Campaign season begins anew; conversations will be different 

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Updated 12:31 p.m.

The city’s primary elections are over, but it’s 90 degrees outside and November seems far away. Just below the surface, however, the general election push for mayor and four Knoxville City Council seats is starting to simmer. Voters will be hearing about issues that didn’t come up much during the long primary season.

Starkest among these was the police-involved shooting of an unarmed man the night before the primary election. The facts are still murky – a Knoxville Police Department spokesperson referred to the deceased man as a suspect and said the officer had been injured in the struggle; angry community members came to city council on election night accusing KPD of murder. This will inevitably become part of the conversation during the upcoming campaign, perhaps dwarfing differences in opinion over relocating KPD’s administrative offices on the former St. Mary’s property in North Knoxville.

The creation of a new Facebook group called “Educators for Eddie Mannis” probably signals the beginning of another new conversation. The group had attracted 130 members by Thursday afternoon. Its membership is mostly teachers and education activists with a few politicos thrown in, and it was started on Monday with an upbeat, positive message from candidate Mannis’s sister, West Hills Elementary School second grade teacher Leanne Mannis Alleman:

“OK, fellow educators … now it is time to build this group and get the word out about Eddie Mannis. I can tell you now that he is the best candidate to support teachers. I know first-hand that he invested over $100,000 in Project Classroom (a Prestige grant program that directed money to specific schools) that went directly into our classrooms. Please invite fellow educators to join our group….”

It’s a sunny message, but since we’re talking political inevitabilities, the formation of an educators group supporting Mannis can hardly be interpreted as anything but a rebuke of Mannis’ opponent Indya Kincannon, whose major political credential is having served 10 years on the school board, including three years as chair. She was a strong supporter of former Superintendent James McIntyre, whose manner and methods alienated large groups of teachers and parents and triggered protests that made national news.

Another controversy that’s been brewing for a while heated back up a week after the primary, on Sept. 3, when Mayor Madeline Rogero probably kicked over a hornets’ nest by notifying the president of the Parkridge Community Organization that the city is going ahead with a plan to allow permanent supportive housing for the homeless in an open space parcel on Fifth Avenue adjacent to Caswell Park that some residents wanted to use as a community garden. Parkridge is chock-full of politically active citizens who don’t mind mixing it up with the powers that be. Don’t look for them to acquiesce quietly.

And speaking of issues that have been back-burnered, how about the fact that no African American has ever won a citywide race, except in East Knoxville’s sixth district? Historian Bob Booker has been watching those elections for years:

“No black person had been elected to city council since 1912, until 1969 when they organized the sixth district so that a black person could possibly be elected, and Theotis Robinson won.”

Booker, who was a state legislator and ran for mayor in 1971, said he is watching this year’s at-large races closely, since three African American candidates (Charles Lomas, David Hayes and Amelia Parker) will be in the general election in November. The only one of the three with whom he is personally acquainted is Lomax, whom he watched grow up at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

“He is a very sharp fellow, and I support him; but I’m skeptical of his chances,” Booker said.

(Lomax will be pitted against West Knoxvillian Lynne Fugate, who is funded by the usual cohort of high rollers who often control local politics).

City Council candidate Amelia Parker at the Time Warp Tea Room.

Booker is more optimistic about the chances of Parker, who has impressed him as a candidate. She led the ticket of five primary candidates for at-large Seat C.

“I’m amazed at the votes Amelia got. To be able to do that well is very interesting.”

Finally, he says he wishes that Knoxville’s African American community would turn out to vote in larger numbers.

“We just never do,” he said “We haven’t had a good turnout in our community since 1951, when we had three very popular black candidates – W.T. Crutcher, the Rev. L.A. Alexander, who ran for city council, and James Beck (for whom the Beck Cultural Center is named) for school board. George Dempster was on the ballot for mayor that year, and black folks truly loved him. He established a fire hall on East Clinch and hired the first black firemen since 1880.”

None of the African American candidates won. But Booker keeps on hoping.

“If anybody can win a citywide seat, Amelia might be it. I’m still skeptical, but she could be the first black person to win a citywide election in Knoxville.”

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