Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A carnival of contrasting perceptions of Nashville's Mayor in the wake of the NYT's "Nashville Itself"

Consider the analysis of New York Times southern bureau chief, Kim Severson, looking at Mayor Karl Dean with hindsight and outside-in in 2012:
Mr. Dean, a former city lawyer who became mayor in 2007 and led the city’s recovery from historic floods in 2010, said the [new convention center] project, which got under way during the recession, has been a fight every step of the way. “The gains for the city are real and tangible,” he said.
My observations and reflections on the Mayor's involvement in 2010:
I distinctly remember the Mayor laying low and putting news conferences and non-profits like Hands on Nashville...between himself and the relief effort. HoN did a lot of good, but it also took a lot of heat from some of us that Hizzoner chose not to face ....

Even as East Nashvillians mobilized 1,500 volunteers on their own to rescue neighbors and bring relief to their community, they watched Metro resources head west. Karl Dean may be Tennessean of the Year at 1100 Broadway, but he had very little impact at Moss Rose or near McFerrin Park outside of photo-op appearances when ... he decided to shed his "businesslike" style to get out and walk the neighborhoods ....

I watched TV reports of volunteers and Metro officials streaming into West Nashville, but then I drove Bordeaux neighborhoods that had huge piles of debris stacked at the curbs with no volunteers or Metro officials in sight. We took a car load of food and supplies to an Egyptian Coptic Christian community in South Nashville, where we saw few relief workers from Metro or Metro's non-profit contractors. It seemed like Metro-lead relief arrived late to and left early from poorer northern and southern neighborhoods ....

Less than a week after the 1,000-year flood, Karl Dean was on NPR whitewashing the destruction by claiming that 80-90% of Nashville was "untouched" by the disaster in an attempt to maximize future tourism revenue. It bears asking at this point: if only 10-20% of the city was "touched" by floods, why was the Mayor's performance heroic enough to be lauded as "Tennessean of the Year"?

That was 2010. Today local pastor Jay Voorhees blogged his own views of the Mayor's seeming blindness to disposable people with no power in the wake of the Music City Center construction:
For all of the hopes of some of my progressive friends back when he was elected, Mayor Karl Dean has had a dismal record of failure when it comes to dealing with the issue of homelessness in Nashville. One would think as a former public defender that he would have some sense of the issue and some of the needs of that community. Yet, outside of some basic lip service, Mayor Dean has not seemed particularly interested in the social safety net side of governmental services, and certainly not the challenges of the homeless community. In the days after the 2010 floods the mayor’s office was noticeably missing in trying to address the needs of the former tent city residents, leaving the question of how to deal with this population to a set of dedicated volunteers and clergy. The Metro Homelessness Commission has languished during the Dean administration, some of which can be attributed to its members, but part of which is reflective of a mayor who is more concerned with creating new business opportunities than assisting those who are down and out.

Those comments are consistent with my perception that Hizzoner may not really care about people who do not have campaign cash to give or influence to lever. No doubt the MCC will provide a lot of wealth for a few tourism industry big shots to hoard without regard for Nashville's outcasts. To her credit at least Times journo Severson touches on some of the local perception of Karl Dean's benign neglect, even as the bare mention does not scratch the surface of the challenges Nashville faces:
“People are too smug about how fortunate we are now,” said the Southern journalist John Egerton, 77, who has lived in Nashville since the 1970s.

“We ought to be paying more attention to how many people we have who are ill-fed and ill-housed and ill-educated,” he said.

The paradox here is that the local social media (as well as the news media) that I see is running with smugness about the New York Times piece and its ingratiating airbrush of Music City. Instead of revealing something insightful--nay human--about Nashville, the piece is just another arrow in the branding quiver of self-conscious marketers and neurotic hand-wringers regarding Nashville's "image". Karl Dean and the journalistic tributes that continue to follow him will one day be gone and Nashville will be left with some stubborn facts about who is in and who is out in this city. We continue to deny those facts at risk of our own self-delusion.

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