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Bill Haslam

Madeline Rogero

Mayoral Candidates Start Squaring Off


Tyree: a "Randy Come Lately"

Randy Tyree says he's running for mayor again this year. He's named a campaign treasurer and says he's raising money to do some polling before making a formal announcement but says that declaration should come within 30-to-45 days.

Describing himself as "the ex- and future mayor," Tyree says he wants to make this mayor's race, which would be his fifth, because "It's winnable."

Knoxville's mayor from 1976-1983, Tyree was unsuccessful in runs against Victor Ashe in 1987 and 1999, and made a failed bid for the governor's office on the Democrat ticket in 1982. In danger of becoming one of those "perennial candidates" who lose credibility over time, he points to the political fortunes of such people as Abraham Lincoln and Phil Bredesen, each of whom lost several elections before winning their last one.

He says his decision to run was forged when most of the Democrat office holders here endorsed the candidacy of Bill Haslam, the Republican running in this non-partisan race, and when Haslam announced early this year "the overwhelming margin of funds that had been raised" over those raised by his opponent, nominal Democrat Madeline Rogero.

To those who say that it's too late to get into the race seriously, with Haslam and Rogero having campaigned hard for months, Tyree says, "Those are people who have already decided who they want as mayor, and they don't want their playhouse tore up. Consider the source.

"It seems to me that too many decisions have been made by too few people in Knoxville in the last eight or 10 years," Tyree says. He says, "The establishment got rid of all the other Republican candidates, and it's up to an anti-establishment candidate like myself or Madeline" to make a real race of it. "The election is still six months away. We've got a long, hot summer to go," Tyree says.

—Barry Henderson

  Mayoral Candidates Start Squaring Off

by Joe Sullivan

Knoxville will elect a new mayor this year for the first time since 1987. While next fall's election is still many months away, the campaign to succeed Mayor Victor Ashe is well underway.

Two candidates, Bill Haslam and Madeline Rogero, have already spent many months making their presence felt at public and private meetings throughout the city. While Haslam has enlisted far more endorsements, raised far more money and generally established a much higher profile, Rogero has been laying the groundwork for a grassroots campaign that draws upon her longstanding ties to neighborhood organizations and disaffected community activists.

Just recently, former Mayor Randy Tyree all but declared his candidacy and others, including City Councilman Steve Hall may enter the fray as well. But up to now it's been a two-person race—with Haslam widely perceived to be the front-runner.

In terms of background and orientation, the contrast between the two candidates is sharp indeed. Haslam, 43, bears the name and shares the outlook of one of Knoxville's most prominent families and has spent most of his adult life as an executive at family-owned Pilot Corp. His list of 1,469 campaign contributors (totaling $341,861) reads like a Who's Who of Knoxville's business and professional establishment—though it also includes many individuals of more modest means. While he's making a concerted effort to reach out to all segments of the community with an engaging personal style, his mindset inevitably reflects his heritage.

Rogero, 50, is the daughter of a plumber who moved to Knoxville in 1981 after having spent several youthful years as an organizer for the United Farm Workers Union. She soon got involved in zoning issues, an involvement that spurred her to get a master's degree in planning from UT. Her eight years on County Commission (1990-1998) and several years serving as the director of not-for-profit agencies have broadened her perspective. But she still shows an anti-establishment bent as capsulized in her aversion to the "good old boy network" and a sense that "too few are in charge of too much."

Still, to judge by the tenor of the initial debate between the two candidates last month, the campaign isn't likely to erupt into anything resembling class warfare. Indeed, there was a lot of commonality in the themes they sounded at the well-attended debate at the John T. O'Connor Senior Center, which was sponsored by three North and East Knoxville neighborhood organizations. More and better jobs, downtown redevelopment, strong neighborhoods, more greenways, and combating sprawl were shared by both. In addition, they agreed that demands for more city projects and services had to be balanced against the budgetary exigencies facing the city.

But there were also important differences in emphasis between the two candidates—differences that can be captured by excerpts from their remarks at the forum:

On Goals as Mayor

Haslam: We need to figure out in this community how to balance. We have to be a great place to live and a great place to work. The last few elections there's been a lot of discussion "Is this the neighborhood candidate or the business candidate?" Whoever the new mayor is has got to be great at both. We have to be a great place to do business and a great place to live or pretty soon we're not going to be either.

Another challenge is to have a bigger vision for our city. To make it work, we have to have great partnerships with the county, the state, the University of Tennessee, TVA, neighborhood groups, our local employers. All those are our natural partners and we have to find a way to make it more effective how we do government.

Rogero: I want Knoxville to be the most vibrant and livable city in America, and I really do believe that people like us, everyday people, can make that happen. A number of things have to be in place. First of all, we need to give a greater voice to more people through more inclusive citizen participation. We need to make smarter choices about our future, choices that link economic prosperity with environmental sustainability.

We need a mayor who informs, engages and empowers citizens, a mayor who is committed to building consensus, is gutsy enough to take the heat on tough decisions and is not afraid to challenge the status quo.

On the Biggest Challenges Facing the New Mayor

Haslam: Clearly we're wrestling with a budget issue that is going to be huge. Figuring out how to provide great service in a tough budget will be a great management challenge. The second part is figuring out how in that environment to make this a great place to do business. I don't think we want to keep hearing "I love living here but my kids are moving to Atlanta or Charlotte or Nashville because they find a lot more opportunity there."

Rogero: The biggest challenge is providing citizens with the quality of life they want at a price we can afford to pay. I will develop a budget that enables us to provide essential services including economic development because at times like this you have to continue your focus on economic development. And we have to address issues of smart growth and sustainable development. Sprawl threatens our environment and our quality of life.

On Planning and Zoning

Haslam: There's no question the world has changed since the 1960s when a lot of our zoning regulations were put in place, and they are showing some wear. The MPC did pass NC-1 [Neighborhood Conservation] back in '99 and then TownCenter-1 in '01, which I think is opening up some options for us. The whole idea of traditional neighborhood design, of making more pedestrian-friendly, of opening up more parks, of having a town center in the community, is a weapon of change that hopefully we'll see come to Knoxville. I support the language in the MPC's agenda for quality growth that says neighborhoods should be coherent with distinctive identities. I think NC-1 and H-1 [Historic Overlay] are great tools to use, particularly when they happen from the bottom up. When the neighborhoods themselves push them you can see some real benefit there, and you almost always see increased property values.

Rogero: We need to protect both residential and commercial neighborhoods. Planning and zoning recognize there are incompatible uses which interfere with the use of property as it was originally intended. Many of us have gone through the process of developing a sector plan and then within months have to face an attempted rezoning that is in violation of that sector plan.

Most of the time our residential and commercial rezonings are fine, they're compatible. But where there are disagreements between residential and commercial interests, I believe we should follow the adopted plan, be predictable. In final analysis, I think when there's a benefit of the doubt that it should go to the existing neighborhoods whenever there's a strong indication that a proposed rezoning might have negative impact.

On Downtown Redevelopment

Haslam: We have a new convention center of which I think we're all proud and we're trying to figure out if we can afford and pull off a convention-center hotel as well. I don't think this is the time to have a brand-new project that's the latest and greatest thing. I think our focus instead should be on existing opportunities and encouraging private investment. The city cannot provide everything we would like to make this a great city. What we have to do is to make it conducive to private investment and attracting those dollars is what can really change our town.

At the same time, I think we want to keep the momentum and focus on what's happening downtown going. I think for the first time in a long time people are saying downtown is our heart, it's important to the city and the economy.

Rogero: I think the riverfront, the convention center and Market Square are all beneficial, and I will continue to support those. But those projects also brought a lot of debt to our city. So our ability to do new civic projects will have to be balanced against our debt capacity at this time. When the Nine Counties. One Vision. downtown planning process is completed, we will have a framework for making future decisions about development, and my administration will use it as a master plan.

We have to make sure the convention center is successful. Otherwise, we're going to be paying for it instead of tourist dollars coming in. So we have to build on the assets we have there, but we need to be careful about debt as we make those decisions. And we also have to balance other needs because folks want more greenways and parks and recreation centers, intersection improvements, drainage projects. All of these are issues that we have to weigh and prioritize.

Getting the Message Out

Last month's candidate forum was no doubt the first of many between now and the Sept. 30 city primary at which the election will be decided if one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote (Otherwise, there will be a runoff on November 4).

Forums, media coverage, and talks to civic and neighborhood groups and websites can all help the candidates in building name recognition and getting their message out. Moreover, both Haslam and Rogero plan extensive door-to-door campaigning as the days grow warmer and the evenings longer.

And that's where Haslam has it all over Rogero as matters stand. The $342,000 that he's already raised compares to $10,000 in campaign contributions that Rogero reported as of a Jan. 31 required disclosure date. She says her funding has been growing since, but she won't say by how much (no further disclosure is required until July). Sometime back, Rogero reckoned it would take $200,000 to be competitive, and she insists that goal is still attainable. But then she adds, "That would be icing on the cake, and I think you can be competitive without it. It all now depends on how you spend your money and how much of a grassroots campaign you mount."

Haslam has retained TK to direct his media campaign. And the only limit on how much he spends might be avoiding the appearance that he's trying to buy the election.

Rogero's only hope, in the pundits' view, is to try to offset Haslam's money with people power. Her forte is mobilizing large numbers of dedicated volunteers, and it's just possible that Knoxville is about to witness a grassroots campaign the likes of which it's never seen before.

April 3, 2003 * Vol. 13, No. 14
© 2003 Metro Pulse