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First District

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Greg Pinkston

Sylvia Woods

Tom Allen

  See How They Run


South Knoxville plus the UT campus area and Fort Sanders— represented for the past 12 years by Gary Underwood

FRONT RUNNERS: Greg Pinkston and Sylvia Woods

City Council elections are non-partisan, at least in the sense that candidates don't run with party labels. But the First District race comes close to being an exception to this rule.

In the Republican corner is Greg Pinkston, nephew of veteran County Commissioner Howard "Nookie" Pinkston. The Chapman Highway office of Pinkston Motors (co-owned by uncle Howard and Greg's father Paul) is the closest thing in Knox County to a Republican party clubhouse. Greg Pinkston acknowledges that, "My uncle can point me in the right direction" but insists he's running on his own.

In the Democrat corner is Sylvia Woods, wife of the long-time president of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and herself its part-time bookkeeper and secretary. Organized labor and the Democratic Party are closely entwined. And Woods makes no bones about the fact she's counting on her husband Harold's ties. "Harold raises the money, and I do the campaigning," she says with a smile and a nod in his direction at their ramshackle office just off Magnolia Avenue.

The 40-year-old Pinkston is a life-long South Knoxvillian—as it behooves a candidate to be in a part of town where anyone who isn't remains branded as a newcomer by parochial old-timers who cast a lot of votes. (See Sidebar)

After attending UT and Walters State for a time, he opted to get involved in law enforcement instead of the family used car business. After stints under former Sheriff Joe Fowler, as a KPD patrolman and then a city beer inspector, he's been employed since 1996 by Knox County schools as a security officer. "We still have some fights to contend with, but there have been no firearms in a school in three years," he boasts.

In his first bid for elected office, Pinkston is running a people-oriented more than an issue-oriented campaign. "People want somebody who's accessible, who will show up at meetings and at least listen to them whether the issue is streets, sidewalks, neighborhood security or whatever," he allows. While he sees downtown development as a "big issue," he tends to be South Knoxville-centric. "If downtown takes off, that will tie into development on the south bank, and we need to really push Chapman Highway as the Gateway to the Smokies in order to support more commercial activity on Chapman."

The 59-year-old Woods, whose flaming red hair belies her age, is making her second bid for office. She lost a 1994 Democratic primary for County Commission to then Commissioner Robert Bratton. But Bratton is solidly behind her this time around. She's only lived in South Knoxville since she was age four, but that ought to be long enough to satisfy most natives. It remains to be seen how much emphasis she will place on her 40-year marriage, two children and three grandchildren in relation to the fact that Pinkston is a divorcé whose former wife lives in Florida with their three sons. Pinkston's behavior while he was a police officer may also become an issue.

Woods has also had a lot more involvement in public affairs than Pinkston. During his early years in office, Ashe seemed to be cultivating her with appointments to a committee that advised on the routing of the South Knoxville Connector to the James White Parkway and also to the board of the Coliseum/Auditorium Authority. But their relationship turned sour when the Woodses joined the campaign for a living wage for city employees and got worse when the Central Labor Council endorsed Randy Tyree against Ashe for Mayor in 1999. "Victor's been kind of mad at me," Woods allows.

DARK HORSE: Tom Allen is a highly-regarded South Knoxville businessman who would make an appealing candidate if he decides to run. But he is still mulling that decision. "I would like to serve, but my wife has got to be comfortable with the time demands it would place on me, " he says. At age 40, he'd be a newcomer to politics, and his late start would accentuate the amount of ground he'd have to make up. But Allen has a track record of success at whatever he's set out to accomplish.

After getting his degree in marketing from UT in 1986, Allen launched his sign business in a garage. Today, Allen Sign Co. has locations both on Chapman Highway and Kingston Pike, and its customer base extends well beyond Knoxville. All the infield signs at the Kentucky Derby are Allen's, for example. He lives with his wife and two young children in Colonial Village, the same neighborhood in which he grew up. His dark hair, mustache and stocky build can combine to bear no small resemblance to outgoing Councilman Gary Underwood.

Why does he want to serve? "I feel South Knoxville is disadvantaged in certain ways, and I want to try to improve on that while also serving the community as a whole," Allen says.

Another possible contender is neighborhood activist Joe Hultquist, who has been active recently in Nine Counties One Vision. "I have not made an absolute decision," he says. "I'm sort of getting things lined up, talking to people, et cetera."

LONG SHOT: Jez Dossantos is a 31-year-old insurance adjuster and reserve police officer who brings a lot of youthful enthusiasm to his candidacy. His biggest disadvantage, leaving aside his Brazilian name, is the fact that he and his wife, who now have two kids, moved here from Trenton, N.J., only six years ago. Dossantos bubbles with ideas for the design of the unfinished part of the South Knoxville Connector and other roadwork, and he's also got a long list of do's and don'ts for downtown redevelopment. "I've always been very interested in government, and now is a good time to get involved," he says.

LONG SHOT: Mike Leventhal is even more youthful, a 24-year-old UT political science student who's due to graduate in August. Although he lives in the campus area, Leventhal has been spending a great deal of time in South Knoxville lately, mainly knocking on doors. "People like the idea of someone who will listen. Everyone says Gary Underwood never returns their calls, and that includes mine," the lanky, gung-ho Leventhal reports. If he could figure out a way to get his fellow UT students to vote en masse, he might make a surprising showing. Their turnout in local elections has been notoriously low, and if Leventhal has a strategy for improving it, he's keeping it to himself. "I don't want to show all my cards right now," he says.

Prospective candidates Richard Bowling and Doug Wheeling did not return phone calls.

May 31, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 22
© 2001 Metro Pulse