Knoxville will continue to be a patch of blue in Tennessee’s bright red political landscape, despite the efforts of conservative bloggers, columnists and Republican activists to inject partisan politics into the city’s non-partisan elections.
Or maybe because of them.
The number of women on the city council will quadruple when newly elected members Stephanie Welch, Seema Singh Perez, Lauren Rider and Gwen McKenzie are sworn in next month. The only non-Democrat among them, third district member-elect Perez, isn’t a Republican – she’s is a Bernie Sanders-style Democratic Socialist and was part of the Knoxville City Council Movement, a group of progressives who also supported Amelia Parker, who got an impressive 2,015 write-in votes in the fourth district. (All votes are unofficial until certified.)
Andrew Roberto, who scored a 6,121 to 4,250 victory in the second district race will join the women of the Class of ’17. Roberto beat self-identified Republican Wayne Christensen, whose efforts to tar Roberto for being a Democrat who enjoys the support of labor unions obviously fell flat.
In short, Tuesday’s city council elections ensure that the city of Knoxville is about to get a lot bluer, despite the efforts of the Red-To-The-Roots crowd.
Nationally, it was a good night for Democrats, and Cinderella candidate Perez (who won 6,105 to 4,470 over Republican James Corcoran) said the Republican in the White House had a lot to do with her candidacy, and other races, both here and nationally.
“I think this has to do with the whole country being shocked by Trumpism. To me, it feels like a victory for people who are saying we need somebody with kindness and common sense in office. I’m humbled, I’m honored and a little bit scared. But I love learning, and I want to do well. This is a whole new adventure.”
Perez said her 13-year-old daughter, Sitara, and several of her friends took an interest in the race, and she hopes the experience has inspired them.
“I hope she saw that her mom had a mission and learned and worked hard and did everything she could to make it happen. I hope they all see that. This could inspire quite a few kids.”
The Realtors association that backed sixth district candidate Jennifer Montgomery with direct mail and phone calls is another group that didn’t get much bang for their buck. Montgomery (who lost narrowly to Gwen McKenzie in the primary) was trounced by McKenzie in the general election, 6,121 votes to 4,440.
This means that the District 6, which encompasses most of East Knoxville, downtown, Sutherland Avenue and Mechanicsville, will continue to be represented by an African American, which is a relief to many in the district.
“I’m extremely happy,” said former County Commissioner Diane Jordan, a McKenzie supporter who is concerned about gentrification of city neighborhoods. “It seemed like an uphill journey for a minute. But Gwen’s such a good person, and she spoke so eloquently about uniting all these communities. I’m very relieved that we will continue to have a seat at the table.”
First district winner Welch rolled up the most impressive numerical victory of the night with 7,387 votes to 2,686 for her opponent, Rebecca Parr.
Fourth district winner Lauren Rider probably had the most challenging race of the bunch due to Parker’s robust write-in effort, even though Rider came out of the primary with a convincing win. Rider beat former state Rep. Harry Tindell 5,289 to 3,405 in the general election, but was whipsawed by Tindell supporters, who branded her insufficiently Democratic in the primary and too radical in the general election, and by Parker supporters who complained that their candidate, who tied Tindell for second place in the primary, was done wrong when the city council broke the tie by choosing Tindell to move on to the general election.
On Facebook late Tuesday, Parker thanked her supporters and congratulated the winners, especially Perez. “This is only the beginning y’all. … The work continues!”