By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
October 9, 2009
METRO POLITICS; A SPARK; INSIDE POLITICS: AFTER EIGHT YEARS, WHAT NOW?; SURPRISE; OBAMA LOSING THE PR/MESSAGE WAR
It's been another strange few days in Metro politics.
Let's begin with Councilman Eric Crafton, who is at it again trying to change the Metro Charter. This time he wants to force a public vote on the new Music City Convention Center or any other large project the city plans to do in the future.
I am not sure Councilman Crafton is the best pick for this job. Has he forgotten what happened to him politically the last time he tried to change the city's constitution (English Only) earlier this year? While support for the convention center project may not be quite as strong as it was a few months back, I find it very hard to believe that two-thirds of the Council (27 members) will vote to put Crafton's measure on the ballot in a special election early next year. That Council vote is set for October 20.
Of course, Councilman Crafton could try another petition drive like he did to get English First proposal before the voters. But the number of signatures needed will be a lot higher this time, since it would be based on 10% of those who voted in the presidential election last November (which is a big number).
Besides even if the matter somehow got on the ballot and was approved by voters, it is highly likely the convention center project will have either already be voted through the Council or (less likely) the project will have fallen apart because of financing issues or over the size of the hotel and the exhibition hall (which Gaylord Opryland is trying to downsize, as a part of ongoing negotiations with the administration of Mayor Karl Dean).
This effort to change the Metro charter is just another Don Quixote episode for Crafton, one that THE TENNESSEAN reports (10/9) could cost taxpayers a half-million dollars to hold the two special elections it might require.
More interesting to watch is to see if the Nashville's Priorities group (formed to raise questions about the new convention center, and funded in part by Gaylord) can get any traction with the public. The group has begun a print advertising campaign in at least one group of weekly newspapers (THE GREEN HILLS NEWS) raising its concerns and seeking support.
For a few moments last Thursday (10/8) it looked the group's efforts were succeeding more than they could have probably dreamed. THE TENNESSEAN's political blog site reported it had found Metro General Services Director Nancy Whittemore's name listed as a friend on Nashville's Priorities' Facebook page. Oops! Within an hour, says the blog, Whittemore's name was gone. She told the blog she was confused and asked Metro IT's help to remove her name. No word on how she removed the egg on her face. J
Meantime, the new Metro authority created to build and operate the new Convention Center (if the Council approves a funding plan before the end of the year) has its 9 members selected and approved. As we suspected, after some council members complained about process and procedure issues, all the mayor's nominees were confirmed. Now comes the really hard part for the new Authority: getting itself organized and hiring staff so they are ready when and if the Council gives the final OK. And there won't be any time for them to waste if the new Center and Hotel is to be constructed and ready to open (at the same time) in late 2013 when the first conventions are already booked to be there.
ALL'S FAIR...NOT ANYMORE
A couple of weeks ago in this column I said the future of the Tennessee State Fair and the Fairgrounds property out in South Nashville was up in the air.
Well, not anymore.
Even before this year's soggy Fair event was over, and even before the Metro Fair Board (which, by the way, is supposed to run the Fairgrounds) could hold a meeting and vote, Mayor Karl Dean summarily announced to the media that the Fair was history after over 100 years of operations. He also announced on his own that Metro would be looking to sell the Fairgrounds property, to try and spark an as yet unknown redevelopment effort to bring new housing and retail to the Vine Hill area (kudos to Michael Cass and THE TENNESSEAN for getting the scoop).
And so, after the mayor's comments, it was left to the Fair Board to administer the final rites to the Fairgrounds, voting at its meeting, despite the protests of over 200 vendors and other folks present, to kill the Fair and close the Fairgrounds effective June 30 of next year.
The demise of the Fair is really not that much of a shock. It's never really been the same since the great fire of 1965 destroyed many of its historic exhibit halls. And Nashville's entertainment culture has also changed a lot over the years. First, there was Opryland, which made the year-round Fair Park amusement park at the Fairgrounds seem rather quaint and outmoded. Now, even with Opryland gone, there are so many other activities (including fairs in other outlying communities) for folks to attend and enjoy, that the State Fair just never came back, despite several valiant efforts to revive it.
I feel particularly sorry for Buck Dozier, the current and apparently last Fair Director. The former Fire Chief, Metro Councilman At-Large and mayoral candidate really tried hard to turn the Fair around, and if it wasn't for this year's washout, he might have had a case to make (with record attendance) to keep the Fair around a while longer.
That's not going to happen now, even though there do seem to be a lot of Fairgrounds vendors and tenants who are quite upset and very unsure about their future. Events like the annual Christmas Village, the monthly Flea Market and the guns shows held at the Fairgrounds probably do generate and make some money for Metro, both in terms of rent and sales taxes. To more or less shut them down with no firm plans for an alternative place for them to operate in Davidson County to me seems rather short-sighted and unnecessary, especially with no redevelopment plan for the Fairgrounds in place either.
I think there's one other issue of public perception to watch. Many of the activities at the Fairgrounds attract a more blue-collar/working class audience. This is particularly true compared to the new football stadium and the arena our community has built in recent years, or the new convention center and hotel on which the city is hoping to spend nearly $900 million to attract more tourists and conventions to Nashville.
Much like the Fairgrounds, none of these civic amenities will ever make any money. Frankly, most civic leaders just hope these facilities can pay off their debt and maybe cover most of their operating expenses (although we've been subsidizing the Arena and the Municipal Auditorium for years and we may soon impose a new seat tax to pay for improvements to the stadium).
In contrast, for years, the Fairgrounds has paid its own way, both for operating and capital costs, without any taxpayer assistance. Now when it is almost broke, no one in the city seems ready to step up and support it at all. It's not just Mayor Dean. Have you heard anyone in the Metro Council, even the district councilmember who represents the Fairgrounds area, say one word about this matter in the media since the Mayor spoke out about shutting down the Fair and closing the Fairgrounds? Me neither.
Nashville's priorities, indeed
By the way do you think Mayor Dean was in a hurry about all this Fairgrounds stuff because he knew that the city was about to get busted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York concerning firearms sales at the gun shows at the Fairgrounds: guns which then wind up being used illegally to commit crimes in NYC? No, probably not. Just thought I raise the idea as a shot in the dark. J
Congratulations to Jamie Sarrio of THE TENNESSEAN for the wonderful investigative story (10/4) she did about the blatant abuse of credit cards by Metro school officials to the tune of more than $22 million dollars over the last few years. What were they thinking? And who's been minding the store? I sure hope new Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register can quickly come up with the appropriate safeguards and policies and procedures to bring this practice under control.
The Metro school system has enough serious problems to deal with in terms of its public perception. The misuse of credit cards definitely does not need to be or stay on that list.
MAYBE NOT TOWN AGAIN
After years of controversy and political wrangling, the massive May Town Center to develop the largely agricultural Bells Bend area of Davidson County has apparently died....again.
The obituary was a brief letter of a single sentence from developer Tony Giarratana to the Metro Planning Commission. Giarrantana said he was withdrawing his request to have the project (now downsized) re-considered by the Commission. In the letter, Giarratana also complained about the ground rules the Metro Legal Department was setting up for the reconsideration vote. Metro Legal said it would take a motion and a second from commissioners who voted against the plan to get it back up for reconsideration. Obviously, Giarranta disagreed.....and obviously, he didn't have the votes.
End of story. End of development. Maybe this time forever
The 2010 Tennessee governor's race has been rather routine (and a little boring) lately. That's not necessarily a criticism. This is the time when candidates build their campaign by identifying their supporters, honing their messages and raising a lot of money. They aren't looking for controversy.
But occasionally that happens. Ask Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, who many consider a front-runner in the race. He told a blogger that he is against gay persons or gay couples being allowed to adopt children in the state of Tennessee, that "parents of the opposite sex are better for adoption to raise a child". Added McWherter spokesperson Mike Kopp in an interview with Jeff Woods of THE SCENE: "If push came to shove specifically when it came to a ban, yes, he would be supportive of a ban."
Not surprisingly, all hell is breaking loose, especially among the more progressive elements of the blogosphere and the Democratic Party.
And that's the problem for McWherter, the son of former governor Ned McWherter. His position, which is "honest and heartfelt" says Mike Kopp, will find support among some in the general electorate and many in the Republican party. But McWherter is running (and must first win) the primary election in the Democratic Party. His position on this controversial matter is not likely to help him, although so far (mid-Friday afternoon) only one of his primary opponents (Ward Cammack) has issued any criticism of him. Maybe the other Democratic candidates don't want to talk about it or are a bit slow on the reaction switch?
While not backing off his statement or saying he was misquoted, McWherter has tried to soften his stance a bit by saying as governor he would not seek to enact such anti-gay adoption legislation in Tennessee. Somehow among the folks he's made very mad, I don't think that will help much.
However, it sure has brought a brief spark to the upcoming gubernatorial campaign.
It's been 8 years since this country invaded Afghanistan. We did it to throw out the Taliban government there which was harboring and training the Al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us on September 11, 2001.
For a while, things seemed to go very well. We threw out the Taliban, killed and captured some terrorists (although not Osama Bin Laden) and helped set up our own sympathetic native government. But while we were distracted for the next several years in Iraq, whatever we gained in Afghanistan faded away.
Now the Taliban is resurgent, the terrorists may be coming back, and the native government has turned out to be inept and quite corrupt (even trying to steal the most recent national elections).
After this 8-year commitment of time, treasure and blood where are we? And where do we want to go? Can we keep our commitment when the public is increasingly opposed to this war and doesn't understand what we can accomplish or how we can win or find an exit strategy? And what about neighboring Pakistan? Or Iraq?
That's what we will discuss this week on INSIDE POLITICS with Vanderbilt professor and senior political science lecturer Klint Alexander. Alexander, who is also an attorney with Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs here in Nashville, specializes in International Politics & Law, International Political Economy and Constitutional Law. He also has a new book out entitled "Terrorism and Global Insecurity: A Multidisciplinary Perspective."
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Just two weeks after President Obama suffered the international embarrassment of Chicago losing its effort to host the 2016 Olympics, something which Mr. Obama worked hard to make happen in ways unprecedented for a U.S. President, the international community (through the Nobel Prize process) selects our new leader to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the world's highest honors.
Nobody saw it coming. And because nominations were due in long before the Olympics results were known, the honor isn't related at all to what happened to Chicago, except by the coincidence of how the calendar fell.
Clearly it also wasn't done because of President Obama's achievements. He hasn't been in office long enough to achieve much, especially in the area of foreign affairs where progress is often measured in years and decades, and almost never in weeks or months.
However, perhaps President Obama has done at least one thing that is so important to the international community that it wanted to send a message in the strongest way it could (the Nobel Peace Prize) to show it approves.
President Obama see foreign affairs as more of a collaborative effort among nations, not unilateral as was often the case under the previous administration of President George W. Bush. So President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize award is not about what he's done, but rather about the new style of diplomacy he seems ready to participate in for all counties to work together for peace.
How this award will look in the future is frankly hard to know. America's best strategic interests may not always be the same as the rest of the world or even our allies. But for now at least, the awards speaks strongly that the rest of the world likes the President's new direction in foreign policy.
But, in a way, how ironic that this award for peace was announced at a time when the President is calculating how to best wage one of the two wars America remains embroiled in overseas. Again, it's an accident of the calendar, but it's also another sign of how complicated and sometimes contradictory international affairs can be.
THE PR/MESSAGE GAME
He was so good at it during his presidential election campaign last year.
That's why it is so stunning to see President Obama consistently losing the PR/message war on so many of the key issues he faces in the White House.
And he may be about to lose it again on the Afghanistan issue as he and his advisors hold up in Washington trying to figure what their strategy is going forward. While surely it is important to decide strategy before troop levels, the President also needs to make sure he appears to be his own man, not indecisive or torn between his conflicted advisors. And if people think he is basing policy decisions based on what best-selling books about the Vietnam wars he and his key aides are reading (as was speculated about in a WALL STREET JOURNAL article (10/7), how can that install confidence in anyone's leadership?
Already, the President is being made fun of on some late night comedy shows for being indecisive and getting nothing done on Iraq, Guatanamo, health care reform and other issues. That criticism is also aiding those on the left who believe what has actually happened is that Mr. Obama is going back on his campaign promises.
They will probably say that again if the President decides to send more troops to Afghanistan. And while the President has been smart enough to cut the Republicans off at the pass, by saying a troop withdrawal is not on the table, will having Republican support on this really help the President that much? And how much will he be hurt if he denies the troop request? He's already sent 20,000 more troops a few months ago, but you know if he doesn't send more he will be attacked as being soft, indecisive and leaving our troops at risk despite the best recommendations of our generals in the field. Is there some way to find a compromise acceptable to his generals and his political allies on this? Good luck.
The GOP, so far, has clearly won the PR/message war on several controversial topics including health care reform, and they appear to be well ahead in winning over public opinion on the pending cap and trade energy/climate-change legislation. And then there's the biggest problem of all, I think, for the President.
The one major legislative victory he has achieved has been approval of his massive stimulus plan. Yet a new survey by New American Media indicates "most Americans, including ethnic communities are unaware of the benefits of the $787 billion stimulus package. " The Administration is already under the gun because it promised unemployment would never go above 8% or so if the stimulus was approved. Unemployment is now just a touch below 10% and expected to go still higher. The truth is the stimulus probably did keep matters from being even worse than they are (unemployment well up into the double-digits). But without any public appreciation of that fact, what does the Administration do now? Try for a second stimulus package? I don't think so. Extend unemployment benefits? Probably, but what will 13-20 extra weeks really do in the long run? Not much, except buy some time.
In fairness, there are some indications that the Obama administration is trying to win back some public momentum on the health care reform issue. There have been several media reports in recent days (including NPR and THE WASHINGTON POST) that the administration is behind efforts to orchestrate statements of public support for health care reform from prominent Republicans such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bush Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
And there apparently are some former Tennessee Republican leaders involved in this effort, including former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker and Bill; Frist. Frist is set to be my guest on INSIDE POLITICS next week (October 16-18). He is promoting a new book, but I plan to ask him more about where he stands. He was quoted by TIME Magazine as saying he would likely vote for health care reform if he were still in office, but then in later interviews he seemed to be backing off that statement.
You will notice none of the GOP folks coming out in support of doing something now to reform health care have a vote about it in the Congress. Former Senator Frist, in fact, told THE TENNESSEAN (October 10) "in all likelihood" he is through running for public office. Still, clearly the hope of the Obama administration is that all this will help create an atmosphere where a bi-partisan compromise on a final health care bill is at least possible.
I wouldn't count on it so far. Both of Tennessee's current Republican Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker continue to issue strong statements in opposition to almost all the major current health care bills pending on the Hill.
But however health care reform turns out, here's the political kicker. You can forget foreign wars, forget health care, forget climate change, if unemployment is still way up come election time next November it is going to be a very bad year for incumbents, especially Democrats in the mid-term elections. Unemployment may be a lagging indicator that the economy is improving, but it is a leading indicator of big trouble if the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership can't figure out and sell a strategy to start turning things around in terms of unemployment by this time next year.