DULL RACE, INTERESTING TIMES

8 10 2006

The upcoming contest for mayor of Nashville has been a bit of a yawner so far. None of the current crop of mayoral candidates has been able to generate much excitement. Let’s face it—Bredesen and Purcell are hard acts to follow—they were highly motivated technocrats who, in the long view of history, will be seen as having used the last flush of American prosperity to create and consolidate metropolitan Nashville in its final blaze of post-industrial glory. The next mayor is probably going to see himself as a curator more than an initiator. But the drum of history is starting to beat. Life in America is shifting.

There are three main contestants in the race now—Howard Gentry, Bob Clemens, and Buck Dozier. For me, as a Green, the question is, do any of them have the vision to steer Nashville through what’s about to happen? Do any of them even notice what’s about to happen? Is there any possibility any of them could notice it?

Buck Dozier is a representative of unabashed, good ol’ boy, old line redneck Nashville—a roads n’ strip malls good, public spending bad kinda guy. He was a major backer of the late and unlamented Harpeth dump until he gauged how much opposition it had generated—then he went to a basketball game instead of showing up for the mass meeting and taking some heat. I don’t have a lot of faith in Buck Dozier.

Bob Clemens could be charitably described as a professional public servant, meaning he’s spent most of his adult life in politics. He seems to me to be just another smiling suit who is deeply committed to maintaining the status quo—but his skills will not do us much good when the status quo starts slipping rapidly and noisily away.

I have the most hope for Howard Gentry, who has been known to shop in alternative food stores, because I think that questioning the diet and exercise habits you were raised with can be an opening to questioning the society that fostered those habits in you. Meanwhile, Gentry is playing it safe politically. He is definitely not running as a radical.

Although the mayoral race in Nashville is technically nonpartisan, maybe a green mayoral candidate could inject some reality into the dialog–but that person would likely suffer from the same conundrum of credibility that our Green Party candidates are dealing with in the current election cycle.

The dilemma is that people perceive, correctly, that our governmental system is dominated by power-hungry neurotics who shouldn’t be trusted with the job—but these neurotic power-trippers are the only ones with the bureaucratic skills to keep our vast, complicated system functioning at all. Sanity and honesty, however valuable in individuals, are no more qualifications for running a government bureaucracy than they are for piloting an airliner. Are there truly hip, forward-looking, mentally balanced people who are also politically savvy enough to run our massively bureaucratic government? We may have to vote for sanity and honesty and let the chips fall where they may.

Meanwhile, here are some green questions for our mayoral candidates–

    what will you do to assure a local food supply for Nashville?what will you do to encourage general local self-sufficiency?what will you do to get people out of their cars and long-distance commutes and into local employment or at least mass transit?what will you do to stop sprawl?

what will you do to increase neighborhood cohesion and self-governance?

what will you do to help increase access to affordable medical services?

    what will you do to decrease Nashville’s waste stream?(As an aside, a private, pioneer effort is now underway to compost farmer’s market waste and wood chips. This could be expanded to take a major source of landfill materials into the recycle circle, if it is properly managed. For that matter, we could have massive quantities of humanure available for our farming and gardening needs if it wasn’t for all the other junk people put in the sewer system—many composted sewage sludge products have been found with excessive levels of heavy metals, and not because people are chewing the chrome off car bumpers—but I digress…)

Nashville needs somebody like the South Bronx’s Majora Carter, who has developed an organization called Sustainable South Bronx and has recently been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. In a recent interview in Grist magazine, she said, “There’s this big fear that environmental justice is fiscally irresponsible, that communities like ours need all kinds of money and assistance. The irony is that our public-health problems — our rampant asthma and other environmental illnesses — do need such resources. Our sustainability strategy, on the contrary, does not. Our organization is beginning to prove that we can implement our strategy in a pretty darn economically and fiscally responsible way. Things like parks and green roofs and decent zoning policies and green-collar jobs and public transportation don’t cost a huge amount, but can make a tremendous difference that has long-term economic advantages both locally and nationally. “ It’s important to note that Ms. Carter didn’t come into the South Bronx with an agenda—she started getting together with people and helping them visualize what they wanted, and now she’s helping them implement it. That’s the Green way, folks.

Is there a Majora Carter in Nashville? Would he or she want to detour out of doing real things for real people for the frustrating job of being Mayor and having to answer to business and financial interests?

I’m tempted to submit my questions to our current crop of candidates, although I suspect that all I would get back would be easy, empty platitudes. To be honest, I ought to try and answer them myself. I’ll keep you posted.

music: Laurie McClain, “In My Home Town

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