Is Nashville ready to elect a black mayor? That question may be answered if, as is rumored, state Labor Commissioner Al Bodie is actually considering a run for the city’s highest office in 1999.
Bodie, a native Miamian, has served in the Sundquist administration since the governor’s inaugural in January 1995. Now he’s being courted by an eager group of local Republicans who think it’s time for someone of the GOP stripe to challenge the Democratic power structure that dominates the Metro Courthouse.
“I feel flattered that people are encouraging me to do this,” Bodie says. “At the appropriate time, I think it would be a privilege and an honor to serve the people of Nashville.”
If Bodie were to run in the county’s next nonpartisan mayoral race, his alignment with the Republican Party would be an issue. The questions are these: How much of an issue would his party affiliation be? Would that affiliation help or hinder Bodie’s chances?
To begin with, Bodie would have Sundquist’s support as well as the backing of the rest of Nashville’s GOP power brokers. At the same time, he’s close to Democrats Clayton McWhorter and Peaches Simpkins and to downtown business and development types, who may feel inclined to back him. If he did receive that kind of backing, it wouldn’t be unlike the support Republican Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle received last month in her unsuccessful bid to keep her seat on the bench. Lyle, however, ran in a contested partisan race, whereas mayoral and Metro Council elections are nonpartisan. She was defeated by Democrat Carol McCoy.
A great many well-known names are already being mentioned in regard to the next mayoral race. When Bodie’s potential bid is thrown into the mix, matters only get more complicated. The list of potential candidates already includes County Clerk Bill Covington, former Mayor Dick Fulton, Sheriff Gayle Ray, Metro Council member Ronnie Steine, and Vice Mayor Jay West. Mayor Phil Bredesen has said he won’t run for re-election, and, at this point, few seem to have any reason to think he will not keep his word.
Bodie’s campaign would be novel in that he would be the first black man ever to mount a formidable run for Davidson County’s top office. What’s more, if he were to win, he’d be the first Republican to hold the job.
As it is, there are only a few Republicans in office in Davidson County. Probably the most well known is at-large Metro Council member George Armistead, who seems to be pretty conscious of his own political limitations and stays out of the fray when it comes to heavy political debate. Every now and again, Armistead speaks up to support issues that are clearly pro-business, pro-Chamber, and pro-growth, but beyond that, and battling the spreading graffiti problem around town, he keeps a low profile.
Bodie and his entourage would hope somehow to form a marriage between the grassroots political establishment of East Nashville and the West Nashville power establishment. That’s a feat both Bill Boner and Fulton managed to pull off in their mayoral campaigns. Lyle’s campaign, on the other hand, couldn’t muster the energy to accomplish it.
Bodie’s friends figure he’d get most of the black vote no matter what, as well as the votes of Republicans and pro-growth Democrats. But, his supporters say, if he were to run, he wouldn’t ask for the black vote just because he’s black.
“I think Nashville is not only ready for somebody of color. More important, I think Nashville is ready for somebody of color who comes in here with the vision to move this city forward,” says Bodie, a former IBM executive who’s been in Nashville for 10 years. “You’ve got to come to the party with more than just being black.”
Mayor Phil Bredesen appointed Bodie in 1993 to the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, where he still serves. He is on the executive committee of United Way of Middle Tennessee. He is also a former board member of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber could very well be the central point of organization for a Bodie race. As a group, the Chamber seems to hold more political influence in Nashville now than it once did. During the last five years, the Metro Council has passed nearly all of the initiatives supported by Bredesen and the Chamber. Still, it wasn’t long ago that a mayoral campaign that arose out of the Chamber fell woefully short of victory.
In 1987, then-Chamber president Eddie Jones mounted a campaign for the mayor’s office, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and airing a string of political advertisements. His support was paper-thin despite the perception that he was gaining ground. When a poll showed him with only a few percentage points of the vote, he pulled out and ended his pathetic bid.
If Bodie is to run, he’ll have to get organized quickly. He’ll need to establish himself early on as a viable, well-financed candidate, since there are already other, more well-known names interested in running. If nothing else, his candidacy would earn him a place in the local history books.
Richard Gephardt and Bob Kerrey notwithstanding, Al Gore appears to be the hands-on favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in the year 2000. This prediction results from the earliest game of presidential sweepstakes ever played by commentators, reporters, and delegates at a Democratic national convention. It is also a popular idea with residents of Carthage, Tenn.
If, in fact, Gore runs for the presidency in 2000, he will be making his second attempt at getting the job. In 1988 Gore ran a respectable, if utterly doomed, campaign in which he managed to carve out a great niche for himself in the Old Confederacy while failing dismally, for the most part, to do much of anything anywhere else.
This time around, a Gore campaign would be a completely different operation. Rather than a highly ambitious, if wooden, 40-year-old, Gore would be a wooden 52. He would no longer be an older person’s idea of a young man, as writer Michael Kinsley so presciently put it in the ’88 race, but a middle-aged man with hair-care difficulties, a candidate seeking money from the old and striving for relevance with the young.
There would be other differences. Rather than basing his campaign in Crystal City, Md., as he did in ’88, Gore would probably locate his campaign headquarters in Nashville. Following the lead of Clinton, and the overriding “get-out-of-Washington mode of thinking,” he will probably want his campaign to be housed in a place that was much like the old newspaper headquarters in Little Rock where Clinton based his national campaign four years ago. While The Tennessean may be favorable to temporarily relocating to Brentwood, letting Gore have its space at 1100 Broadway and thereby reducing the commute for its editors, don’t look for it to happen. Gore may, in the end, simply wind up in the 1808 West End building, site of Lamar’s failed presidential effort this year.
Gore will also likely not return to someone like Fred Martin, the former Mario Cuomo aide, as his campaign manager. Gore intimates already populate the top echelons of the Clinton campaign. Their number includes people like Roy Neel, Mark McNeely, and Peter Knight. If things go well for them in November, you can look for them in 2000 again.