Rogero Starts as Frontrunner in Wide-Open Race for Knoxville Mayor

Some musings upon the upcoming Knoxville mayor’s race...

The race is officially non-partisan, though the political party of the candidates always plays a role. Though Randy Tyree upset Kyle Testerman, once upon a time the city’s mayors tended to be Republicans from zip code 37919—Bearden. This election has three Republicans not only from 37919, but all of them from Sequoyah Hills. But the Democrats will not likely be united either; they have two candidates in the race.

One would assume that Madeline Rogero enters the race as a frontrunner. She has name recognition, she has run before, and she came close to defeating Bill Haslam. She has more experience in city government, as a Haslam director, than anyone else in the race. She had an enthusiastic turnout for her kickoff event.

We need to remember that Rogero’s race with Haslam was a two-person race. It’s hard to believe now, but the unknown Haslam was widely viewed as another Victor Ashe, a continuation of a rich Republican member of the establishment. (Ironic, given their current estrangement.) Rogero was able to get all the anti-Haslam, anti-Republican, anti-establishment votes. She was the anti-Haslam. Remember the commercials making fun of a family oil company? Given Haslam’s popularity garnered during his two terms in office and his success as a gubernatorial candidate, it is easy to forget the bitter election fight that year.

With at least six candidates in the race this time, Rogero is not the default position. She will have to carve out her own group of voters to propel her into the runoff election. Can she recapture the excitement of her last race? But Rogero’s experience puts her ahead of the others in name recognition and in knowing how to run.

Then there is Mark Padgett. An energetic young business guy from a Democratic political family, he is seen by some as “the future” of the Knox County Democratic Party. His father, Mike, had success as a Democrat in a Republican county. There is a good chance he will split the Democratic vote with Rogero, especially among the young professional wing of the party.

Rogero, as a city director, has been supportive of the controversial Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Padgett has said he finds the process flawed and thinks a new approach might be in order.

Councilwoman Marilyn Roddy has supported the Ten-Year Plan. How will that play, even in her own neighborhood, where there is a lot of upset over the mere idea of building apartments for the homeless at Lakeshore Park on Lyons View Pike? Roddy is expected to be able to raise or have access to the most money, and she got out first with fund-raisers and impressive host committees.

Former Councilman Rob Frost voted against both Minvilla Manor and the Flenniken School apartments in South Knoxville, the only two projects sited thus far. Frost lived in and represented Fourth and Gill and objected to nearby Minvilla as too costly. He opposed Flenniken School for the same reason. Frost has received a warm welcome in South Knoxville because of that vote. He now lives in Sequoyah Hills.

Foster Arnett was swept into the office of County Clerk in a Republican wave with weak opposition. Arnett has a familiar face and he can run without giving up his day job as clerk and can go back to it if he loses. But will he take a leave of absence to campaign? Will campaigning on county time be an issue?

Ivan Harmon is running for mayor because it’s all that’s left. He has been term-limited off City Council and County Commission. But he is an experienced campaigner—how could he not be? And nobody really dislikes the amiable Harmon. If he gets enough votes in the neighborhood he has represented on Council and Commission, it could put him into the running, assuming the rest of the city is split five ways.

Let the race begin.

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