City Council in black and white

Sandra ClarkUncategorized

Race is an issue in the Knoxville City Council election in November. For the first time in 50 years, the city could be without an African-American on the council. WATE’s Tennessee This Week tackled the issue on Sunday. Kudos to host Kristin Farley for the topic and the pundits panel, which was strengthened by the addition of Deborah Porter, president of the local NAACP.


Primary voters in District 6 sifted through 13 candidates to produce run-off candidates for the citywide Nov. 7 general election. Jennifer Montgomery is a white female; Gwen McKenzie a black female.

The district has been represented by a black male for 50 years and was drawn specifically to give African-Americans a majority or near-majority district.

Montgomery said she is excited about representing everyone. “The issue is: what is the plan and what is the action?”

A Realtor who lives in the Parkridge neighborhood and intentionally opened her business on Magnolia Avenue, Montgomery wants to help start-up businesses and she suggested extending the property tax freeze that’s available for qualified seniors in the county to city residents as well.

McKenzie grew up in East Knoxville after moving with her family when her dad became executive director of the local Urban League. Her mom was a teacher. “I grew up in a family of advocacy and civil rights.” She has worked 15 years for CVS Health and serves on the Urban League board and the Knoxville Airport Authority. Husband Sam McKenzie served two terms on Knox County Commission.

“I embrace diversity; I connect with all people,” she says. But she suggests an all-white city council could negatively impact business recruitment: “As we bring in corporations and people from outside the community, we have to ask, is our local government representative of the diversity that is in our city?”

“Will race be an issue?” Farley asked panelists George Korda, Craig Griffith and Porter.

“Yes, both spoken and unspoken throughout the campaign,” said Korda.

“Yes, an all-white council is not representative of Knoxville,” said Porter. “And this is not a color-blind society.”

“Yes, it’s not a perfect world and housing patterns have concentrated African-Americans in the sixth district,” said Griffith. He recalled efforts by the Ashe administration to recruit African-Americans to the police force. “To lose that voice on council would be a problem.”

How to resolve the tie for second place in District 4:

Griffith: Coin flip, since we don’t have time for a special election.

Porter: Flip a coin.

Korda: If it goes to a city council vote, I would not want to be Harry Tindell. They will vote for the minority (candidate Amelia Parker).

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