They may still be talking.

Thirteen candidates for Knoxville City Council’s District 6 spoke to the local Democratic Party Monday at the Communication Workers of America headquarters on Elm Street. The Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook moderated a lively discussion, but when you’ve got 13 candidates it’s hard to differentiate.

It’s hard for the audience and even the candidates. One guy, possibly Charles Frazier, forgot to mention his name. The buzz in the audience was, “Who’s that?” and “Don’t know.”

Kennie Riffey jumped in between John Butler and Maurice Clark, even though Middlebrook asked them to speak in alphabetical order.

There are many ways to parse the lineup, but the most obvious are gender and color. Six of the 13 are women and four of them are white. Seven are African-American males.

This was my second time to hear them speak. I’ve come to like these candidates and respect their qualifications and their willingness to serve.

Out in the audience, former state Rep. Harry Tindell, himself a candidate for City Council from District 4, talked about the dynamics of District 6. “You’ve got a district with 30,000 to 35,000 registered voters and maybe 1,000 of them will vote. Maybe more this year with the number of candidates.”

Turnout will determine the winners. Do the math. Winners could advance to the Nov. 7 general election with no more than 250 to 300 votes on Aug. 29.

Conventional wisdom has Butler and McKenzie moving on – Butler’s strength coming from his dogged determination to save Vine Middle School in the most recent rezoning, his 4-year presidency of the local NAACP and his connections with ministers throughout the district. His quote on Monday: “I feel that God has called me to offer myself to you as a servant, a leader and an advocate.”

McKenzie is “from around here,” as they say, and she is personable. Her dad, Woodrow Z. Wilson, founded the local Urban League. Her mom, Dora Wilson, was a teacher, and Gwen was educated at district schools. Her husband is former Knox County Commissioner Sam McKenzie. An executive with CVS, she stressed economic development and programs for youth and families.

But the district is changing with residential growth downtown and some 500 families in Parkridge rehabbing houses and creating neighborhood. Representing the new face of District 6 are four white women:

Kennie Riffey moved here in 2005 “with a heart and a mission” to teach women and men to renovate houses. She’s a general contractor.

Brandy Slaybaugh is an attorney who has lived in the district for 13 years. She’s a U.S. Navy veteran who calls District 6 “the heart and soul of Knoxville.”

Jennifer Montgomery is a Realtor who has lived in the district for 15 years. She has a master’s degree in urban planning and wants to promote business development and neighborhood retail.

Shawnee Rios is an operations administrator who serves on non-profit boards. She brings high energy, humor and controversial ideas to the campaign, such as Monday’s suggestion to ease up on marijuana possession penalties.

The other candidates are:

Joyce Brown, a 45-year resident and financial counselor, who said, “I believe in my community. I believe in us.”

Maurice Clark Sr. spoke of his 12 years of neighborhood involvement, mentoring young men and coaching youth sports. “I’m about breaking barriers and building bridges.”

Charles Frazier said he would work with state and local entities to “build a small shopping center across the street from Austin-East” high school so students can get real-life work experience.

David Gillette promised “trust, leadership and commitment … to bring a divided community back together.”

Zimbabwe Matavou rambled a bit about race and income.

Damon Rawls advocated for “equity across District 6” and said most crime is around drugs. “We need to target crime hot spots and arrest criminals.”

And Michael Covington, who arrived late, has said he wakes up every morning thinking about what he can do for his community.

Our next chance to meet these candidates will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, at the Go Vote Knoxville gathering at John T. O’Connor Senior Center, 611 Winona St.

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Written by Sandra Clark
editor/CEO Powell community coordinator sclark426@aol.com 865-661-8777