The selection of Councilman Daniel Brown as acting mayor on Monday left City Council members in the rhetorically strained position of celebrating a historic moment—the naming of Knoxville’s first black mayor—while insisting that history-making hadn’t entered into their calculations.
Brown was praised for his dedication, his ability to work well with other Council members, his record of military and civil service (he is a Vietnam veteran and a retired U.S. Postal worker), and pretty much everything but his race. But of course the symbolism was not far from anyone’s mind. The idea of choosing Brown, who has been on Council only since 2009, had been pushed by the widely respected civil rights pioneer Margaret Gaiter, among others. And besides his own vote for himself, his support came from Council’s two most identifiable social progressives, Bob Becker and Chris Woodhull, along with mayoral candidate Marilyn Roddy. (The fifth vote that put Brown over the top in the 11th round of balloting was from Joe Bailey, who until then had been voting for himself.) Roddy had been expected to support Brown, in an apparent bid to build support in East Knoxville and the African-American community more broadly, where mayoral contender Madeline Rogero is perceived as already having an energized base. But in an interview after the vote, Roddy said she has simply been impressed with Brown since he joined Council and thinks he was the best man for the interim job.
“I see him absolutely everywhere,” she says. “He has a lot of energy and a lot of commitment to the community. And he has a very steady demeanor.” Still, she acknowledges, “Certainly this morning was a moment that made history for our city.”
Of course, Council members made clear before the vote that the primary expectation of the acting mayor would be to more or less not get in the way. Brown, who will retain his 6th District Council seat while serving as mayor, seems amenable to that—his first action after being sworn in was to publicly ask all of Bill Haslam’s department heads to stay in their jobs. Then he adjourned the meeting.