The third district City Council race hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity, probably because there’s very little drama between candidates James Corcoran and Seema Singh Perez, who are running to fill the seat being vacated by incumbent Brenda Palmer and have entered into an informal pact not to badmouth each other.
It’s a race between two nice people running for office in times that have turned mean.
For example: First-time candidate Perez was born in India, but grew up in Knoxville and has been an American citizen since she was 13. A Bearden High School graduate who holds degrees in religious studies and psychology from the University of Tennessee, she is a therapist and program coordinator of the Batterers Intervention Program at the Alternative Counseling Center, where she and her parents, therapists Saroj Chand and Colvin Idol, work with clients who have been assigned by the courts.
Perez was dressed in colorful Indian garb one recent afternoon when she was leaving her office after work. A passing car made a quick U-turn and came screeching into the clinic parking lot, the driver screaming epithets – “Go back where you came from!” “Terrorist!” “Mrs. Isis!”
“I can’t even remember all the things they called me,” she said.
Corcoran, who made his political debut last year by finishing third in a heated, four-way Republican primary contest for the District 18 House seat, is a lawyer who represents parents and children in juvenile court. His wife, Anna, is also a lawyer, and they are in practice together. He said he hopes he’s not going to be defined by last year’s race.
That’s probably hoping for too much, given the circus atmosphere surrounding that contest. Incumbent Martin Daniel set the stage with months of bullying University of Tennessee and Knox County Schools administrators about issues involving sex and race, and upped the ante with an ugly tweet about the death of Muhammad Ali. He capped it off by shoving opponent Steve Hall after Hall called him a liar during a radio talk show appearance attended by all four candidates.
Corcoran finished a close third (856 votes). Hall (965 votes) had held the seat before Daniel defeated him in 2014 and took out an assault warrant against Daniel (1,315 votes). Bryan Dodson got 252 votes.
Through it all, Corcoran was the nicest guy in the room.
But the perception of the House race isn’t what Corcoran expected, he said. Out on the campaign trail this year, he’s been surprised by people who have told him they voted for Daniel because of the physical confrontation, not in spite of it.
“Maybe Steve Hall had some baggage, but that’s just a guess,” Corcoran said. “Martin was able to successfully spin it as, “He was the fighter.” I heard it often enough that I was surprised, although maybe I shouldn’t have been, given everything that’s going on in politics today. But I believe I ran that race with character and the votes I got I came by honestly.”
City council races are non-partisan, and the state’s four largest cities traditionally tend to prefer Democrats. Although most candidates lean one way or another, many who run in city races are reluctant to wear traditional party labels.
The third district candidates are an exception.
Corcoran, who finished first in a four-way District 3 primary with 377 votes, is a Republican who serves on the county Board of Zoning Appeals. He talks a lot about fiscal responsibility and planning. He worries about the devastating effects of the drug epidemic that he sees in court daily and steers clear of hot button issues like immigration. He and wife Anna are the parents of twins, Elsa and Jimmy, who are about to turn 3 years old.
Perez got 199 primary votes and is a Democrat who isn’t very happy with the two-party system. She helped her husband, Eddie Perez, found a small business, Sitara Electric, which is named for their 13-year-old daughter. She started thinking about running for office some time ago and was concerned about the political climate before last year’s elections.
“It was in my brain,” she said. “I was concerned about the fed government not representing people like me – women, lower socio-economic groups, immigrants – and it inspired me to stand up. I was having this feeling that a lot of people do, that the government was separate – that there’s certain types of people who are government, and I had this realization that I could be government and affect change.”
Perez counts Mayor Rogero as a role model.
“I am progressive, but not radical. I see the city as an ecosystem where everybody needs to be lifted, and I plan on representing every resident.”