Monday, August 15, 2011

History is written by the winners (with the help of journos)

To which CM might
that "Super Progressive"
label lead?
It wasn't too long ago that SouthComm writers labeled CM at-Large Megan Barry as a "Super Progressive," despite the fact that her only progressive chops were on nondiscrimination (eager support on Metro employees, hesitant support for Metro contractors) and on a "living wage" bill that helped a little more than a dozen Metro employees. At least we can be grateful that in their latest report she is cast not so much as a super progressive, but as one who has uncannily strong ties to local progressives while also keeping her business options open.

With interest I have followed the short but happy political life of Megan Barry for several years now I have yet to see her risk the same stances against the Nashville business junta that she has against the cash-strapped pro-neighborhoods wing in Nashville politics. I have always assumed that any strong leader has to at some point risk their political capital to show their character and the strength of their conviction to voters. Even if observers do not agree with her they may respect her for taking a stand once and a while against the odds. And that stand cannot be strictly symbolic. But I have yet to see Megan Barry lay it on the line. The truest passage of yesterday's City Paper spotlight on Barry had to do with the pure symbolism of the progressive agenda she's worked on:

Both of Barry’s key bills were also symbolic measures. The new living wage applied to only 14 workers who had wages below $10.77 per hour. And there hadn’t been many Metro workers who had actually cited discrimination in the government workplace.

“In a community where you’re starting with a baseline, and you have to make incremental steps, that’s how you bring people along,” Barry said.

At least CM Barry has the honesty to admit that these only amounted to incremental progress, but whether they build consensus is open to debate. Consensus assumes that all things are equal as partners each give up benefits to achieve something higher. However, the Nashville game is always rigged to favor industry, unsmart growth, and development over community and quality of life. So, while she may aim for consensus, in reality, neighborhoods are forced to take whatever they can get unless they stubbornly and tirelessly mobilize their numbers. Even then, they are accused (usually falsely) of being regressive, pro-status-quo, and NIMBY.

(By the way, the fact that Chris Sanders, Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, is playing up that consensus--given that his organization is steadfastly single-issue and hidebound not to consider other people's priorities--contains no lack of irony).

On questions that are more substantive, and not symbolic, CM Barry has either wavered, flip-flopped, or sided unabashedly with the business presidium, the admirals of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce:

  • She voted with Mayor Dean on a regressive stormwater fee structure that charged property owners who created less stormwater (mostly residential) more than those who generated more stormwater (mostly business) and then blamed keeping her promise to Rich Riebeling on the bill's sponsor
  • She enlisted neighborhood support in her bid to beat Charlie Tygard's LED sign bill that would have allowed Vegasesque signs in residential neighborhoods, then she disappeared quietly into the LED Task Force and walked-back her opposition. Her campaign manager emerged several months later to attempt to remind neighborhood leaders that she opposed LED signs
  • After sponsoring a community meeting or two on the proposed convention center, she supported it without making any demands on the Mayor or setting any perimeters for the project
  • She opposed a community-based master plan project for the State Fairgrounds and she supported Mayor Dean's bid to tear everything down, sell off 95% of the non-flood-risk public property and build an expansive office park that would have been a boon to private developers while increasing vehicular traffic further polluting Brown's Creek.

So, again, how has Megan Barry been anything more but superficially progressive or pro-neighborhoods? The latest SouthComm pin-up of the council member still seems like a re-write of history, because it ignores historical facts about her record. Swallowing the story would have been easier had it been strictly a matter watching a reporter weigh in with journalistic objectivity between Barry's critics and supporters. Instead, it becomes a matter of judging whether journo's own interpretation helps a winner frame the history that her constituents remember.

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