Downtown Knoxville Mayoral Debate – and My Endorsement

Early voting has begun and the time seems appropriate to address the mayoral race. I tend to approach these things more intuitively rather than analytically, so my opinions are often difficult to articulate. I’ll try to clearly state the reasons for the conclusions I reach, but in the end they are based as much on my sense of the individuals involved as the positions they’ve taken on the issues.

I attended the recent mayoral debate and I’ll admit I was underwhelmed. I suppose the questions, which were related to downtown issues, covered the necessary ground, but they just didn’t seem to make the distinctions between the candidates I’d hoped. And then there are the candidates themselves. Not a strong field top to bottom. In my mind, however, there is a clear top and a clear bottom.

Madeline Rogero, Mark Padgett, Ivan Harmon and Bo Bennett

According to the lady sitting in front of my with her City People shirt on, the crowd was a good one. I estimated 75-100 people in attendance and she said some of the other forums had garnered a dozen or so. A number of the crowd included politicians running for other offices and looking to catch any stray votes they might encounter.

In attendance were Bo Bennett, Ivan Harmon, Mark Padgett and Madeline Rogero. Mr. Hultquist was missing. I only know two things about Mr. Hultquist: He kept the engine of his massive, gas guzzling travel trailer running on Wall Avenue last First Friday and he didn’t show for the downtown debate. He’s off my island.

The only thing that stood out to me in the opening statements was the “green” emphasis by Madeline Rogero. I gave her that round simply because she said something of substance. The first question centered on the Crandall Arambula plan and whether their vision for downtown aligned with that or differed. Bo Bennett didn’t answer the question or refer to the plan. I wasn’t sure he knew what it was. Mr. Harmon knew the plan but gave a vague answer about deferring to groups like CBID and City People. Mr. Padgett dismissed the plan off-handedly. Ms. Rogero obviously knew the plan well and said she’d incorporate elements of it with current input. First question goes to Ms. Rogero.

On how to recruit businesses that would in turn promote residential growth downtown, none of the answers stood out. On the issue of panhandlers, Ms. Rogero, again, had the strongest answer involving a combination of law enforcement and education of the populace to the fact that giving money does not help the problem. Regarding increasing parkland acreage downtown, none of the candidates were enthusiastic. Ms. Rogero indicated we need to grow businesses downtown. Mr. Harmon indicated that we have many parks already and Mr. Padgett suggested that we connect them better. I’d give a slight edge to Padgett on that answer.

The least satisfying answers came on the question of what to do about Henley Street and whether the candidates would act before the bridge re-opens. Bo Bennett must not have understood the question as he talked about getting the bridge finished quickly. Mr. Harmon’s answer was almost as bad, as he talked about getting more traffic to use Henley/Chapman to get to the Smokies. Ms. Rogero said flatly, “A road diet won’t work.”

Questions about signage for downtown, parking and development on the southern side of the river yielded nothing of note. The answers were very bland, limited as they were by a significant time restraint and perhaps due to the inevitable fatigue from so many forums asking probably similar questions. The closing statements, likewise seemed worn. The only thing that stood out there was Mr. Harmon’s emphasis on cutting waste, cutting taxes and cutting spending. Not much vision there.

So what do we have? I’ve eliminated Mr. Hultquist. He clearly doesn’t share my ideals. Mr. Bennett is probably a nice man, but he does not have the experience, polish or presence to assume the position. My impression of Mr. Harmon is that he would be a dominating figure who would team with Burchett in ways that would not serve downtown well. Mr. Padgett does not have the experience nor the knowledge to be mayor at this time.

That only leaves one man standing – and she’s a woman. I’m endorsing Madeline Rogero for Mayor of Knoxville. I think we have the best chance to continue the momentum we’ve established with her as our leader. I realize I’m not a member of the established media (a fact reinforced that night when they would only let the “real” media take pictures) and I may be politically naive. But I trust my instincts on this one. She’s a genuine person, she’s bright, she has the best experience for the job and I think she’ll approach each issue in a thoughtful manner.

Whether you agree with me or not, please vote. Elections really do matter and in our day-to-day lives, local ones probably matter more than those on a national level.