If you really want to rile up conservative Republicans mention same sex unions, climate change, or President Barack Obama. Or how about killing an interstate extension to protect the environment?
In the past few weeks, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero has approved city employees benefits for unmarried couples, including same sex couples.
She was asked and has agreed to serve on a task force studying the effects of climate change—for Obama.
And she delivered the decisive blow to finish off the James White Parkway extension to prevent it slashing through South Knoxville’s “Urban Wilderness.”
Each of these things is consistent with her personal beliefs, and thus not surprising. But it took boldness to step out and just do them. It is surprising that she is doing them in her first term of office. She took the helm after 28 years of Republican rule, the first Democrat elected mayor since Randy Tyree, back in the World’s Fair era.
She came into office saying her tenure would be continuing major projects by her predecessor Bill Haslam. Not unreasonable given that she served in the administration.
What is remarkable in recent weeks is how little controversy there has been. No one has jumped forward to try and use these issues as a platform to gear up to run against her in 2015. There haven’t been any mobs with pitchforks surrounding the City County Building, upset about taxpayer money condoning sinful unions. She didn’t force City Council to vote on the benefits package; unlike the requirement in Nashville and Chattanooga, she didn’t have to get approval.
In Chattanooga, where City Council is in the process of approving the benefit package proposed by Mayor Andy Berke, there have been mass protests and a petition drive has been started to repeal the city’s actions if Council follows through.
Rogero usually couches her decisions in ways that diffuse criticism. She argues that the Urban Wilderness and Legacy Parks are just good business, outdoor recreation is good for tourism dollars, and the parkway extension threatened it. Her argument for the benefits package is that she is duplicating the policies of several big businesses in Knoxville and elsewhere to attract “the best and brightest.”
But it is hard to believe that her predecessor in the mayor’s office would have made these kinds of hard decisions and followed through with them. Haslam got too busy to even be in the same town when Obama came to Chattanooga recently.
There is very little drama on City Council. The lack of major controversies reduces media coverage. These days, by all appearances, city government is running along smoothly. No tax increases in the offing. The garbage is being picked up. No scandals like those over on the county government side in recent years.
If there is anyone out there with a burning desire to be mayor, it is likely they will wait until Rogero has finished her two terms. That gives her quite a bit of latitude.
There are those who believe South Knoxville Councilman and Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis may run for mayor one day. But for now he is working with Rogero on development in his district; he endorsed her decision on the benefits package and Rogero endorsed Pavlis in his recent reelection campaign.
It is understandable that Memphis and Nashville would have Democrats as mayors. Chattanooga maybe. But Knoxville has never been considered a Democratic bastion. It is a tribute to Rogero’s skills that she kept a big name out of the race against her and then won convincingly.
The city’s focus for the coming years will continue to be South Knoxville. In addition to the wilderness and parks development there are major developments entrained along the riverbank, like the old Baptist Hospital site. If the long-stalled development of South Knoxville (the mayor’s neighborhood, by the way) is finally successful, it will be a legacy of which she can be proud.
But I’m sure she is also proud of the actions she has taken over the last two months.