Prospects good for female majority on city council

Sandra ClarkGossip and Lies

For years, Knoxville City Council functioned with few women. Remember Bernice O’Connor, torturing Mayor Randy Tyree by calling for a referendum on the World’s Fair? A referendum would have doomed the fair before it started.


How about Willie B. Hembree who got elected from the UT area and was the city’s first female vice mayor? Then came Jean Teague and Carlene Malone, Marilyn Roddy, Barbara Pelot and Brenda Palmer. Hattie Belle Love served one term, 1938-39. She’s the only one I never knew.

Then came term limits and the 2017 election brought four women onto the council: Seema Singh, Lauren Rider, Stephanie Welch and Gwen McKenzie. Madeline Rogero became the first female mayor in Tennessee’s big four cities, winning election in 2011.

The 2019 election should produce a female majority on the nine-member council. Women need to win only one seat for the majority. Three wins would put women up 7-2.

Andrew Roberto is the sole male holdover. He will be joined by either Charles Thomas or Charles Al-Bawi from District 5. The three at-large seats shape up like this:

  • Seat A – Lynne Fugate or Charles Lomax Jr.
  • Seat B – Janet Testerman or David Hayes
  • Seat C – Amy Midis, Amelia Parker, Hubert Smith, Bob Thomas or David Williams

Aug. 18, 2020, will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. To date, Knoxville has elected just 12 women to city council. By next August, the city council could have a female majority. And we’ll likely have men all over town saying it’s a shame the way those women are taking over.

Funny story: Back in 1976, the first women were elected to the old Knox County Quarterly Court (which became Knox County Commission). Mary Lou Horner and Bee DeSelm didn’t have a lot in common. But both were Republicans, and both had this writer as their campaign manager.

Soon, women reached a high-water mark on the Knox County Commission with six of 19 members: Horner, DeSelm, Rogero, Diane Jordan, Wanda Moody and Pat Medley. DeSelm and I strategized how to capture a majority – 11 seats. (Back then eight districts elected two commissioners and the district with the county seat elected three.)

We actively supported women in virtually every district: Connie Whitehead in District 8, Trula Mugford in District 9, Jen Schroeder in District 5 and probably a few more. Mike Ragsdale, then a commissioner and later county mayor, took Schroeder as an opponent personally, and he recruited an opponent for DeSelm.

We quickly switched from offense to defense and held onto DeSelm’s seat. In fact, she and Ragsdale both won. They later patched things up, I think. And I went on to earn an honest living, having failed at campaign management and my efforts some 40 years ago to secure a majority-female Knox County Commission.

The current 11-member commission has two women – Michele Carringer and Evelyn Gill.

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