Seema Singh: A new look on city council

Sandra ClarkOur Town Leaders

City politicians are starting to notice the City Council Movement. They should. The movement came from nowhere two years ago and now claims 20 percent of Knoxville City Council.

Organizer Amelia Parker won an at-large seat on the council in November. She ran in 2017 but literally tied with former state Rep. Harry Tindell for the second spot in District 4 – the council felt more comfortable with Tindell and put him on the ballot. It didn’t matter. Lauren Rider won.

But Seema Singh, a movement-endorsed candidate, won election from District 3 in 2017, replacing Brenda Palmer who was term-limited.

What are these folks about? Parker told a Sunday talk show that the City Council Movement organized to support candidates who will give voice to residents who have not had a voice on previous councils.

Singh puts it simply: “I’m just a very regular person who was never supposed to win. I was not groomed for office.”

During a late-night council meeting to discuss Recode Knoxville, Singh went off on two somewhat innocuous neighborhood activists – Carlene Malone and Larry Silverstein. Both were speaking in support of what they called “community standards.”

Singh seemed to hear “we don’t want affordable housing in our neighborhood.” She seemed to criticize Malone and Silverstein because they had taken time to study the zoning code and attend meetings.

“I want to address the needs of the people who don’t have the time or resources to get involved,” Singh said later.

Malone, a former council member, responded to Singh’s criticism by saying she could not be held responsible for those who did not attend the meetings. Finally, Singh cooled down – at least for that meeting.

Seema Singh (at far right) jokes with officials at a ribbon cutting for The Gardens on Lake Brook, a hospice wing at West Hills Rehabilitation Center.

But she is and will remain an advocate for the poor. “We have 25,000 poor white folks and 10,000 poor black folks – 35,000 people living in poverty in Knoxville,” she said. “It not a character deficiency. It’s a state of circumstances.”

Singh grew up in West Hills, moving here at age 10. She attended Bearden-area schools and now has her own daughter following the same path. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UT-Knoxville and coordinates a batterer’s intervention program through the Alternative Counseling Center.

Her background sets her up to be a traditional member of city council. But her skin tone sets her apart. “This is my home,” she says, but “after Sept. 11, 2001, things changed for people of color.” Non-European looking people are sometimes viewed with suspicion.

Meanwhile, Seema Singh brings high energy, a passion for the poor and under-served, and a different way of looking at life to the city council. And she’s got a tip for pronouncing her name. “Think of your mother singing. You say, ‘see ma sing.’ That’s me.”

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