Kincannon bid for mayor buoyed by neighbors, educators

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Fourth & Gill has long been a force in city politics, and mayoral candidate Indya Kincannon has lived in the neighborhood since 2001. From the looks of her first financial disclosure, her neighbors like her a lot.


Street names like Luttrell, Eleanor, Deery and Gratz dot the address lines of her Jan. 31 disclosure forms. She has contributors from other North Knoxville neighborhoods, too, and taken all together her disclosure is an impressive show of support from her part of town, even though the total – $50,756.65 – lags well behind the stashes accumulated by her major rivals, Marshall Stair ($175,249.88) and Eddie Mannis ($135,434.18).

“It’s enough,” said Kincannon, expressing confidence in her ability to compete in the nonpartisan city race, which has been a sweet spot for Democrats, who are vastly outnumbered outside the city limits and hold no countywide offices. (Kincannon has voted in more Democratic primaries than Stair, and Mannis has a solid record of choosing the GOP primary.)

She was pregnant with their elder daughter, Dahlia, when she and her husband, Ben Barton, came to Knoxville in 2001 from Arizona. Barton accepted a job to teach at the University of Tennessee College of Law, in part because the move would bring them closer to Kincannon’s parents in Virginia. She said they chose their neighborhood despite warnings from real estate professionals.

“All the Realtors said we had to live in West Knoxville because that’s where the only good schools are. We disregarded their advice and bought a home in Fourth & Gill. I was a new mom, staying home with the kids, but I’ve always had an interest in public policy and public service, so I started getting involved,” she said.

In 2004 she heard that District Two school board member Paul Kelley was going to retire from office, and she decided to get into the race, despite the recent arrival of their younger daughter, Georgia. She finished second in the primary by nine votes and worked from February to August to close the gap, getting considerable help from the late Rikki Hall, who was an adept number cruncher.

“I learned a lot about how to campaign more effectively,” she said. “You get a lot of advice – some more helpful than others … When I first ran, other people said, ‘She just moved here. She’s not really part of the community. How can we elect somebody like that?’”

She won despite causing a minor flap by nursing baby Georgia at a campaign event.

“People wanted vigorous representation, and I addressed their questions.”

Her North Knoxville neighbors elected and re-elected her three times from 2004 to 2014. She ran unopposed in her second and third races and served three years as chair.

But the latter years of her school board tenure were tumultuous. Teachers rebelled against Superintendent James McIntyre’s top-down, test-heavy management style and went public with their complaints, and Kincannon was a strong McIntyre supporter, although she is quick to point out that she opposed his efforts to outsource school custodians.

She gave up her school board seat in 2014 when Barton got a Fulbright grant to teach in Slovenia for a year. She taught in a school for international students there and says she and her family enjoyed the year abroad, but they were happy to get back to Knoxville.

She is an unabashed admirer of Mayor Madeline Rogero, who offered her a job soon after she returned from Slovenia.

Kincannon was Rogero’s special program manager for two and a half years. Her job description included serving as the city’s liaison to Knox County Schools, overseeing $1.2 million in grants to local nonprofits and making recommendations for board and commission appointments. She said she wants to continue Rogero’s policies.

“So many things are happening in this city – it’s an exciting time. We’re growing and changing, and I think I have the experience and the skill set to lead us through these changes in a positive way where nobody gets left behind.”

Kincannon has a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton and has worked in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Detroit, which she says has given her a broad perspective on how cities should work.

Her campaign could run into some opposition from teachers who became frustrated with her unswerving support of an increasingly unpopular superintendent, but several teachers’ names appear on her financial disclosure form, including state Rep. Gloria Johnson and former state senate candidate Cheri Siler.

“Any time someone serves in office, they are on the record making all kinds of decisions,” Kincannon said. “One thing I learned is there’s no way to please everybody, but that’s the nature of any endeavor, so you should try to do what’s best for the people of your district. I’m really proud of what we accomplished on the school board as a whole.”

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