Cliff Rodgers could feel it in his bones. With 30 candidates running in a low-turnout City Council election, he had a premonition that one of those contests would end in a tie – the administrator of the Knox County Election Commission just didn’t know which one.
“We planned for it. I predicted it. Now City Council has to figure out what to do,” Rodgers said. District 4 runs from Old North Knoxville and Fourth & Gill on its south end to Fountain City on its northern extreme and eastward through North Hills, Alice Bell/East Towne and Holston Hills. The top two finishers in each district will face off in the citywide general election Nov. 7.
“It” is the deadlock between candidates Harry Tindell and Amelia Parker, who tied for second place in District 4 with 488 votes, or 23.89 percent of the total votes cast. Tindell and Parker finished behind frontrunner Lauren Rider, who rang up 889 votes – 44.51 percent of the total vote.
Rodgers said he notified Law Director Charles Swanson of the looming prospect of a tie vote several weeks ago.
“I wanted him to be prepared because under state law, the governing body of the municipality will have to decide it. City Council is the tiebreaker.”
The law Rodgers is citing governs city primaries, which are non-partisan (deadlocked partisan primaries are decided by political parties).
“The municipal legislative body shall cast the deciding vote for municipal offices, or, in the alternative, the legislative body may by resolution call for a run-off election between the tied candidates.”
Time is of the essence, so expect a called meeting soon.
Whatever happens in the coming days, Parker’s tie for second place with the better-known Tindell, a respected 22-year state legislator who was generally re-elected with double-digit margins, has to be considered a major political upset, even though she’s hardly an unknown. Parker, who holds two law degrees, has been very visible in recent months in various social justice movements, including Black Lives Matter and the Coalition to Stop School Pushout, which works to end the school-to-prison pipeline. She has gained respect as a tireless and talented campaigner.
Citywide, the winners will be more progressive and decidedly more female when the five new members take their seats.
District 6: With its field of 13 candidates, subtext of racial tensions spawned by changing demographics and extra-low voter turnout in the traditional black wards – was where Rodgers had expected to encounter the most drama.
And indeed, the top two finishers – African American Gwen McKenzie (a business executive who is married to former County Commissioner Sam McKenzie) and Jennifer Montgomery (a Realtor who is white) – were neck-and-neck all night. In the end, McKenzie finished with a 314-244 (22.24 percent to 17.28) margin. The two will go head-to-head in the general election.
District 1: Stephanie Welch, vice president of the Great Schools Partnership, led the field in this South Knox district and rolled up the night’s most impressive percentage – 64.25 percent (487 total votes). The second place finisher was Rebecca Parr, who has worked as stage manager for the Knoxville Opera and production manager for UT’s School of Music Opera Theater, finished with 127 votes (16.75 percent). This means that at least two women (and maybe more) will be elected in November.
District 2: Lawyer Andrew Roberto, who resigned from a seat on the election commission to run for City Council, came in first in this West Knox district with 807 votes (or 39.16 percent). He will meet retired youth sports administrator Wayne Christensen (619 total, or 30.03 percent) in November.
District 3: A lawyer finished first here as well. James Corcoran secured his spot in the general election with 377 votes (47.60 percent) and will face Seema Singh Perez, who got 199 votes for 25.13 percent of the total. Incumbent Brenda Palmer is the only female council member, and will be term limited out of office this year.
And finally, a Republican effort to promote GOP-leaning candidates in this non-partisan election did not fare well. The only victories it can claim are Corcoran and Christensen. Sixth District Republican Michael Covington, who also ran unsuccessfully for County Commission last year, was probably the biggest GOP disappointment.
Rodgers, who has been extremely vocal in urging city voters to participate in this election, is showing frustration at the turnout.
“I’ve been saying one vote’s going to decide one of the races; I just didn’t think it would be the fourth district. When you have a tie vote, you just keep preaching. Sometimes you just have to hit the voters right between the eyes and say, ‘Hey, this could happen.’
“But we didn’t even hit 10 percent.”