By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN —This city is a one-party town where Republicans are as rare as hen’s teeth. Dr. Carol Swain grew up with eleven siblings in a two-room shack without running water in rural Virginia. She is smart as the devil and she is black. She is also a Republican. She has never held public office. Swain wants to be Nashville’s next mayor.
“I do believe it’s going to be an upset,” Swain said. “I want the voters to give me a chance. They have been giving a particular group of people a chance repeatedly and they’ve been disappointed repeatedly. So, I think they need to be bold enough to try something new and something different.”
Swain said she hopes Mayor Briley doesn’t take her seriously but she hopes voters will. “Sometimes you need an outsider, a change agent, who’s not beholding to anyone to come in and clean up. I think Nashville needs to be cleaned up. I’m the woman with the broom who’s willing to clean it up,” Swain said.
Nashville has lots of problems she says she can fix. Swain told the Tribune that she had planned to take a vacation but instead, and after praying on it, she decided to throw her academic mortarboard into the race to replace the disgraced Megan Barry.
On April 2, Swain woke up with her head full of policy positions. She had no money. She had no staff. She had no campaign treasurer. By the end of the day she had all three and had filed the papers to run for Mayor.
“I am excited about the opportunity to show people what good government looks like. I believe I can go in and do some things that no one else can do because I’m an outsider, because I’m a visionary, and because I have a strategy,” she said.
That strategy involves the equitable distribution of resources and convincing the city council to get behind her. “I’m going to try to catch flies with honey,” she said. She wants to start by fixing potholes and broken street lamps in the city’s most neglected neighborhoods. “It’s only fair,” she said. More greenways and bike paths? Not so much.
Mayor Briley tweeted May 4 that Public Works crews have filled more than 16,000 potholes since January 1. Even so, at a candidates’ forum last week sponsored by the Tennessean and live-streamed by WSMV, Swain said the city is going in the wrong direction.
“There are so many things wrong with the governance of the city and it didn’t start with Acting-Mayor Briley,” Swain told the Tribune. “It goes back to Karl Dean. Instead of bidding out projects they hand them over to their friends. So there is a level of cronyism that seems to be rampant throughout city government. It seems to be a common way of doing business that I think is a bad practice,“ she said.
Swain predicted her outright win in the Mayor’s election Thursday, May 24. With twelve candidates running, that outcome is unlikely but not impossible. There will almost certainly be a run-off election.
“If people want change it’s important that I get elected on the 24th so that I can have some say about the budget,” Swain said. The new mayor will serve out the remainder of Barry’s unfinished term that will end in August 2019.
“I want to get started immediately seeing what I can do to bring about equity,“ she said.
Swain said city officials have handed out contracts and grants with no accountability. WSMV’s Nancy Amons broke a story last week about millions of dollars diverted from federal flood relief to build the Ascend Amphitheater. It was a pet project of then-mayor Karl Dean. Amons interviewed victims who needed but were never given money to rebuild their flooded homes.
Swain’s campaign released a statement Friday calling for an investigation into the funding for the Amphitheater project and demanding the resignation of the city’s Chief Operating Officer, Rich Reibling. He was Karl Dean’s Director of Finance when the funds were misappropriated. Dean is running for Governor.
“If the Mayor was a responsible leader he would terminate this guy Reibling immediately,” Swain told the Tribune. Swain said the city should have transparency when it comes to bidding projects that benefit the public.
“Related to that is the practice that they seem to have of giving public property to private entities and picking and choosing the winners and losers,” she said.
Case in point: the land swap Mayor David Briley has proposed to trade a downtown public park worth $3.6 million to developer Tony Giarratana for a parking lot he owns on James Robertson Parkway, also worth about $3.6 million. The city would pay Giarratana $24 million to build a homeless service center on his lot with 100 affordable housing units. Giarratana would pay a one-time fee of $1.4 million.
In exchange, the developer gets the park on Church and Sixth Avenue North. This is what city insiders call a win-win situation. One hundred of the estimated 20,000 homeless in Nashville will get housed and the rich tenants of the Cumberland, who now share the park with its scruffy inhabitants, will no longer have to endure them when they walk their dogs in the park across the street from their expensive digs.
But here’s the catch: there will no longer be a park for the bums or the billionaires when another high rise is built on one of the last green spaces left downtown.
Swain says Briley’s deal is a bad idea and stinks of the soft corruption that has put the cost of housing beyond the reach of most working people in the city. Affordable housing has steadily disappeared while Democrats sat in the Mayor’s office. The Democratic Party is supposed to represent the interests of minorities, the poor, and the working class, but, according to Swain, in Nashville it more often has served the interests of developers and the Chamber of Commerce.
Case in point: the transit referendum that Swain opposed. It was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin in last week’s election. Briley supported it. In addition, Barry’s disgrace may have damaged Briley’s reputation while Swain’s is as clean as a hound’s tooth.
Swain has an eleven-page resume. She’s in Who’s Who, received six fellowships, and published eight books. One of them, Black Faces, Black Interests (1994). won an award for the best book published on Southern politics. That study of race and political parties correctly predicted the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.
Swain published a book about White Nationalism in 2002 and correctly predicted the rise of the Alt-right in the U.S. a decade later. The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
She has also penned books and articles on immigration, affirmative action, Black Power in politics, gerrymandering, the Voting Rights Act, and the evils of liberalism.
Swain is not in favor of a Civilian Oversight Board to reign in police misconduct. Without training about what police do Swain says civilians who know nothing about law enforcement will just exacerbate tensions between the black community and the police.
However, she said police need better training, too, and picking the right police chief is important to build trust on both sides.
Swain thinks fair competition is good for the body politic. She is bringing it.