Thursday, September 25, 2014

Council candidate Jeff Syracuse seemed defensive about fair questions

We all say things we regret. Some of us try live up to the folly. Others try and scrub their public comments from sight, so they don't have to stand by their words. It is especially bad when people seeking public office choose not to stand by their words.

Hip Syracuse
Take Jeff Syracuse, who is running for a council seat to represent "Hip Donelson." A few years ago I received an email pondering how Mr. Syracuse could move in a matter of weeks from someone seeking advice on how to organize a neighborhood association to someone who could be invited to a personal meeting with the Mayor as a neighborhood leader.

My initial thought on that email was, "Well, it is an election campaign year and for the first time in 4 years Karl Dean considers neighborhoods important to engage." In fact, in April 2011, Hizzoner launched a series of neighborhood "gatherings" and "steering committees" that often carried a veneer of paternalistic openness to change and philanthropic volunteerism, but that constituted campaign stops orchestrated by the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. Those meetings ended after Karl Dean was re-elected.

Excuse my jadedness, but Karl Dean's interest in neighborhoods in 2011 seemed opportunistic. The questions I asked Mr. Syracuse are fair ones given the benefits that could accrue to those neighborhood leaders with whom the Mayor's Office identified to network. Mr. Syracuse was reportedly one of those leaders, and now he has moved from private citizen to public figure. No reasonable questions are unfair at this point for a public figure.

So, I raised the issue with him tonight on Twitter. He responded. Then he scrubbed his Twitter stream of his responses. Knowing what I know of the sensitivity of politicos to their public image, I took the liberty of screenshotting some of the exchange (now scrubbed):

Before scrubbing, he conceded that he indeed did inquire about how to form a neighborhood association and that he was invited and did attend one of Karl Dean's campaign luncheons for neighborhood leaders in April 2011. I asked him how then I was "full of baloney" given that he conceded that the facts I tweeted were right, at which point he stopped responding to me altogether.

Point of fact, Mr. Syracuse sent a message to other neighborhood leaders on April 12, 2011 with these comments:

I had a great lunch with Mayor Dean, Billy Fields, and four others who represented their neighborhoods around Nashville.  We met in the Mayor's Office.  Each neighborhood representative spoke about the issues they are dealing with and it was enlightening to recognize the common issues we all face .... It was a pleasure & a privledge to have a seat at this table.  I hope to do it again in the future. [sic]

I don't understand why Mr. Syracuse would now say I was wrong or why he would scrub his Twitter stream of our exchange, other than he himself is now in campaign mode and cannot entertain questions that veer off his campaign's talking points.

His relentless and unapologetic campaigning is a reason I quit an online neighborhoods e-list earlier this year. But at least one very Deanesque mayoral candidate and champion of charter schools endorsed Jeff Syracuse's campaign kick-off event, even if he cannot himself vote for Mr. Syracuse.

UPDATE: the hits just keep coming for Jeff Syracuse. The Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods announces that they have selected him to serve on a panel to train neighborhood leaders. He's got friends in high places.


  1. There is, of course, nothing wrong with asking for help when doing something one is unfamiliar with. Additionally, one can be a neighborhood leader without the trappings of a neighborhood association or the title President of the Neighborhood Association.

    That said, such knee-jerk reactions by people who seek to be in the public eye can make one look like a jerk.

    Mr. Syracuse should remember that the internet doesn't forget.

    1. Fair enough. I reacted too quickly and I did indeed remove my posts because of that. The bottom line is that Mike was drawing conclusions that were not related. He made it sound like there was collusion going on and somehow the Mayor was involved in using me to get him votes for reelection or something like that. I was simply getting involved in my neighborhood and asking for help as you said.

    2. Let me make this clear, Mr. Syracuse, so you don't misread into my observations again: whether you got Mayor Dean votes is moot to me; whether you conduct yourself as a candidate for office who strives to be independent and even vote in council against a mayor with whom he fellowships and glad-hands is important.

      A huge problem with the current council is that they rarely if ever buck the county executive. The conservatives support the Mayor's pro-business proclivities and the progressives simply flack and cow to heady projects Karl Dean sets in front of them, regardless of community cost. It has been a while since we had council members with independent streaks long enough to buck the administration, and this council is frankly in no danger of becoming obstructionist because they defer to Karl Dean with blank checks time after time. But that is not supposed to be the role of the council.

      It does not matter that you as private citizen had lunch with the mayor. It does not matter when you as private citizen share mutual panders and self-promotions with the current crop of mayoral candidates. But as a candidate for office yourself, collaborating in a government where loyalty to mayor and fealty to Chamber of Commerce special interests rule may appear to be blind patronage absent any negotiation and compromise. It's rare when council members buck power and money risking losing influence in the empire in order to represent common people. I'm interested in how you as a candidate for council would be willing to act independently.

      So, given that you claim that you are somehow wronged by my points above, maybe you could answer some questions to show some independence: 1) what mistakes has Karl Dean made as mayor and how would you have challenged him if you had been on the previous council? 2) What substantive policy differences do you have with the Jeremy Kane, Megan Barry and Charles Robert Bone, and where do you draw the line in terms of "collaborating" with them (unless your definition of collaboration includes going to the mattresses when needed)?

    3. Mike, as one of my replies to you in our tweet exchange mentioned, we've never met and we know little about each other, which is indeed why I felt your assumptions about my actions were presumptive to say the least. This is the kind of conversation and line of questioning that I appreciate and welcome. Your observations are correct and we probably agree on a lot. About four years ago, we punted on debt payments and we cannot do that anymore, thus for this fiscal year our debt payments have expanded to $20 million more than last fiscal year. Our credit rating has also dropped one grade. This is certainly concerning to me. I do indeed believe this speaks to the need finally for a better balance between large downtown projects and those much needed and long awaited safety-related projects in the neighborhoods that would cost far less but yet will help increase the quality of life for many. I've advocated for that for a number of years now and my campaign is based upon selling the value of investing in Donelson as one of those neighborhoods. It's disheartening to me to see creative financing of an $18 million bridge when I have a number of safety-related infrastructure and sidewalk projects. In my neighborhood, I've witnessed a young mother carrying her baby trying to walk on the edge of Lebanon Rd to a bus stop with zero accessibility to it while cars zoom by at 50 MPH. While I very much welcome and want to see the conversations on mass transit produce results, it's hard for me to support the AMP when we aren't addressing basic pedestrian mobility and mass transit issues around the county. Most of our bus stops in our community are signs tacked to a telephone pole with no room to even stand safely. Those are clear examples of where our priorities should be.

      As far as policy differences with the mayoral candidates, I haven't heard of many specific substantive policies yet, so that's a wait and see. However, I am certainly not waiting to hear those policy statements first and am getting to know all our mayoral candidates now, doing my job encouraging and substantiating those points I made above in hopes they will advocate for investment in our neighborhoods.

      I hope that answers your questions. Don't hesitate with anything further. My big-picture approach as I begin to get involved in politics is not going to be immediately combative and demanding. I don't think that would be wise nor successful. I believe in Donelson with all my heart and am investing a great deal of my time now to create strong working relationships that I hope will help make me an effective elected official.

      I look forward to meeting you at some point and working together.

  2. Mr. Syracuse and Mr. Frank Trew of Donelson started Hip Donelson several years ago. Frank Trew once quit the presidency of his Lincoya Hills Neighborhood group because his neighbors and board didn't agree with his belief on shooting fireworks. He threw a hissy fit and announced his resignation in the local Donelson paper. Who announces their resignation in the editorial page? Was it to get the last word?

    The mayor also invited Mr. Trew to lunch and then appointed him to the Human Relations Commission. It became obvious that Syracuse and Trew were using the Hip D Facebook page for their own personal benefit.

    When area members of the Hip Donelson Facebook page started getting their posts removed if it contained any type of negativity, people started asking questions. When Trew started removing them from the group and creating a set of rules for positivity it became clear that one of these guys was going to run for Council. Every time someone joined the group, good ole Jeff's picture would pop up and say welcome. Hip Donelson was Syracuse's campaign long before he ever declared. The plan must have been don't let anything negative be associated with Jeff.

    Now he makes sure he is in every photo op, got himself elected president of the Donelson Chamber of Commerce and the leader of the Donelson Gateway project started by two older ladies only to have it taken away by those with political power.

    He almost ignores the 7 years of hard work by the present Councilman Phillip Claiborne. Just read the article posted on Claiborne's Facebook page in response to an article in the Nashville Ledger. The article was about the new young hip people of Donelson led by Jeff. They never even asked Claiborne about the article and Iit would appear he was hurt. I suspect that Syracuse had something to do with the article. A free campaign piece for sure.

    Not saying Syracuse might not be a good candidate, but he makes sure that anything associated with him is always positive. Since the plan was for Hip Donelson to censor what it doesn't want revealed or anything that would make Donelson or Jeff look bad, does it surprise you to think that he would pull his response so quickly off of Twitter? Guess he had the advice from Mr. Trew to censor himself.

    Creating Hip Donelson to launch a campaign subliminally was actually quite brilliant, but I'm not sure if I would vote for a guy who ignores the roots of the community to shine the spotlight on himself. The voters deserve to know the good and the bad. If Jeff is a part of the censorship now with Hip D, how would he respond to future constituents?

    Some residents of Donelson are original homeowners and are not very hip. They did build Donelson and deserve the recognition and appreciation from this candidate.

    Will the new Donelson created by Jeff and his Hip D make it so expensive that folks who live their now have to move? We watched the gentrification in Waverly-Belmont, Sylvan Park, the Gulch, Germantown, and East Nashville. I think Donelson and all the Hipsters better ask themselves if this is what they really want because most of them will have to leave because it will cost too much to live there.

    1. I think the easiest way to respond to some of these statements is this way.

      1) Andrew Bradley was the founder of Hip Donelson.
      2) It was those "old ladies" as you say that asked me to get involved with DGP. One does not live in the Middle TN area any longer. The other is still on the board and she and I are very close friends.
      3) CM Claiborne is endorsing me. He and I have worked very well together. You'll have to ask the author of the article why she did not interview CM Claiborne. I had never met the author before the interview.
      4) The rules about posting on Hip Donelson are not always perfect to manage and there are a number of admins who volunteer their time. But, the idea when we were growing the group was that there wasn't enough positive news about Donelson and it felt like the community was losing a sense of identity a bit. We were ultimately successful in helping to support local businesses and create a renewed sense of energy about our town. I haven't been an admin on the page for almost a couple years now and then left the board as a voting member (I remain with Andrew as a non-voting ex-officio/founder). It was absolutely not created as a political platform for anyone.
      5) I began as a neighborhood leader honoring our "heritage neighbors" as we call those that originally bought their land and built their homes in the 50's. I've always given recognition and appreciation for everyone in Donelson that has made it a great community. I've not excluded anyone. Again, I didn't write the article and I'm not the editor of the paper. I don't think there was any intent to exclude anyone from it, but I do understand the concerns of some that read the article that way.
      6) I very much agree with you in regards to affordability. I certainly don't want any form of gentrification to happen in Donelson.

      I'm happy to answer any other questions or concerns.

  3. Not sure Mr. Kane endorsed Jeff Syracuse, at least judging from the tweet you linked. You would have a fit if someone took one of your tweets out of context in the same manner.

    1. By all means, confuse endorsing a campaign kick-off with candidate endorsements. Hope being literal about the word "endorse" works out well for you. Or not.