District 6 council race heats up


It’s Garrett Holt versus Gwen McKenzie for the Knoxville District 6 City Council. Registered voters citywide can cast their ballot Nov. 3 for each district’s representative. (Only District 5 is not on the ballot.) Learn more about Holt here and McKenzie here.

So, it’s another mayoral election season, and I’m kicking off yet another column saying the city’s District 6 must stay black. Just because I’ve done this in the last three or four election cycles doesn’t mean I’m tired of saying it. But each cycle gets a little more complicated.

Garrett Holt (on his public Facebook page)

Here is the beginning of what I wrote in 2011:

“Will the changing demographics of District 6 cause a change significant enough to strip the city council of minority representation in next fall’s municipal elections?” That unspoken possibility was the elephant in the room last week when Bob Booker was chosen to serve the unexpired term of Mark Brown, who relinquished his council seat to take up an appointment as a judicial magistrate.

“No one is going to criticize Bob Booker’s selection – not even me. Civil rights pioneer, state legislator, city administrator, director of the Beck Cultural Center, historian, author, DJ, musicologist, storyteller, gentleman. What’s not to like?

“He was one of seven candidates for the position, six of whom were African American. The other, Cynthia Stancil, lives in Parkridge, one of the old neighborhoods surrounding downtown that has been revitalized by a growing population of professionals mostly young, mostly white, not all of whom can live downtown. Meanwhile, traditional black neighborhoods in the east and west ends of District 6 are losing population. The 2010 census numbers will be a informative reading, and the redistricting that will follow will be a labor of work.

It’s better than what I was about to write, so I’ll continue with this 10-year-old analysis:

Gwen McKenzie (from her campaign website)

“Booker has made it clear that he will not be running for office this fall. Stancil has said she intends to run. Based on her presentation last week, she will be a good candidate. Relatively new to Knoxville, she probably doesn’t know that there were no black people on the city council from 1912 to 1969, when District 6 was carved up, in Booker’s words, “For a black man to have a chance to win .” From the day Dr Henry Morgan Green left office in 1912 to the day Booker’s old friend Theotis Robinson was sworn in and took his place on the dais next to Cas Walker, citizens blacks were excluded from the city government.

“Ironically, perhaps, Robinson and his wife, Jonida, are now part of the burgeoning population of downtown residents threatening to change the complexion of District 6. The Robinsons live in the Pembroke and enjoy city amenities within walking distance of their condo. Like Booker, he is part of the warp and weft of Knoxville history and lived to tell the tale. He served when the city still had separate (but not equal) school systems and few minorities working in the police or fire department.

“When I came to city council, Austin-East was playing football at Evans Collins Field or Bill Meyer. They (the old city school system) were building stadiums at high schools all over the city, and I said ‘Don’t come back wanting to build a stadium anywhere until you build one in AE . Don’t talk to me about wasteful spending when you’ve wasted it everywhere but AE,” Robinson said. “And I would make deals where I said I’d vote for something, ‘But I want five promotions in police and fire.'”

Then came a historical overview of why municipal elections are structured the way they are — the only thing that has changed is that it’s now been nearly 50 years since Baker vs. Carr, not 40.

“The current District 6 and two-tier structure of municipal elections is the result of Baker v Carr, a 1962 United States Supreme Court decision that cemented the ‘one man, one vote’ principle into law and instilled fear of civil rights litigation in the hearts and minds of municipal attorneys around the world.Now, nearly 40 years later, people like Booker and Robinson have done their part. never a shortage of candidates ready to run, but a new wind is blowing, and if the finalists emerging from a District 6 primary race are ebony and ivory, which direction will it blow?”

Bob, Theotis and I are all happy to see that we have gone through a decade with a minority representation of District 6 intact. But now incumbent Gwen McKenzie, who is also vice mayor, faces the challenge of Garrett Holt, a white man in his 20s who moved to the westernmost part of the district last year , barely in time to meet the residency requirement. He registered to vote in Tennessee last October, and the August 2021 primary marked the first time he voted in a municipal election. Urban races aren’t partisan, but Holt is on a slate of right-wing Republican candidates who want to take back the city from the “socialists” who currently sit on the podium. He runs hard, knocks on doors and puts up traffic signs (sometimes without permission).

Her primary win over Deidra Harper, who is black and comes from a well-known East Knoxville family, surprised many.

The primaries were somewhat messy, with incumbents hammered as taxes and spending, lenient on crime, socialists hating right-wing cops by Holt and his fellow Republicans, and left-wingers as greedy, heartless gentrifiers by their opponents. of the movement of the city council. Incumbent Amelia Parker, the first black candidate to be elected to a universal seat, won with the help of the CCM two years ago and didn’t hesitate to try to help oust three of her colleagues (McKenzie, Tommy Smith and Lauren Rider). Parker’s candidates failed to make it past the primary, putting her in a precarious position if she runs for re-election in two years.

The 2020 U.S. Census Bureau figures tell us that 16% of Knoxville’s 190,740 citizens are black — or 30,477 people — and that 13,198 of those, or 46%, live in City Council District 6, which includes downtown and part of the near west. Knoxville. Meanwhile, the Sixth District’s white population has continued to grow and now stands at 42.7% (12,940 total). See the ethnic distribution of the city’s population from 2020 census data: City Council Districts.

As Bette Davis said, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

betty bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.


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