This year, direct mail wizard Lynn Redmon is advising a couple or three City Council candidates. He’s been involved in local political races (sometimes for pay, frequently as a volunteer) ever since he helped Wanda Moody get elected to County Commission in 1984 and has worked so many races that he can’t remember them all.
But there’s one that stands out:
“The Danny Mayfield City Council race in 1997. We had zero money, and it was totally ridiculous and impossible when we started, but after the primary, something clicked, and people who wouldn’t give us the time of day before started coming to us saying, ‘I like this guy.’”
It took two phone calls to find out that Redmon’s not alone.
There’s Mike Chase, the Copper Cellar founder/CEO who’d been doing battle with the Victor Ashe administration to protect his flagship restaurant, Calhoun’s on the River, from being swallowed up by city’s massive waterfront project. Candidates covet Chase’s endorsement because they know he puts his money where his mouth is. He put Mayfield’s name on a billboard atop Chesapeake’s, his downtown seafood place, and took charge of placing Mayfield’s spectacular TV ad (perhaps the first ever in a City Council race) in the middle of the Southeastern Conference football game that would determine whether the Vols got to play for a championship. When he heard Redmon’s assessment of the Mayfield race, he enthusiastically concurred.
“No doubt about it. I had more fun helping Danny than any other race I’ve been involved in,” he said. “We beat the system!”
The other call was to another public figure that’d done battle with the city, Tim Burchett, who was in short pants when he started volunteering in campaigns. He said the Mayfield race was the most fun he’s ever had in politics – in part because his mom and dad, Joyce and Charlie Burchett, got so involved. (Joyce Burchett had taught math to both Danny and his wife, Melissa, at Knoxville College).
“I had to be in Nashville on election night, so I asked Mama to message me on my pager when the returns came in – one if we won, zero if we lost. When the pager went off, I looked down and there was a whole row of ones, all the way across. I was so excited that I flew down the road back to Knoxville and stayed up most of the night watching TV news reruns. Mama was as excited as I was. It’s a good memory.”
Mayfield was a 28-year-old Knoxville College graduate and co-founder of Tribe One, a street ministry that aspired to combat street violence with big doses of religion, education and tough love. Soft-spoken and charismatic with a beautiful family, he finished a distant second in the primary to incumbent Bill Powell, who enjoyed the robust support of Victor Ashe, the longest-serving mayor this city will ever see, thanks to the introduction of term limits.
1997 was a terrible year in Knoxville, particularly for the African American community. Two black men with mental health issues, Juan Daniels and James Woodfin, were shot to death during avoidable confrontations with the Knoxville Police Department. A third, Andre Stenson, would die in police hands in January 1998. The town was a tinderbox. Mayfield pushed for reform. Powell defended the status quo.
“Bill Powell was a very nice man who got some very bad advice,” Redmon said. “Victor had squeezed all the oxygen out of the town. Nothing happened without his approval and there was very little room for new ideas if they didn’t come from the mayor’s office. It wasn’t that we hated Bill Powell, but Danny had a message of hope that caught on citywide.”
The path to victory took some interesting turns. One “now it can be told” incident happened when the Mayfield campaign got wind that the News Sentinel (which backed Powell), was going to run a massive endorsement ad the Sunday before the election.
“Usually when you do a thing like that, you get letters of confirmation from everybody in the ad,” Redmon said. “We realized they weren’t doing that, and ‘someone’ created a letter to Editor Harry Moskos marked ‘Page 1 of 2,’ that said, ‘Dear Sir, it has come to my attention that my ex-husband has used my name on an endorsement for a political candidate. I absolutely do not give my … Cont. on Page 2’ There was no Page 2.
“I asked a friend to take it to Kinkos and send it to the News Sentinel just to see if we could throw them off their game. The ad ran anyway, but the next day, I got a call from (a reporter) who said, ‘Lynn, we’re having a problem. We got page one of a fax, but the other page didn’t come through.’ He asked me if I’d sent the fax.
“I could honestly say I did not send that fax,” Redmon said, grinning broadly. “A friend did.
“I could hear people yelling at each other in the office, so I asked to talk to Harry to see if we can get this straightened out. (The reporter) came back to the phone and said Harry asked why the hell would he want to talk to anyone from the Mayfield campaign when Danny wouldn’t even come by and ask for their endorsement.”
The confusion deepened when several endorsers complained that their names were used without permission.
“The News Sentinel ended up violating their rule of no campaign news on Election Day with a story explaining the trouble they were having,” Redmon said.
Even Victor Ashe professes admiration for the Mayfield campaign:
“It was brilliant,” he said, “And I have no hard feelings. Danny and I were able to bury the hatchet before he died.”
And that’s the hard landing. Before his term was over, Mayfield was diagnosed with bone cancer, a disease he’d beaten as a child. He kept on working, and in typical optimistic fashion predicted another “grand-slam, homerun victory,” just as he had done in 1997.
But this time he couldn’t make it happen, and he died in March 2001.
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