Mayor Dean in Japan: The Case For and Against

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The City Paper's Joey Garrison passes along the answer to a question we've heard asked a lot in recent days: Why did Mayor Karl Dean follow through on an economic development / family trip to Japan at the moment the country faces a succession of toppling-domino catastrophes?

Joined on the Japan trip by his wife and daughters, but no Metro officials, Dean said he was invited to the country by the Japanese government because he’s the mayor of a city with a number of Japanese investments. Dean’s family paid for the trip themselves. No Metro tax dollars have gone towards traveling expenses.

Dean said there hasn’t been any specific company visits during the trip that involves looking for actual investments in Nashville, adding that several meetings have taken place but some were canceled because of the natural disaster. He said he’s met with members from the Japan External Trade Organization and the Foreign Ministry, has traveled to the city of Kamakura and is visiting Gibson Japan, among other groups. ...

“It’s not about any sort of specific project,” he said. “What will come of this is I will have a greater familiarity with the Japanese government, the Japanese people and Japanese business, but there won’t be any specific announcement. And plus, everybody is focused right now on what’s going to happen here in the next six months to a year in terms of recovery.”

Asked about criticism back home, Garrison writes, the mayor said via teleconference from Japan, "I haven't heard any." But in today's Scene cover story, an examination of Dean's handling of the fairgrounds controversy, Liz Garrigan puts it bluntly:

As I write, Dean is in Japan, of all places — commingling an economic development trip with a spring break family getaway. Think about that for a minute. The country first suffers an earthquake, then a tsunami that causes more damage than the earthquake. So the mayor's response is to call and ask whether he should postpone his economic development trip? "The mayor conferred with the consul general of Japan in Nashville before proceeding with the trip," a mayoral press release Friday read. "Consul General Hiroshi Sato ensured Mayor Dean he would not be in the way."

So Dean packed up his iPod and his rep ties and hopped aboard a flight to Asia, a move any freshman political science student would find misguided.

"Karl Dean, our little ol' mayor, is over there running around the Japanese countryside!" [Metro Council member and Dean opponent Michael] Craddock practically exclaims. "I just don't understand that to save my life. I just told my wife, I don't know who advises the mayor, but surely they'd have told him, 'Postpone your trip, brother. This is no time to go to Japan.' There is a pattern to this kind of behavior."

A vote of reassurance and confidence in the country's future, or the ultimate in bad timing?

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