Nearly a hundred people turned out for the mayoral candidate forum hosted by Town Hall East on May 13 at Eastminster Presbyterian Church.
Candidates Fletcher Burkhardt, Indya Kincannon, Marshall Stair and Eddie Mannis, after giving introductory statements, addressed in turn three previously announced topics of interest: how they would address challenges with city finances, how they would handle Magnolia Corridor construction and potential improvements at Chilhowee Park, and how the city might incentivize rejuvenation of the East Towne Mall properties.
Attendees later asked questions about needed city involvement in East Knoxville school issues, attracting jobs and tax revenue, increasing KAT bus service, the timing of the Recode Knoxville process, affordable housing and how to address the homeless population.
We have interesting candidates. For the most part, their answers were articulate but quite general, with lots of echoes in approach and plenty of motherhood and apple pie to go around. In fairness, the format gave little time to elaborate on issues. I found it hard to criticize any of their general objectives or community values, but the potential costs and realistic ways to pay for them were not seriously addressed.
Some things that stood out to me, in this early round of talking points, were the impressions the candidates made.
- Burkhardt stresses he would spend more energy promoting Knoxville as a destination for tourists and business location. That would raise revenue and create job opportunities for city residents. I found his long beard and man bun a bit of a distraction.
- Kincannon touted her 10 years of school-board experience and her desire to continue Mayor Rogero’s affordable-housing and urban-renewal initiatives. She has a planning degree and worked in the Rogero administration for some three years before deciding to run.
- Stair is a practicing attorney who touted changes the city made during his eight years on city council. He wants to improve KAT service and continue the momentum Knoxville has been making: “We have the wind at our back.”
- Mannis has hands-on managerial experience, serving as the city’s chief operating officer under Rogero and building from scratch his now-established dry-cleaning business. He appears to be the only candidate with significant hands-on business experience.
We will need to pay close attention as the mayoral race heats up. Details matter. At the end of the day, one of these candidates will be chosen to steer our city with its $300 million budget for the next four years.
(Note: John Bevil, Michael D. Chase and Calvin Taylor Skinner have picked up petitions to run for mayor but did not attend Monday’s meeting.)
Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer and former Knoxville City Council member.