Sunday, December 05, 2010

Tennessean editor fabricates urban myths concerning Mayor's flip flop on Fairgrounds flap

Reading this morning's Tennessean editorial page reminds me of how much I enjoyed reading the funny paper on Sundays when I was younger. Not long ago this same paper declared Mayor Karl Dean the new Democratic Party darling. So, my guess is that they are needing to muster all of the editorial spin they can to brand the Mayor as Nashville's hottest new thing. Their editorial cred is on the line. And it's not like they haven't gone all in before, what with the coaching of columnist Gail Kerr and the reliance on Dean's newspeaker, Janel Lacy, for proper angles.

But I digress.

Back to today's Tennessean shillery: Ted Rayburn's editorial, in which he paints Karl Dean in broad strokes as a Mayor of compromise in the midst of controversy, a benign, judicious executive who both listens to neighborhoods like those in South Nashville (SNAP) and meets the needs of others like Antioch.

Though not insignificant, let's put aside his employer's vested interests in Karl Dean's political fortune. The merits (and lack thereof) of Mr. Rayburn's contortion of events around the Fairgrounds/Hickory Hollow lease controversy are what make this editorial as laughable as a Doonesbury spoof.

  • Graphic from
    Rayburn myth: Mayor Dean compromised. If Karl Dean put so much emphasis on compromise he would not have had Megan Barry write a bill sponsored by the Gang of Five as an alternative mirror to Duane Dominy's "Save the Fairgrounds" bill. He would have started discussions with Dominy and his bill co-sponsors. We also would not have seen any of the council rancor that we did this weekend if the Mayor had compromised anything.
  • Rayburn myth: equivalence between SNAP opposition to race track and Antioch's need for services. A grand total of 5 neighborhood folk spoke to council hearings in favor of Karl Dean's plan to move Fairgrounds operations. 40 neighborhood folk spoke against the Mayor. The Mayor ignored Antioch leaders task force recommendations and he embraced SNAP's. Karl Dean conveniently selects neighborhood feedback regardless of how well organized either side is. Rather than face another embarrassing lopsided public hearing on 2nd reading next Tuesday, the Mayor's "time out" was pragmatic face-saving that also served to help the press extend this dream of equivalence.
  • Rayburn myth: Mayor Dean imposed a cooling-off period to listen. The Mayor appointed the Fairgrounds task force months ago under the wing of GOP wonk Alexia Poe, and the PR effort at that time spun it as a time he would listen. But the way he comported himself to opponents and concerned citizens suggested that he only heard supporters. Any realist should see that "cooling-off period" is code for sheltering his council voting bloc in the run-up to next year's elections. Once past August 2011, the Mayor will be free from posing the placater. His current waffle amounts to securing his future political fortunes.
It never ceases to amaze me how journalists give themselves license and latitude to re-write history and gloss the unfolding events. I have to laugh.

UPDATE:  City Paper reporter Joey Garrison expresses a less candy-coated, more realistic analysis of the machinations behind the Fairgrounds episode. His entire report is the best coverage I've seen, but here is a small part of it that supports part of my argument above:

The outcome, signaling the council’s uneasiness with Dean’s plans, certainly played a role in his administration’s fairgrounds reversal. With the Hickory Hollow leases poised to go before the council on the second of three votes this week, there was increasing uncertainty whether enough votes were there. Not all of Dean’s traditional allies were on board. Some council members were even calling for another public hearing, which likely would have evolved into another public relations disaster for the administration.

Garrison also quotes CM Ronnie Steine making the ridiculous point that the community debate about the Fairground has not been civil and insisting that it provides the community more time to consider the options. The debate may not have been to his liking, but if he wanted us to take time to consider the options, CM Steine should have stopped the Mayor's lease plan (sponsored by CM Sam Coleman) and facilitated that debate.

Again, Garrison alludes to other motivations the Dean Team likely has beyond those for civil community debate:

But the proximity of Dean’s re-election bid in August has some skeptics positing the obvious: Is this change of course just a way to prevent the fairgrounds from becoming an obstacle in an otherwise clear path to victory?

“I’m not sure I see how trading a politically unpopular move before the election for a politically unpopular move after the election is a better plan,” Councilwoman Emily Evans said. “We’re not coming up with a solution.

But whoever said the Mayor was interested in solutions for small Fairgrounds business owners or for those us concerned about selling off public property to donors and friends?

Read the rest of Garrison's article after the jump.


  1. Mike:

    You should do an entire investigative piece on whether or not Dean is a true Dem. Between all of his GOP staff, GOP donors, GOP campaign staff, along with him forsaking the NASCAR and "bubba" vote, he seems like a GOP'er to me.

    Just saying.

  2. While the Democratic party looks around and says "Hey, Where'd everybody go" we continue to have actions like what dean is doing that scream the answer loudly.
    Thanks for Taking up for the little guy Tn Democratic party.
    Screw you !