Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nashville Needs to Stop Fooling Itself. Here's How I'm Voting for Mayor...and WHY.

By Peter Rodman

Most of us like to 'joke' that every time we go downtown, Nashville seems to have changed into a completely different city. 
Downtown Nashville, Tennessee: City, or Theme Park?

But it's no joke; that's how fast we've been growing.  
In retrospect, the recipe was fairly simple:  
Take one national TV show (Nashville), one very tourist-friendly mayor, lots of prime land, a dearth of residential properties downtown; Add several hundred thousand millennials, and stir. 
Nashville had the advantage--rare among cities our size--of having virtually no pre-existing residential housing in its core area, as recently as ten years ago.  
So in a way, this city was a blank jigsaw puzzle when Mayor Karl Dean took office, and nobody likes to move the pieces around more than our mayor.
Even the old standbys are harder to get to, now.

Let me be clear: 
I think Mayor Dean's done a fine job, picking every single piece of low-hanging fruit there was. Someone had to do it, and he did it very well.  
His main job, as he saw it, was to once-and-for-all establish our downtown area as a national, regional, and local destination. And guess what: It worked!
The only problem is, the same square mile is like a pair of dress shoes he polishes over and over again, while the rest of the city gets treated like a forgotten pair of sneakers, way in the back of the closet.

Again, much of what has happened has been for the better...but Mayor Dean's failure to redirect his loving gaze toward any other area of this vast city has been positively maddening.  
The former 'Hickory Hollow Mall'--now hollow, indeed.
I like to call it 'The Mayor Dean Mall.' 
Providing a mere few 'meeting rooms' among miles of empty
storefronts shows his utter lack of interest in South Nashville.

Tiny sections of our newly vacant shopping malls have become libraries, or 'community meeting halls' ...but they still look like haunted ruins from a post-nuclear era.  Greer Stadium is a ghost town now, having been abandoned for a gleaming new stadium--closer to downtown, of course. 
Nolensville Road has become, in Dean's own words, a favorite "ethnic corridor," instead of seeing any gleaming skyscrapers of its own--just 3 or 4 miles south of Broadway and 2nd Avenue.  But who wants to be in a left-out-of-the-spoils "corridor?"  It sounds like the children's table, at Thanksgiving. 
What's wrong with this picture?  

The answer is, "A lot."
Mindless, rampant construction of pricey condos--without
any basic amenities other than bars and restaurants--does not
bode well for Nashville's future,  if we truly plan to be a "major city."

The real question should be "What do we want from our NEXT mayor?"
More of the same?  
Many seem to think so...but one trip downtown usually has those same 'townies' swearing they personally won't be back, any time soon.  
In broad daylight, hordes of drunken revelers clank their way along the hopelessly gridlocked streets,
insistently blaring 'sing-alongs' out the sides of every limo, tandem bike bar, or open-air tour bus in sight. 

Downtown Nashville has become what my Mom used to call (insert NY accent here)... "a mawb scene." 

I was at Mardi Gras several times during the '90s--before it all began to turn surly, when New Orleans newscasters and city officials began to use (I am not making this up) the "total nightly garbage tonnage" left in the streets, to measure their year-over-year success.
That was the tipping point for me.  That and the huge rats, openly feasting on piles of discarded fast food and vomit, as the sun rose over Royal Street. 
I haven't been back since.
Nashville is thisclose to becoming that place; that safe haven for unruliness, uncivil behavior, and unfettered growth. It's morphed into the 'theme park' that party people have been longing for, ever since Hurricane Katrina brought the last one to its knees. 

Downtown Nashville~ Summer, 2015
All Photographs Copyright 2015 by Peter Rodman,
except as indicated below.
The sheer numbers of tourists and downtown 'events' are sucking our  police resources away from countless other neighborhoods, to serve a single square mile of our 7,500 square mile city. 
Meanwhile, with close to 100,000 brand new downtown residents, there's still not a drug store, still not a grocery store, still no hardware store--none of the basic daily needs that tens of thousands who recently moved in must have, in order to stay downtown.  (READ: In order to live there!)
Even The Boss wants to know:
Who should be Nashville's next Mayor?
So here we are, with seven candidates, at least half of whom I'd vote for, if I had to--and all of whom I admire, for even trying.  
Very early on, I sorted out the ones who seemed to me to be either 'single issue' candidates, or ones whose political philosophy I found incompatible with my own politics, which are unabashedly liberal.
Having said all that...
I shall now list my preferences for Mayor, in reverse order. Those eliminated from consideration--even though they seem like good people, genuinely concerned for our city--begin here: 

7.)  Linda Eskind Rebrovick. Her message has been nothing, if not consistent:  
I am a high tech person. I think almost everything from traffic flow to garbage collection can be done by installing better computer systems. 
Well, I don't. 
And it's not the pantsuits or the garbage truck or the fancy SUV or even the family McMansion, I swear. (Okay, it might've been the hairspray.) Either way...

Goodbye, Linda. 

6.) David Fox.  I saw my first David Fox ad on Fox News. (I should add "no relation" here, but policy wise, I'm afraid there is.)  While Mr. Fox pushes a lot of local-friendly buttons, his underlying message has always been, "Let's cut the budget.  We need to worry about debt."   
To be fair, the precise words of his slogan are: 

"End reckless spending, balance the budget, hold the line on taxes."
These are all code words for GOP "austerity," which is utter misery.  Ask Greece.
Right wing capitalists always decry government spending and debt...unless we're bailing them out. 
In truth, I prefer what they say behind closed doors, and I think it applies to government even more than business:  
You've got to spend money, to make money.
"No thank you,  Mr. Fox."

5.) Jeremy Kane.  Some very smart people I know, almost all with school-aged kids, are voting for Mr. Kane.  I respect their decision, but I can't do it.  
Here's why:  Mr. Kane, too, is basically a 'one issue' candidate, whose experience is rooted in having established a highly successful series of (seven) "charter schools." 
Right there is where he and I have a problem. 
Understand, I'm totally for anyone establishing a new school--be it private, charter, religious, or even home!

Where we part company is when Nashville's 'chosen few' get to siphon their school tax dollars out of our public school system, because "Hey, we're just gonna take the same amount you would have used to educate our kid, and find another option!" 
Where to begin, where to begin...
This is one of the more ridiculous (and damaging) trends in America today.  It says, "Public schools are failing, so let's drain the remaining money out of 'em, and redirect it where we want it, for our own kids, on an individual basis!" 
Think about this.  

I have no children, yet gladly pay my school taxes, and always have.  But should I be allowed to reallocate my public school tax contributions? 
Of COURSE not! 
Jeremy Kane touts his flagship school as having a "100% graduation rate." 
That's marvelous.  Also easy to do, if you only have one school to run...or seven. 
Our problems with
public education will never be solved unless we ALL PITCH IN--each of us, with equal tax dollars, to the PUBLIC school system--not abandon it. 
In the airline business, pilots often say, "Sure, we can build a plane that is 100% crash proof.  The science is there. But it would be the only plane on Earth...because it would cost as much to make that one plane, as it does all other planes combined." 

That, my friends, is why charter schools need to fund themselves. It's easy to make a few schools great; much harder to make every school better.
I don't care what you do with your own money, but your school tax dollars are as much mine as they are yours.  That original sense of "all in" seems lost on people today...but it's how we built what used to be the greatest school system on the planet. We need to go back to properly funding our public schools--all of us.

We as a society should not be charged with helping you as a parent find that "perfect school."  
Pay for it yourself.
That's why I have to say "Goodbye, Jeremy; nice school, though!"

4.)  Howard Gentry. This is a guy I like a lot. He's honest, steadfast, caring, measured, cautious, gets along with everybody...did I mention he's careful?  Safe, too.  
I have no doubt he is perfectly capable of running this town, and we share many of the same political leanings. He has more governmental experience here than any other candidate.
But I've also gotten plenty of good naps during his televised hearings, and deep sleep--while an ongoing problem of mine--is not something I look for, from a Mayor. 

Great public servant, very nice guy, extremely competent.
I can't say enough nice things.
...without getting verrry...verrry...sleeeeeeepy.  
G'night, Howard.

3.) Megan Barry.  Megan was my first choice, in the early going...primarily because every townie I know said she should be.  
Unfortunately, I'm still a newbie--having "only" been here 25 years--but unless there's some secret-coded message they received at a White Elephants gig I missed, during the '80s...
I'm sorry...I just don't get it. 

I've checked out all her ads and debate commentaries.  Ms. Barry's first word is almost always "continue."
She wants to continue (my words here) Mayor Dean's myopic focus on easy stuff-- like gilding an already gleaming downtown, or luring high profile developers and corporations to that area to further brighten (and no doubt, whiten) our touristy theme park. 
I do not dismiss my friends' choice lightly, nor do I doubt their good judgement.  But when you ask why Megan Barry is the best candidate for mayor, most of the answers boil down to "Trust me.  I've been here forever.  It's Megan Barry you want."
To say she's connected would be an understatement. If girls can be good ol' boys too, Megan's in the club. 

One drive through Belle Meade or Green Hills will show you where all the "BARRY" yard signs are.  
They're on the nice lawns.  
You know...the lawns that are manicured by immigrants from South Nashville, which hasn't changed that much at all under Mayor Dean, and certainly not for the better. 
You can see them piling into rusty pickup trucks at dawn, where I live. Grown men, sitting in the back of an open cab, squeezed between lawn tractors and edgers, and shovels and such.  
That's because they have no cars, and there's no damn trains that run from south to north, in these parts.  
And even when Mayor Dean proposed his phony "mass transit" bus lane (the 'AMP'), he left out North and South Nashville altogether!
Believe it or not, our current Mayor had planned to spend $75 million connecting the already-connected...from East Nashville to West End.  

Once again, he dissed the very people who need mass transit most--the hotel maids, the landscapers, the office workers, the waiters, drivers, and valets--all of 'em, apparently just not good enough to be fully included in the "It City." 

Megan Barry supported that insulting 'AMP' bus program, and now claims  she'll improve it.
But to paraphrase Pink Floyd, if I may:
"We don't need no... stinkin' bus lanes."

Sorry, Megan.  
You were my first choice, because my well-connected pals told me you should be.  Don't get me wrong, you seem real nice, and very sincere.
But my friends aren't that much smarter than me... so I'm gonna listen to me, this time.

2. ) Charles Robert Bone.  I gotta say, Megan Barry's finest hour as a candidate was when they asked her what her favorite song was, during that first debate, and she said, "All I can think of right now is Vote for Bone!"
This guy got out front early, and blanketed the airwaves with a song we'll all remember for years to come. [see video, above] And he's right:  "Donelson's connected to Creve Hall," etc. 
I love a lot of his message, and I think he's eminently qualified.  I wouldn't be sad to see him elected, because at least there's a chance he'll do what he's saying he'd do.  Improve public schools, mass transit, etc.
I'm all for it.

Oddly enough, the earworm which helped us forget how similar his name is to Bill Boner also made us forget Bone's first name! 
Quick.  Close your eyes.  What's Bone's full name?

It's Charles Robert Bone.
And to him I say, 'Close, but no cigar...'

I thank he and all the other candidates, for putting themselves on the line for our fair city.
But right now, we need more.

We need someone whose first priority is mass transit, and by this I mean REAL TRAINS, connecting everything from South Nashville to Hendersonville, to Bellevue to Hermitage, to downtown and back...every single day, all day long...just like real cities have. 
We need someone who recognizes how great downtown is, but realizes it's time to turn our attention (and tax dollars) toward other areas that have been seriously neglected by Mayor Dean--who's done a fabulous job, but only from the Gulch to Germantown. 
That's it.  
But it is not enough...not even for an "It" city.

When asked during the first debate, how he would fund mass transit, Bill Freeman won me over, right then and there:
"We've got to start to work on this mass transit system. I like to say that we're 10 years late in getting started on the program, and it'll probably take 8 to 10 years to complete it. So we're 20 years behind, before we turn a spade of dirt.

"But we've got to get started on a REAL mass transit system that connects all the communities in the mid-state area--Murfreesboro, Franklin, Lebanon--we've got to connect all those areas.  They've got to participate in the solution, too.
"It's gonna take help from everyone--from the courthouse to the White House, and everybody in between.
"I know there's no funding available right now, for that...but that pendulum will swing, and it will change, and in two years, or three years, or four years, there will be funding...and we'll go after that funding, aggressively.
"We can't not work on it today, just because there's no funding today. We'll find the funding!
"If you rank the Top 50 Cities in the country in terms of population, Nashville ranks #49.
"The Top 48 have one thing in common: They all have mass transit. We're #49. Don't have it. 

"It's our time. We need to start workin' on it, and we'll find the funding to do that."
The entire quote above was Freeman's off-the-cuff, ad libbed answer to a question about how we could avoid "becoming Atlanta," in the first mayoral debate. (linked below)
That's what sold me on him.

Nashville needs to stop fooling itself.  
Just the wacky omission of basic retail essentials for its downtown residents says it all, about how painfully out-of-his-element our current mayor is, when it comes to truly understanding how big cities operate. 
Name me another major city without even a downtown Walgreen's, let alone a grocery store.   
You can't, because it doesn't exist!   

The sad fact is, people can't live on hotel gift shop food, or Jack Daniels flavored beef jerky from a souvenir store.  And they can't eat in restaurants, bars, and sidewalk cafes every day of their lives.  It simply cannot be done.
Mayor Dean (quite literally) forgot that.

This city's downtown has indeed become a 'theme park,' based upon a naive Mayor's dream that will surely turn to a nightmare, unless we begin to accommodate the thousands of real live people suddenly living and working down there.  

This means addressing exactly the kinds of things Bill Freeman has been talking about: 
  • Real mass transit, connecting outlying areas to downtown, and vice versa; 
  • Real improvements in PUBLIC education; and a
  • Realistic view of how the core city 'fits in' with the vast majority of Nashville residents, who do not live downtown.

NO other candidate has had the guts to stand up and tell the blunt truth about what is wrong with Nashville, and how to fix it.
That is why I am voting for 
Bill Freeman for Mayor of Nashville. 


This opinion column and all photographs herein(*except the photograph of Bill Freeman) are Copyright 2015 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved.
However...because this is a VERY important election, you are welcome to re-share this column. Thank you.  ~PR

Here's a link to the first Mayoral Debate, in its entirety.
Make up your own mind...and please, no matter who you vote for...VOTE!!!

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