democrat Brenda Palmer for his pragmatic approach to politics and his experience in marketing, which could prove valuable as Knoxville starts to explain its new downtown “thang” to neighbors in the region and around the country. The decision is not an easy one—Palmer has considerable experience in education, a dedication to public service, and has worked on similar issues in Florida. But her particular skill set seems better suited for the county, which oversees the schools. Holman is a lifelong Knoxvillian but a newcomer to its politics, and he doesn’t seem the type to challenge the status quo; then again, the status quo seems to be working. So his willingness to cut services in order to keep the city’s finances intact, to attract business and development without relying so heavily on TIF funding, and his support from Democrat County Commissioner Amy Broyles tilts the scales in his favor.
4th District—Nick Della Volpe
This race promises to be close for good reasons: Nick Della Volpe is well established in the East Knoxville neighborhood he seeks to represent, and his opponent, Ray Abbas, is a community hero just a couple dozen blocks away in Downtown North. That said, City Council desperately needs active interest and participation in East Knoxville, its most troubled and neglected quarter. Della Volpe lives in Holston Hills and drives Magnolia Avenue and Asheville Highway daily. He sees and deals with its decrepit housing, much of which is vacant, and abandoned businesses. He also drives past the new Burlington Branch of the Knox County Public Library (which has weathered complaints about its location on Asheville Highway rather than Five Points, a still-promising area that has unfortunately proven not to be ready for that scale of investment and development) that he helped to realize, as well as signs announcing regular meetings for Town Hall East, the community organization he helped found. We would love to see Abbas elected to public office, and commend him to keep at it; but this time around we believe the biggest need for this district is someone with a firsthand view of life on the east side.
6th District—Daniel Brown
The 6th District is a political hotspot—the entirety of downtown’s Central Business Improvement District and a big chunk of East Knoxville are in it. Daniel Brown and Charles Frazier mostly agree on many subjects about the district’s present and future—both oppose the city’s recent ordinance making it illegal to sit or lie on public sidewalks downtown, support the Hope VI project to replace the Walter P. Taylor public housing project, and support the city’s plan for redevelopment along the Magnolia Avenue Corridor. In interviews published in Metro Pulse in September, just before the primary election, Brown provided more thoughtful and measured responses about those topics (as well as on the role of tax incentives for economic development) than Frazier, suggesting that if elected he would take a thoughtful and measured approach on City Council. (And he doesn’t own a check-advance business in the district he would represent.)