Thanks to Avi Poster and the Nashville Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Jewish Federation of Nashville for sponsoring an interesting forum last night. Let me index my undigested thoughts on the event.
I arrived at 6:45 and was greeted by a row of Clement signs lining each side of the entry way. I walked in behind Mr. Clement who spent the 15 minutes prior to the event working the crowd. I did not see a single Dean sign when I walked in.
I don't know when Mr. Dean arrived, but I did not see him until just before 7:00 when the candidates assumed their positions on the front row of the room. The event followed a simple format that Mr. Poster remembered from his youth in Chicago. Each at-large council candidate was allowed 3 minutes to make the best case he or she could for our votes including in Mr. Poster's words, "the most specific actions they can take for the good of our community." Following the at-large candidates, the mayoral candidates were allotted 5 minutes to do the same.
Following the statements, the candidates took up positions around the room and addressed individual questions.
While Mr. Dean did not seem to have the visible support organization that Mr. Clement did, it was Mr. Dean who had the larger crowd around him to talk and ask questions after the event. I tried to get the questions I have been asking here to each man, and while I did get a minute or two with Mr. Clement, I was unable to make the front of the line with Mr. Dean until he was being whisked away for a television interview.
I want to be clear that I draw no conclusions from these details. I am reporting them just as they appeared to me. I appreciate, as always, the time these candidates give to make themselves known to voters, and I do not expect that I should have any more access to them than any other citizen. I was able to learn a great deal from the event, even without being able to address my more difficult questions.
That said, I would like to ask the following questions of each candidate, and I welcome anyone from either campaign who would like to post answers on this site to do so.
You said that education is and will be your number 1 priority. I am interested in what that will mean in the actual events we are likely to encounter in the years ahead. As we have in the past, we are likely to face some serious budget constraints and the added challenge of limited ability to raise property taxes. First of all, do you agree that a tight budget is likely? Second, whether or not you agree, in the hypothetical circumstance that the mayor's office must limit overall spending considerably, how will you allocated resources between schools and other city priorities like public safety? In other words, what will it mean for schools to be the "number 1 priority?" Will you fund education first? Upon whom will you rely to give you an honest evaluation of the schools' needs? Will the school board, as the elected body accountable for school policy form the basis of your assessment? Will the Bransford Avenue administration be the final arbiter? Or will someone in your office make the decisions about which parts of the school budget are necessary and which parts are not?
You were gracious enough to address one of my questions last night, and I think your answer leads to some other important questions like those posed to Mr. Dean above. I asked, specifically about your promise to reintroduce speech and debate teams in every high school. You know I am a supporter of debate, and I believe in competitive debating as a powerful force for education as well as school discipline and civic training, so when I asked how a mayor could get that done, you were direct and forceful in arguing that you would testify to the school board and generally be visible in promoting and even demanding that programs be reinstated. On follow up, I asked if that meant that you would put a red line around the debate team component of the school budget and refuse to allow a budget that cut it, and you said forcefully, yes. While I appreciate that commitment, and I support your willingness to be an active and involved mayor when it comes to education policy, your answer rightly raises questions about which items you will place under that kind of mayoral protection. Will you manage the decisions of the school board and district administration to the point that your management resembles a mayoral takeover of the schools? Are there other specific items that will be must do's for the school district? And if the cost of those items forces cuts in other parts of the school budget, how will you direct those cuts to fall?
Thanks to all for participating last night. These questions may seem tough, but they are the very questions that you will be made to answer if you become mayor, and I have been through too many uncertain budget years to make a decision with my vote if I don't have some idea about the thought process you will employ in tight times.
As Avi Poster said last night (I'm paraphrasing)...We are hiring you, and we owe it to everyone to have a thorough job interview. Thanks for answering.