The results of yesterday’s election for Nashville mayor are in: Karl Dean has defeated former Congressman Bob Clement. Dean has never held an office, but he’s no political newbie: He served as Nashville’s public defender for much of the ’90s and then as law director for former Democratic Mayor Bill Purcell from 1999 until January of this year, when he began campaigning full-time.
What’s interesting about the race was how prominently juvenile crime figured as an issue. According to reports, Nashville has seen a whopping 93 percent increase in violent crime charges for juveniles in the past year, and a 37 percent spike in robberies. Clement presented himself as a tough guy eager to crack down on young thugs, and he repeatedly tarred Dean as a criminal-loving defense attorney. He even dug up his very own Willie Horton from among Dean’s former clients, though to avoid charges of stoking racial fears, he carefully selected Paul Dennis Reid, a white man currently on death row for seven murders he committed in the late ’90s.
Dean is no Van Jones. One of the first things he did when he launched his campaign last winter was to announce a public safety initiative that includes aggressive policing, particularly in high-crime areas, and tight enforcement of nuisance laws. This makes for a good talking point on the trail, but nuisance laws often wind up stigmatizing the most vulnerable members of the community, and giving police carte blanche to crack down can be an invitation for them to use excessive force.
Thankfully, Dean seems to consider community outreach and education to be equally valuable deterrents to crime. His public safety plan pairs policing with “bridge-building” neighborhood watch initiatives and after-school programming, and his detailed education plan addresses the rising dropout rate. “Better schools will lead to less crime and more jobs,” he has said. It’s the kind of sentiment you’d expect from a candidate whose campaign theme was “It’s all connected.”