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VOL. 35 | NO. 26 | Friday, July 1, 2011

Why are they running?

Is it any wonder no Metro Nashville mayor has ever failed to be re-elected?

By Bill Lewis

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Shoppers sometimes like to take a chance with off-brand grocery products. Three “Brand X” candidates who say they want to be mayor of Nashville are hoping voters will feel the same way in the Aug. 4 election.

One is a homeless man who advocates repealing drug laws. Another is a school bus driver who has little energy for campaigning after having bird flu in 2009. The third describes himself as an “ordinary citizen” who believes he has the “gifts, the grace and the ability” to be mayor.

Like generic beans and detergent, the candidates are doing little to attract attention to themselves. That works for grocery products, which keep prices low by not paying for marketing and advertising. But the strategy is a little more difficult against Mayor Karl Dean, who is seeking a second term and has already begun a television advertising campaign with the theme “A City Rising.”

Dean enjoys what Belmont University Associate Professor of Political Science Nathan Griffith calls “the incumbency advantage. People who are incumbents usually win.”

In fact, no mayor of Metropolitan Nashville has ever lost his bid for a second term. But now, three candidates hope to make history, although they seem to be doing little to turn hope into reality. The only candidate other than Dean with political experience, Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, dropped out of the race.

Candidate Bruce Casper does not appear to have a working telephone number or an e-mail address. He does have a website (http://brucecasper.lewisdt.net/) that describes him as “the homeless man that will defy the odds.”

Candidate Marvin Barnes, who had the bird flu, says he’s running on several issues but prefers to keep them to himself.

“I’ve had several things that have bothered me for several years,” he says. “I’m not going to go into detail.”

James Keeton, the candidate who describes himself as an ordinary citizen, has a website that provides details about his candidacy but isn’t doing a lot of campaigning.

Keeton says he has a master’s degree and experience as a teacher, working for a nonprofit and a local bank.

He responded to e-mailed questions but says he is not seeking the opportunity to debate Dean in public and is basing his campaign entirely on yard signs, his website, attending neighborhood meetings and “being available for questions and feedback.”

Keeton says he’s running to give people a choice and objects to the conventional wisdom that Dean is guaranteed a victory on Aug. 4.

“It’s not good for people to have a limited choice in their elections. Re-election should never be a settled issue,” he says.

Keeton says he believes Dean is mismanaging the city and focusing too much on downtown. He cites the city’s spending on “more stuff” and the controversy over privatizing the Fairgrounds.

“I believe that our current administration is allowing our infrastructure throughout the city – roads, traffic, sidewalks, signage, etc. – to deteriorate while spending an inordinate amount of time and resources on developing downtown.

“I am personally tired of bad roads, obsolete traffic signals, branches obscuring traffic signs and people walking in the roadway of busy roads because there are no sidewalks. I don’t see the current administration doing anything about any of these issues. Metro departments are slowly being strangled. Instead of being proactive, they are forced to be reactive and continue to do less with less people and resources.”

On the redevelopment of the Fairgrounds, he says: “Why do they continue to fixate on the Fairgrounds when it is abundantly plain that the majority of citizens want it to remain and be viable?”

Barnes, the candidate who won’t go into detail about the issue that led him to run for mayor, says he answers the telephone at his home when members of the public call but is not otherwise campaigning. He’s realistic about his chances of unseating Dean.

“It’s possible. It’s unlikely,” he says.

He has raised no funds but says that is not important.

“It’s not about money. It’s about knowing what needs to be done and taking action,” he says.

Barnes, who describes himself as “the little man,” believes people like him are being abused by Metro government. He reached that conclusion after being ordered to replace a septic system at his home. City officials told him there was no record of a permit being issued. Barnes says he’s a victim of bureaucratic bungling.

“I had to come out of pocket $5,000 for a septic system that was approved,” he says.

Barnes isn’t sure he knows enough about the issues to participate in a debate.

“Maybe. I’m not really a politician. Some of the questions I’d be asked I wouldn’t know about,” he says. “There are issues brought up to me that I haven’t had a clue about.”

Casper, the homeless candidate who wants to repeal drug laws, sprinkles his website with references to conservative scholars and appears to be affiliated with the Nashville Libertarian Party. His website says he makes a living selling The Contributor, Nashville’s street newspaper for the homeless.

His campaign has three themes: “Improve the outlook” for the homeless, “improve the climate” for the city’s gay and lesbian community, and “improve prospects” for people seeking jobs.

Casper is the first mayoral candidate to advocate doing away with drug laws.

“Some homeless have chemical dependencies. Current drug laws treat them like criminals when they are harming no one. Repealing drug laws would allow all individuals with chemical dependencies to be medically treated instead of tossed into jail,” Casper states on his website.

He wants to end “government force and coercion” against the homeless.

“Homeless individuals are not bad and are not criminals. Often homeless individuals like Bruce Casper will be arrested and convicted for criminal trespassing. They are getting cited for places that they are sleeping and they are not doing anything wrong, and Metro is arresting them because they are just sleeping. … Treating the poor and homeless like criminals is nothing short of discrimination,” his website says.

Metro government should not interfere with the rights of gay Nashvillians, Casper’s website adds.

“Bruce Casper says that he has been gay all of this life. As a part of Nashville’s gay and lesbian community, Bruce Casper is probably more informed on the issues facing this community in Nashville than any other candidate running for mayor. Bruce Casper recognizes that government has no legitimate purpose to interfere in personal relationships between consenting adults. Reducing the size, scope, and power of government is the best way to improve the climate for Davidson County’s gay and lesbian community,” the website states.

Casper’s third campaign theme is improving the prospects of the unemployed, which he believes are harmed by government spending on projects such as the Music City Center, Nashville’s new convention center under construction downtown.

“Bruce Casper wants … Nashville to have a vibrant and growing job market that will attract new businesses and abound with employment opportunities. History and a basic understanding of economics demonstrate that this will only happen with less government and more freedom.

“As mayor, Bruce Casper will work to reduce regulations and licensing requirements on businesses in the Nashville area. Reducing the size, scope, and power of government when it comes to employment-related issues will create job,” his website says.

Griffith, the Belmont professor, says third party and no-party candidates enter elections for a variety of reasons. The outcome can be beneficial.

“Some people like attention. Gary Coleman ran for governor of California,” says Griffith, referring to the star of the television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes.

“Some people want to make a statement, draw attention to a problem or an issue,” Griffith says. “I think it helps. If you don’t like something, run for office.”

That’s exactly what Nashville’s the three Brand X candidates are doing, in their own way.

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