This year’s candidates for city council, for which early voting started last week, are all for stronger and safer neighborhoods, more and better jobs, attentiveness to constituents, and city government efficiency. Indeed, there aren’t many differences among them issue-wise.
So the election is really all about the personal qualities of the candidates, encompassing their civility, their judgment, their commitment to public service and due process, the breadth of their experience and civic involvement, and their ability to lead as well as listen.
The city has been blessed these past eight years with council members from each of the five districts now being contested who have been exemplary in all these ways. They are now term limited, and their successors will form a new majority on that nine-member body.
One need look no further than the often mean-spirited and contentious devolutions of Knox County government to appreciate the virtues of a city government of which all Knoxvillians can be proud. It’s a tribute to the leadership of Mayor Bill Haslam as well as the comportment of council members, including the four whose terms have two more years to run. Even when they’ve disagreed, as on the recent 5-4 vote to permit shuttered Flenniken School to be converted into supportive housing for the homeless, council members have exhibited mutual respect.
The caliber of most of the 14 candidates seeking the five seats for which primary voting will conclude on September 22 is also high. But in all but one of the districts, it’s clear to me that one candidate stands out.
In the 1st District, which consists mainly of South Knoxville, Nick Pavlis brings both a wealth of knowledge about the workings of city government and a strong commitment to constituent service. Pavlis, who is 54, served with distinction as an at-large member of the council before being term limited in 2003 and has since served as a member of the Metropolitan Planning Commission. He’s been going door-to-door on what he calls “listening tours” throughout the district for the past 18 months, and his hard and conscientious work deserves to be rewarded.
In the 3rd District, which comprises the city’s northwestern quadrant, Gerry Holman is the standout among four candidates seeking to fill the seat being vacated by Steve Hall. While he’s a newcomer to politics, the 66-year-old Holman exhibits both a lot of knowledge of and devotion to his city. Holman is enthused about the progress that’s been made during Haslam’s years, especially in the area of downtown redevelopment, and he seems deeply committed to its continuation. His career in marketing and advertising, from which he’s now retired, will stand him in good stead and perhaps contributes to the verve with which he extols Knoxville’s quality of life and his desire to help make it an even better place to live.
In the 4th District, which encompasses North Knoxville, Fountain City, and Holston Hills, you couldn’t ask for a better candidate than Nick Della Volpe. Throughout the 36 years that he has practiced law in Knoxville, Della Volpe has also been civically engaged in a multiplicity of ways. He’s served as president of Town Hall East, one of the city’s most venerable neighborhood organizations; he’s chaired the board that oversees the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum; he’s been an ardent advocate of greenways; and 20 years ago he was in the forefront of efforts to forestall a costly, noxious garbage incinerator. Now that he’s retiring from his law practice at age 61, he will have even more time to devote to being a worthy successor to outgoing Rob Frost and the district’s illustrious predecessor Carlene Malone, both of whom support him.
In the 6th District, I’m not very familiar with any of the three candidates—only one of whom, Charles Frazier, has been politically active up to now. But Frazier has been an also-ran in three prior races for public office, and the candidate who appears to command the most district support is Daniel Brown. No relation to former Vice Mayor Mark Brown, this Brown is a 61-year-old retired postal worker who has experience as a member of the Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals. From observing him at a candidate forum and reading his responses to a League of Women Voters candidate questionnaire, Brown impresses me as a very thoughtful, deliberate man who would work harmoniously with his colleagues. I’m also impressed by his emphasis on fostering public-private partnerships to carry out his campaign theme of “Moving Forward Together.”
That leaves the 2nd District, comprising West Knoxville’s affluent suburbs, where I’m torn between two outstanding candidates.
Ken Knight is the 49-year-old general manager of the Crowne Plaza hotel, and how he finds the time to be as politically active as he is remains a mystery to me. Ever since narrowly losing the district to Barbara Pelot in 2005, Knight has had his sights set on the 2009 race. Over the past four years he claims to have attended more than 650 community and public meetings “listening and learning.” Lest he be perceived as primarily a businessperson, he’s become a self-proclaimed champion of neighborhoods, and his civic activism includes having served as chairman of the Dogwood Arts Festival and on the boards of the Volunteer Ministry Center and Mabry-Hazen House.
Duane Grieve is a late entrant to the race, but this distinguished 63-year-old architect is highly regarded in many circles. Among his many credits is the restoration of the Miller’s Building that was a catalyst for downtown redevelopment. He also spearheaded the restoration of Emory Place where his firm is located, serves on the board of the city’s Historic Zoning Commission, and is president of Scenic Knoxville. To judge by the prevalence of Grieve yard signs in neighborhoods like Sequoyah Hills and West Hills, his candidacy has caught on rapidly (and some neighborhood activists, starting with Pelot, doubt Knight’s bona fides).
Under the city’s unique electoral system, the top two finishers in each of the district primaries will run citywide against each other in a November 3 general election. One can only hope that voter turnout will exceed the apathetic 10 percent of registered voters that’s been typical of City Council elections in recent years.