Friday, August 23, 2013

The aspirations of Megan Barry: how has being a cautious progressive helped her?

I am a recovering supporter of Megan Barry, so I took some interest in a recent Tennessean editorial on her bid to woo the business class kingmakers over at their reportedly favorite watering hole. First, erstwhile journo Bruce Dobie claims that the suits are fretting about their choices next time for Mayor. Before droning on about Barry, I have to point out that there is a certain irony in Dobie maintaining that these are the people who actually do the choosing of executives to run county government--votes be damned--and yet, their own system has left them without a candidate to run county government.

But I digress:

Second, progressive goo-goo [a.k.a., "good-government"] front-runner Megan Barry makes them nervous.

Barry, a Metro Councilwoman, has been the most public and out-front candidate to date. A resident of the not-so-mean streets of Belmont-Hillsboro, Nashville’s ground zero for left-leaning politics, Barry is known for successfully sponsoring a workplace anti-discrimination measure for the city’s gay and lesbian communities. She also was the force behind the proposal for Metro Government workers to receive a “living wage.”

Such accomplishments have prompted the Jimmy Kelly’s biz crowd to order a second martini and continue the search.

Dobie goes on to compare CM Barry to blast-from-the-past Betty Nixon because both appear to have the same genitalia as well as interest in being Mayor (in the interest of fairness, why didn't Dobie bring up a "youthful" mayoral candidate from the past to compare to Jeremy Kane?).

Without fail, Dobie falls back on that dated label of "goo-goo" to compare the two. Of course, he has in past columns mentioned Ludye Wallace as a favorite of good-government types, a claim that is a laugh riot to some of us "goo-goos" who have actually been Ludye's constituents. Dobie's dependency on a twenty-year-old term, as Ms. Nixon pointed out this week, is practically archaic. It also may show that he is more in touch with the bar at Jimmy Kelly's than he is with politics unfolding on the ground in Nashville.

While I am not cynical enough to label CM Barry's initiatives as symbolically liberal, they do strike this observer as incremental at best. Her living wage plan upset some council conservatives, but it did not help more than a dozen folks who work for Metro government. What about the many who were not as lucky as those few? Likewise, she hammered home demands of nondiscrimination against Metro employees, but she was barely a blip on the radar when the question turned to nondiscrimination for private companies contracting with Metro government.

Any credit she might get from me for taking boldish stands on strictly social-progressive issues is overwhelmed by my memories of her support of the conservative growth policies of Karl Dean. She voted for the new regressive stormwater fee structure that charged property owners who created less stormwater (mostly residential) more than those who generated more stormwater (mostly business). After going through the motions of holding a couple of community meetings on the proposed Music City Convention Center, she supported the largest capital project in Metro history without making any demands on the Mayor or leveraging progressive perimeters for the project. She supported Hizzoner's bid to tear down the State Fairgrounds and to sell all but a sliver off to wealthy private developers, which would have had the double-barreled effect of eradicating a working class entertainment venue and of making some potential campaign donors even more wealth. Megan Barry has mimicked, over and over, Karl Dean's market-driven habits of governance.

And where has it all brought her now that she is facing down the Jimmy Kelly's deciders? They still do not trust her.

Megan Barry has never remotely resembled a populist progressive concerned about class disparities, quality employment, equal opportunities for working people or the alienating effects of unfettered gentrification in urban areas. She has never even taken a stand as a "loyal opponent" of the Dean administration. She stays close to the social issues that are stylish among Nashville top-shelf progressives: the rights of women, equality for gays and lesbians, immigration opportunities. Granted, those kinds of issues do not risk the primary flow of money and power in Nashville; or at least they are not as risky as are unflinching looks at unequal growth, environmental justice, power imbalances in land development and class inequities. In my opinion, any future Nashville mayor worth her salt has to have taken some risks toward the left. I do not see that level of boldness in CM Barry's resume.

I don't know if Megan Barry would have been able to pull together a coalition giving her higher levels of popular votes to offset any donation losses she might have experienced by being even a part-time populist. I do see that being a full-time social progressive in lock-step with Karl Dean is not pulling her any closer to the Mayor's Office she covets. As conservative as she has been, she is still not conservative enough for the suits.

No comments:

Post a Comment