Maybe this will get 'em to the polls.
After months of mostly polite campaigning, including dozens of forums, debates, and dutifully filled-out questionnaires, the two remaining Knoxville mayoral candidates turned feisty in the week after the Sept. 27 primary.
With the ink barely dry on election returns that had him just squeaking into second place ahead of Ivan Harmon, Mark Padgett took to the local airwaves to accuse frontrunner Madeline Rogero of stealing his campaign platform. "When I entered this race, the three things that were being talked about were community gardens, how many chickens you could own, and the 10-year plan," Padgett told WATE Channel 6. "Those are all important issues, but here's the fact. Those are not the three things the mayor needs to be talking about. If you listen to Ms. Rogero now, she's talking about job creation, economic growth, stronger and safer communities, more efficient government, and downtown Knoxville. She's taken my platform and made it her own."
Leaving aside the danger of alienating the community-garden and urban-chicken constituencies, this assertion was a factual stretch. A review of Rogero's campaign kickoff speech last December (available on her campaign's website) shows her talking about "strong, safe neighborhoods," "a strong regional economy with good jobs," and "a green and sustainable Knoxville." Rogero shot right back, telling WATE, "I've been working on these issues, frankly, since Mark was in diapers"—a not at all veiled reference to her opponent's relative lack of civic experience.
The Rogero camp took the sniping to its Twitter feed late last week, tweeting, "In the primary, Madeline spent $26 per vote, but Mark spent $94. Fiscally responsible? What would a world-class CEO say?" (Padgett outspent Rogero but got fewer than half as many votes as she did—with a few provisional ballots added to the total, Rogero had 8,242 votes to Padgett's 3,741.) The VotePadgett Twitter feed responded, "Hope Ms. Rogero will stop slinging mud & focus on issues/ideas to move #Knoxville forward. Look forward to seeing her plan." That was a reference to Padgett's own plan, a 28-page document he released and posted to his website the day after the primary. It expands and elaborates on themes he has been pounding throughout his campaign: job creation, neighborhoods, accountability, and building on downtown's resurgence.
The latest ante-upping came Tuesday, with news from Padgett's camp that on Wednesday they would be announcing a block of endorsements: from Harmon, along with fourth- and fifth-place mayoral finishers Joe Hultquist and Bo Bennett, and County Sheriff J.J. Jones. The nods from Hultquist and Bennett are largely symbolic, given that they received only 846 votes between them, but Harmon's support could give Padgett a big bump. Harmon had 3,689 votes in the primary, and won several precincts in northwest Knoxville where Padgett ran third. Of course, Harmon partly ran on his credentials as the only major Republican in the ostensibly nonpartisan race. Padgett, whose father Mike is a longtime power in the local Democratic Party, won't be able to make the same appeal.
In any case, anyone who wants a chance to see the streamlined mayoral field in action will have a chance at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Woodlawn Christian Church, 4339 Woodlawn Pike. The South Knoxville Neighborhood and Business Coalition is sponsoring a forum featuring Padgett and Rogero, along with the remaining candidates for City Council.
And if you've got an itchy ballot finger, don't worry: Early voting for the Nov. 8 election begins on Oct. 19.