Thursday, March 07, 2013
The Tennessean's local beat reporter, who rarely writes a discouraging word about Mayor Karl Dean, attended yesterday's Lipscomb University panel discussion on neighborhood associations and tweeted the fawning comments of Colby Sledge (one of Cass's former colleagues who has also been a paid partisan flack and lately a public relations pro working with government agencies).
For someone like me, who has followed and documented the short but happy neighborhood attention span of Mayor Dean, Sledge's Lipscomb panel comment is over-the-top. At his very first summit with a lecture-hall full of neighborhood leaders, Hizzoner emphasized economic development as one of the primary means for dealing with neighborhood interests (cops and schools being the only others). The Mayor made no bold moves as his predecessor, Bill Purcell, had on infrastructure, smart development, or quality of life. The Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods rarely made the same splash it did under Purcell. When it did, it was drawing the ire of neighborhood leaders for giving their personal information over to the marketers of spam. Then when the 2007 election cycle hit, Karl Dean was suddenly remaking himself into "the neighborhoods Mayor", even though he had been more focused on helping big business with subsidies, tax breaks, and the largest capital project in Nashville history, which was devoted to the tourism industry.
Colby Sledge replaced Keith Moorman--who was trotted out to the Metro Council in 2010 to lend a neighborhoody rubber stamp to Hizzoner's plan to sell all but 5% of the non-flood-risk fairgrounds holdings to private developers (who have lots of bling to donate to election campaigns)--as leader of South Nashville Action People. Then came "Neighbors for Progress", a group that shot for 2,000 petition signatures to flip the fairgrounds the Mayor's way, but only got 500, and then showed themselves to be funded not primarily by neighborhoods, but influential Democrats and a 527 organization. With Sledge as its spokesperson, NFP flip-flopped on the fairgrounds question from relocating the flea market to razing the racetrack to trying to capture what council mandated as a broad community plan process. Then without skipping a beat, NFP endorsed Sarah Lodge Tally in a council district far away from the fairgrounds in what looked like a bid to give the Mayor a pocket vote 100% of the time.
Such a sliding scale of scruples should give those of us who are concerned about neighborhood issues pause. The "emphasis on neighborhoods" Colby Sledge stresses suggests to me whatever will win for an up-and-coming red-state Democrat like Karl Dean. Consequently, neighborhoods seem simply a means to the end of greater influence and more donations with a head-fake of populism. We're in for another lean 4 years if the next Mayor treats neighborhoods as cynically and opportunistically as Karl Dean has.