Capitol View Commentary: December 3, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: December 3, 2010

CREATED Dec 3, 2010


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

December 3, 2010


I have told you for a few weeks now that Metro Council leaders are not happy with the terms of the Fairgrounds/Hickory Hollow lease/purchase contracts that Mayor Karl Dean has sent to them for approval. Those agreements would allow the city to move several of the activities now held at the State Fairgrounds in South Nashville (the Flea Market, Christmas Village, Gun Shows, etc.) to the Hickory Hollow Mall complex in Antioch. That movement would then allow the Mayor to begin a major redevelopment of the Fairgrounds property, although, as yet, no details about what would be developed nor who the developers or potential tenants might be.

That lack of a strong constituency to support the project or a clear plan for what would happen with the Fairgrounds (such as the recent announcement that Amazon.com might be putting operations in Chattanooga) has made this project a hard sell for the Mayor since he first brought it up over a year ago.

Despite increasing noisy opposition by those who want to preserve the Fairgrounds and those who don't want what the Mayor is proposing for Hickory Hollow, for some time it appeared the Dean Administration thought it could work out the issues on the fly and get the leases approved. But when the latest Council agenda came out a few days ago, it was clear that Council members were sending clear signals they didn't want to approve the leases, and in fact, might even indefinitely defer or defeat the proposals if the Administration pushed the matter. Frankly, although with the e-mails and phone calls from Fairgrounds opponents, what also bothers many council members are terms in the lease that appear to charge above-market rents and which don't allow Metro an escape clause if this project doesn't work out. Frankly, hearing the continued complaints from Flea Market and other Fair vendors that they would never relocate to the Mall because it doesn't work well for that kind of facility, that became a bigger and bigger issue in the Council.   

So seeing newly filed legislation in the Council that would require the Fairgrounds to remain open (at least in terms of the Flea Market and other Expo-related activities) the Mayor called a strategic retreat with a letter from Finance Director Rich Riebeling (December 1) asking Council sponsors to defer the lease bills until January, saying "a number of legitimate questions and concerns have been raised about the mall's suitability as a new venue for the Expo events and Flea Market."

So, for 2011, it appears events at the Fairgrounds can continue to be held there. That includes the historic State Fair, although Finance Director Riebeling says no city funds can be used. Nevertheless, Fair supporters, who have struggled to find a new location, especially in Davidson County are likely to see this new development as a God-send (if at this late date, they can still find the vendors and financial resources they'll need to pull it off by early September).   

Meantime, opponents of the Mayor's plan rightly claim a victory "for the people" in this deferral but they also charge the Mayor and the Council are just ‘kicking the can down the road" to get this matter out of the spotlight while the Metro elections approach next August.

Actually, Finance Director Riebeling says the administration does still plan to move ahead early next year on plans to convert part of the Mall into a facility that will provide much-needed services for the southeastern part of Davidson County including "a new regional community, center, a regional library and a home for the Metro Archives."

But the Archives' move from Green Hills and plans to place either a WIC (Women's and Children's Clinic) or a full health department clinic have also drawn criticism and could bring up controversy again next year. Archives supporters say that facility would be better located downtown in the still-vacant Ben West Library, while locating a WIC Clinic in the Hickory Hollow Mall was drawing flack from organized residents in the Antioch area long before the rest of this Fairgrounds/Mall relocation issue came up.

 So while it may be "peace on earth, goodwill towards men" on this matter for the rest of the holiday season, thanks to the Mayor's request for a deferral and a redo on some of the leases, don't look too closely behind the scenes because the political knives are still out on both sides in this matter, and may be pulled out again (at least by the Fairgrounds Speedway supporters). That particularly true if the Dean Team moves ahead with plans to raze the racetrack right away and start developing a new city park  there (the Metro Council has already approved the money for that).              


The Dean Team has been so good and successful the last three-plus years, especially in winning approval of the massive new Music City Center downtown and how well it responded to the May Floods.

So how did they stub their toes so badly on these plans to re-develop and re-energize two areas of town (the Fairgrounds & Hickory Hollow) that clearly need lots of help?

I remember how impressed Mayor Dean was a few months back when Vanderbilt revitalized the old 100 Oaks Mall. You could sense that he saw that potential with Hickory Hollow, as well as a way to solve the problems he was having with relocating continuing events at the Fairgrounds after he shut down the annual State Fair and the Raceway. 

But he's never been able to sell those concepts, while opposition to both efforts have grown and joined forces together to now stop major portions of the plan in its tracks. I've mentioned before that not having any major constituency that was strongly in favor of proposal (the anti-Speedway neighbors aren't enough) in the way the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention & Visitors Bureau did for the Music City Center, I think really hurt the Mayor's effort. This was especially true as the opponents gained strength in generating crowds at Council meetings and sending in e-mails and phone calls to council members (from the grassroots it was said). The Administration thinks the opposition is coming more from manufactured sources, "Astroturf" not grassroots they say. But wherever it comes from it has been effective, especially combined with the problems the Council found with the Mall leases.

Add it all up, and the votes just didn't seem to be there. So for the Mayor, its' call a retreat and figure out what to do next. Yes, this a bit of black eye for the Administration, but not as bad as having the Council actually reject the leases. 

Could this impact the Mayor's re-election prospects? Right now, I'd said no. But when you've been bloodied a bit politically, it may embolden others to test him on other issues or test the political waters to see what's out there. I don't think the money or the support is there to put a major candidate in the field against him next August. But he sure doesn't need to get involved in any more emotionally bruising political issues like this in the near future.  


It's been a tough couple of days for Mayor Dean. In addition to his setback on the Fairgrounds/Hickory Hollow Mall issue, Nashville's quest to be one of the American host cities for the 2022 World Cup Soccer Tournament were dashed when international soccer officials decided to send the Games to the Middle East.

But while disappointed, the Mayor is right to say that participating in this process has only been a big plus for Nashville. To be selected a potential American host city along with Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Seattle puts Music City in a different league now. This can only be helpful in attracting future major sporting events, conventions and perhaps even new businesses to town.

In that regard, there are two recent polls out that must have the Mayor and the folks at the Chamber of Commerce jumping for joy. A Harris Interactive survey finds Nashville #7 on the national list of most popular cities in the country. When the question was asked which city folks would most want to live in (outside of where they are now), Nashville was right up with New York City, San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle, Los Angeles and Denver, which finished 1-6. Ironically, Nashville tied for 7th in the poll with, of all cities, Atlanta! Well, maybe sometimes we do want to be Atlanta? Denver and Boston completed the top ten in the survey.

There is a second poll, this one from FORBES Magazine that lists Nashville as one of America' Most Affordable Cities. We come in 5th with the magazine writer saying the overall search was "for cities that have a balance of cheap living and economic prosperity—places with solid job markets, but where costs aren't prohibitive." Specifically, Nashville is described as "a cultural and entertainment center at the center of its state economy."

Pretty good stuff. 


On INSIDE POLITICS this week we continue our look at Tennessee in transition, both in its state government and its politics.

Our guest is former GOP State Senator David Fowler, who is now the President of the Family Action Council in Tennessee.

It is an interesting discussion especially about a debate ready to come up this weekend (December 4) where the State GOP Executive Committee will be considering a resolution that would endorse closing our party primary system, meaning only registered Republicans and registered Democrats could vote in  party primaries, leaving swing voters and Independents out in the cold until the general election comes along.

With the Republicans winning most of the elections these days, this might seem a strange time to some to be changing the system and excluding potential voters from party primaries. Supporters of the change say for party integrity it's time to keep primaries strictly for those who pledge to be true Republicans or Democrats. But I think something else is involved. GOP conservatives and TEA Party supporters are tired of their candidates losing primary elections to more moderate candidates. Actually, they've probably been losing more because there have been more than one conservative candidate in the field, so their resources and vote has been split.

Nevertheless, closing the primary would clearly favor the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, as well as the Tea Party. Just look at what's happened in other state which require party registration (such as Kentucky) where it has been very helpful for candidates like Rand Paul to win the nomination and ultimately the November election.

Fowler is not directly involved in this matter, but I think you can see from his responses that he and others in the GOP may well feel a bit split over this matter. We also talk with him about the ongoing GOP internal spat concerning electing Beth Harwell as the next House Speaker. Some says she is too moderate (RINO) although Fowler doesn't think so. He is also watching to see how incoming Governor, Bill Haslam will rule, including his cabinet and staff appointments.

In that regard, there appears to be some movement on that front. Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey has been named Haslam's Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff. Looking through some old news clips I found that, earlier this year, Ramsey offered support to Haslam's chief primary rival, former Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp. So perhaps this appointment can be seen as something of an olive branch by the Governor-Elect to GOP conservatives.

But there appear to be plenty of other reasons to bring Ramsey on board, including his past experience in the General Assembly and state government, even going back to being a delegate to the state's last constitutional convention held back in 1977. More importantly, Ramsey brings strong credentials from his work as Mayor for bringing new jobs to the Chattanooga area (VW in particular) along with being a strong supporter of public education. These are clearly areas that Governor-Elect Haslam wants to focus on as well, so the appointment seems to make a lot of sense on a number of levels.

My INSIDE POLITICS interview with former Senator Fowler also focuses on another story that could become more important when the new General Assembly organizes in January. Democratic State Senator Charlotte Burks' narrow re-election victory is being challenged by her GOP rival Gary Steakley. It will be up to the full Senate to decide the matter. Can Steakley make a strong case for vote fraud because the seals on some ballot boxes appear to be tampered? Will the GOP Senate leadership decide to push this matter, given what happened just a few years ago with the election challenge of Memphis Senator Ophelia Ford? It could be fascinating to watch.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend. On the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5, you can watch us Sunday morning (December 50 at 5:00 a.m. On NewsChannel5 Plus, you can watch the show at 7:00 p.m. Friday (December 3) at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday (December 4) at 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. and Sunday (December 5) at 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.

NewsChannel5 Plus is on Comcast and Charter cable channels 250 and on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. If you don't have cable or are outside the Nashville viewing area, you can excerpts of this and past INSIDE POLITICS shows here at www.newchannel5.com.


One of the guessing games at the State Capitol for months has been: where would former GOP House Majority Leader (and almost Speaker of the House) Jason Mumpower land after he decided not to run for re-election?

Nobody really thought he would just go home to Upper East Tennessee. Many speculated he might land a top job with the new Haslam administration. Nope

According to Ken Whitehouse from NASHVILLEPOST. com, Mumpower will become the chief Deputy under Controller Justin Wilson. With Mumpower's close ties to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and many other GOP lawmakers this move should clearly help strengthen good relations between Wilson's office and the General Assembly. And, of course, since lawmakers elect the Controller that's sure can't be a bad thing politically.


While there are some signs and signals that a compromise may be on the offing between Republicans and Democrats in Washington on how to settle the impasse over continuing the Bush tax cuts and extending long term unemployment compensation, there are plenty of other signs that gridlock still reins inside the Beltway, with perhaps even more to come with the new Congress in January.

That includes the special commission studying ways to significantly cut the national debt. The plan outlined by its leaders so far hasn't been able to get the 14 vote majority needed from even its own membership.             

But it did get more votes than expected (11) and the bi-partisan makeup of that vote is perhaps a bit of a surprise. It also seems to mirror what I am seeing among Tennessee's political leaders in Washington.

Said Tennessee's senior Senator Lamar Alexander: "This…is a serious proposal by serious people about our biggest problem. Congress can't keep running around complaining about the debt and not doing anything about it. Their recommendations need to come before Congress, and I'm going to do my best to support recommendations like these."

But, not so fast, the Senator added this caveat: "I may want to change it, but I am going be among those that say, "This is serious, let's deal with it."

Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is equally strong about his support to address the debt, but still not completely clear that he will support this specific deficit reduction plan.

"The Commission's report is being met with resounding silence. Yet almost everyone knows that America must make spending cuts of this magnitude. If you don't like the "Moment of Truth" recommendations, then craft your own—and win majority votes of the House and Senate—while remembering that every day of delay costs us roughly $8 billion. Denial and gridlock will not strengthen America, supporting major changes in fiscal policy will."

Well said. But the devil is always in the details, and just what gets cut and by how much still very much remains to be seen.

Meantime at least one new member coming to Congress has her priorities for change, and they will remain you of someone here in Tennessee. According to a brief article in the December 3 edition of THE WEEK magazine, Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson has more than 300 "eye-catching hats" which she almost wears when she leaves home. But under current rules, she can't wear them on the House floor. "Sexist" is the way she describes it. She says it is ‘‘an artifact from a time when only men served in Congress. ‘Men don't wear hat indoors, but women wear hats indoors…Hats are what I wear."

One can only wonder what State Senator Thelma Harper thinks, but I would imagine she would be in complete agreement about this. But I do wonder, does she have at least 300 hats in her closets at home?