Erica Gilmore, Left and Karen Johnson

By Rosetta Miller Perry

Nashville has already had a large dose of questionable behavior from its political leadership. The entire nation was treated to the spectacle of seeing a mayor resign from office, and the city required to hold a special election to fill out that term. In the wake of that fiasco, one would expect that any and all candidates for any office would conduct themselves in the highest possible manner, both publicly and privately. But the Tribune has observed at least two candidates, one for Mayor and one for Register of Deeds that is more interested in grabbing the spotlight than displaying the leadership and conduct Nashville needs and demands.

Most recently Nashville’s James Shaw Jr. is correctly being hailed in publications and on multiple broadcast media as a hero. Last Sunday he was just another customer at the Waffle House in Antioch when a lunatic with an AR-15 came on the site and began killing people. Shaw was having breakfast with a friend, but had the courage to single-handedly wrestle the gun from the killer, and push him out of the restaurant. While sadly he couldn’t prevent the prior deaths of four others, he no doubt saved many others. Yet he disdained any notion he was a hero, and was very reluctant to take any credit for what he did.

“I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular person, and I think anybody could have did what I did if they are just pushed into that kind of cage,” Shaw said during an emotional news conference Sunday. “You have to either react or you’re going to fold, and I chose to react because I didn’t see any other way of living, and that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to live.” He was recovering Monday from a gunshot wound and burns from grabbing the gun’s barrel. But Shaw didn’t stop there. He also organized a fundraiser for the victims families, raising in a single day more than $24,000 through a GoFundMe page. “Please take the time to donate as all of the proceeds will be given to the families,” wrote Shaw, 29, who works for AT&T. “Thank you again for your generosity and blessings!”

While more than 650 people were donating to the page, and many others were praising him on various online sites, 2 politicians decided to take advantage of the situation for political gain. Mayoral candidate Erica Gilmore and Register of Deeds candidate Karen Johnson used this occasion to take selfies with the reluctant hero, then posted it later for all to see. Shaw may not want the publicity, but they obviously did and does. Now had Gilmore and Johnson simply appeared and thanked him, no problem. Even if they chose to give a press conference publicly praising his efforts, at least they would be putting the emphasis and focus on his actions rather than themselves.

But in choosing to make a highly emotional press conference the motivation behind a photo appearance, Gilmore and Johnson not only wrongly seized the spotlight, it calls  into question whether these are the actions and behavior voters want to see in candidates for Mayor and   Register of Deeds.  You didn’t see other candidates rushing to the press conference and snapping selfies, then posting them for everyone to see. At best, it was a questionable political move. At worse, it was a cynical, publicity-seeking stunt to take advantage of the exposure and attention deservedly going to a genuine hero.

Some may view this as an unnecessarily harsh or judgmental observation, but think about this. Here’s a situation where four people had already been killed. A man puts himself at great risk and prevents what could easily have been even more killing and carnage. He’s obviously extremely emotional about what happens. Now out of nowhere comes a mayoral candidate and candidate for register of deeds who snaps a selfie with him, then posts it. What  they should have done was thank  Mr. Shaw for his courage and move aside. That wasn’t a time for any type of campaign action or behavior. It was one to reward and appreciate selflessness and heroism.

There will no doubt be apologists as usual who think this assessment is too harsh and extreme and I offer no apology. But these are extreme times for Nashville, and it is going to take great leadership and character to move ahead. Whether people understand it or not, the last few months  have been embarrassing ones for Nashville. We’ve had a mayor resign, an election moved from August to May and the state of Tennessee NAACP entered Nashville politics. It’s now quite possible that over the next couple of years, Nashville will have three different mayors with three different agendas. That is not exactly the optimum way for a city to function smoothly.  

Over our 25-year plus tenure, the Tribune has always encouraged citizen activism and participation, and we support the right of anyone who feels they have something to offer to run for any office they choose. We regret reverse racism and female bullying in this election but what we won’t do is give a pass to conduct that is not defensible or suitable, and we’re particularly sensitive about the actions of those seeking high positions of leadership who condone such. There is too much at stake, and our community has too many problems, to not have the upcoming office of the Mayor and office of the Register of Deeds embrace ethics and integrity ahead of publicity and attention. No matter who feels offended or doesn’t like it, (I offer no apology) it is our job to notice and bring to the public’s attention incidents of questionable actions and behavior on the part of those seeking power, especially anyone who wants to be the city’s top official and/or hold any responsible position in Metro or the State.

So again, we say anyone who doesn’t know when it’s NOT the right time for political grandstanding, well that isn’t the right person to be Mayor of this city or Register of Deeds.