The northwest corner of Davidson County can be scenic and easygoing, but recent political turmoil and mounting unease about low levels of Metro investment have cast frustrations over the special election now underway to choose the area’s next council representative.
Voters are weighing who should have the District 1 seat, which has twice seen vacancies in recent years. The June 28 vote will provide the winner roughly one year in office (closing out the current term) and a window of time to chart a new vision for the area, which includes Bordeaux, Joelton, Bells Bend, Scottsboro and part of Whites Creek.
As it stands, runoff candidates Jonathan Hall and Judy Cummings say it’s time for change.
“District 1 lacks parity. It has been the forgotten child in the home,” Hall said.
“District 1 has been the most overlooked, underserved, under-resourced district,” said Cummings.
Yet as multi-decade residents of District 1, both candidates say they see its potential. And they largely agree on a broad vision, which both refer to as “smart growth” — to keep rural areas rural and to concentrate new Metro and private development dollars in Bordeaux, along the Clarksville Pike corridor.
Differentiating the candidates isn’t easy. Both have been deeply involved in their communities and have served on Metro commissions; both have aided in political campaigns; and both say they are leaders in tune with everyday residents.
One difference may be how they talk about guiding growth in the district.
Cummings says her 12 years on the Metro Planning Commission give her insight into balancing different interests.
“Because we are the last place to be developed, we have developers who are chomping at the bits,” she said. “We need someone who is able to help us create a vision for District 1.”
Cummings said she is also interested in helping Joelton residents to shape a new overlay to guide the design of their commercial area.
Meanwhile, Hall’s mantra is perhaps more focused on Metro budgeting practices, and what he sees as misappropriated funds.
“I can show you where we’ve invested poorly. I can show you where we’ve had bad contracts and bad deals as a city government, and why you can’t tell my district ‘no’ anymore,” he said.
He says District 1 has been a “dumping ground” for unappetizing projects while basic infrastructure needs go unmet — like extending the sidewalks that he says his parents argued for in the late 1970s.
While both Hall and Cummings raise concerns about Metro budgeting priorities, one key difference has recently materialized. Cummings said she would support a property tax increase to fund schools and city employee raises, as is currently being debated by the council. Hall, though, calls a tax increase an “absurd notion.”
In terms of political savvy, the candidates appear to be on similar footing. Both have been knocking on doors, planting copious yard signs and orchestrating campaign calls.
Cummings has started to air local radio ads and has secured several endorsements, including from two labor unions; Hall describes himself as a non-establishment candidate, although he was heavily involved in helping elect Nick Leonardo to the District 1 council seat in 2016.
Before making it into the runoff, the five-way race in District 1 had been largely friendly, but Hall and Cummings have now become more assertive in differentiating themselves.
Hall, for example, emphasizes that he was born and raised in District 1, and argues that he has connections throughout its distinct neighborhoods.
“Dr. Cummings is a great lady,” he said, “[but] everything that she’s done or accomplished has been outside of the district, and everything I do is in and for my district.”
Cummings praised Hall’s passion for the area, but said the election shouldn’t be a popularity contest.
“What distinguishes me from him: My experience on a government level,” she said. “People see that we’re in desperate need for leadership, not popularity. We’ve gone the popularity route and it’s not gotten us very far.”
Neither candidate has thus far motivated many residents to get out for early voting. Only 22 had voted in the District 1 race through the weekend. The candidates expect that to change when early voting opens at the Bordeaux Library, and on Election Day.
The special election in May drew more than 3,000 ballots. Hall earned 34 percent and Cummings 28 percent to trigger the runoff.