The ‘talk’ has it a three-person race

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Predicting a Knoxville mayoral election is often a slam-dunk. But this time around there are three major candidates, and in the next two months two of them will likely proceed to the general election. The question is, which two?

The slam-dunks usually involve an incumbent. Victor Ashe year after year. The re-election efforts of Bill Haslam and Madeline Rogero. The Haslam/Rogero race in 2003 was much closer than anyone expected. Haslam, with four times the money, won with only 53 percent. After Haslam’s two terms, Rogero got a shade under 50 percent in the primary and beat Mark Padgett to become the first woman mayor of one of the Big 4 Cities in Tennessee.

Predicting a Knoxville mayoral race not involving an incumbent is dicey because you never know who will vote. Or how. It’s a nonpartisan race, so it is uncertain what role political parties play in such a case. The Democrats have been in the ascendant in Knoxville of late. The Republicans have been busy capturing all the courthouse offices. It appeared at one point that the GOP, in addition to many fine candidates, could also elect any doofus with an R by his name. Will Eddie Mannis get a boost from the Republican Party, or will the Republicans ignore the race since most of them live in the suburbs? But Mannis also has support among Democrats.

Just to be clear, the only info most of us have about this race is “the talk.” As in, you have to get the talk right. It’s all about perception. And momentum. If the talk is any guide, this is what it has been.

The race started with Mannis – a successful businessman and a former deputy mayor and chief operating officer for Rogero – who had qualifications and money to make him the frontrunner. For a while the speculation centered on whether Marshall Stair or Indya Kincannon would be in the runoff against Mannis.

But when the first contributions were totaled, Stair had the lead. You could argue that his parents, Dorothy and Caesar Stair, are widely known supporters of good works in the city, they have accumulated a lot of chits over the years and some people were contributing to both Stair and Mannis. But the fact remains that Stair has the money to be competitive.

So it looked like a Mannis/Stair race with Kincannon way behind in fundraising. But week after week, people who I think are pretty clued in keep saying, “Watch Indya.” Door-to-door campaigning, the backing of some Rogero supporters and just working hard have attracted attention.

Mannis has separated himself from the pack, taking different positions from Rogero, while Stair and Kincannon have not opposed any of Rogero’s major initiatives, like moving the police headquarters to the St. Mary’s campus. Stair, as the only city council member in the race, has to vote on Recode Knoxville, the total rewrite of city zoning laws. That is a hot-button issue for some people who have been following the process with alarm. But how widespread the knowledge and the passion on the issue extend is still unknowable. And can Mannis use the issue effectively to drive people to the polls?

If Mannis and Stair square off over the issue, since Stair is on Knoxville City Council, that could redound to Kincannon’s benefit.

I have to believe that, given Mannis’ experience and business expertise, he remains the frontrunner. But there is no way to assess an issue that is not likely to be raised publicly. I would hope Knoxville is beyond worrying about people’s private lives. Is it possible for Mannis to lose some Republican votes because of it and lose support from some Democrats because he is a Republican? That is a bitch of a problem to have.

But it is two months until early voting starts in the primary, and I think the race is wide open, and most people are not really paying a lot of attention yet. There was a time, given the turnout, when one might wonder if anybody cared enough about city politics to get involved. But with three serious candidates, with some serious issues out there, people need to pay attention. Mayors Haslam and Rogero levied the largest property-tax increases in city history. And nobody complained. Knox County has gone over 16 years without a property-tax increase, and the prospect of a county property-tax increase seems to scare the beejeebers out of county officials. County mayors Mike Ragsdale and Tim Burchett wouldn’t consider a property-tax increase, and Glenn Jacobs is following the same path.

Go figure.

How the mighty have fallen: The once-proud bastion of thoughtful analysis known as the New York Times op-ed page has slipped in recent years, primarily the result of Trump Derangement Syndrome. But the page reached a new low last week when the paper had actor Robert De Niro write an op-ed piece giving advice to special counsel Robert Mueller. De Niro’s only qualification to assess the actions of a career prosecutor seems to be that he offers a bad imitation of Mueller on “Saturday Night Live.”

Who’s paying? House Speaker Glen Casada has lost his job as a drug salesman and will soon lose his job as the leader of the House. Yet he has been on an extended vacation in Europe since his fellow Republicans voted no confidence and he agreed to resign. So who is financing his vacation? Just stay tuned – I’m sure the Capitol Hill press corps will find out.

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