News

Women rule: 4 elected, including 2 minorities to Knoxville City Council

Tyler Whetstone 3:55 AM State

Knoxville City Council's 6th District retained a black representative and overall went from having one woman and one minority to four women for the first time in city history.

The vote, which has not yet been certified, ensures that Knoxville’s public body remains reflective of the city racially, with a black member, and for the first time, with a South Asian member.

The council's racial makeup greatly concerned Mayor Madeline Rogero in recent weeks, so much so that she backed 6th District candidate Gwen McKenzie last week.

Whether the mayor’s endorsement helped or not will be debated, but McKenzie defeated Jennifer Montgomery 6,121-4,440 in the 6th District. Her victory maintains a black council member for a seat that has historically represented the city’s minority district.

McKenzie could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The victory of Seema Singh Perez in District 3 also means the city will have its first Indian-American council member.

Elsewhere, District 1’s Stephanie Welch, District 2’s Andrew Roberto and District 4’s Lauren Rider won.

Good turnout, no close race

Overall, 11,735 votes were cast, a "pretty amazing" turnout for a city election that lacked the draw of a mayor headlining the ticket, Knox County Elections Administrator Cliff Rodgers said. The new members will be sworn in Dec. 16.

Welch defeated Rebecca Parr in South Knoxville’s District 1 race, 7.387-2,686. She replaces Councilman Nick Pavlis.

“I am extremely honored to have earned the support of districts across the city and I will work very hard every day to make sure I deserve that support," Welch said.

Roberto defeated Wayne Christensen in what was the city’s closest primary race, 6.141-4,250 in District 2. He will replace Vice-Mayor Duane Grieve.

“I’m overwhelmed by the support all across the city, and I think folks really responded to our message of positive opportunity for everybody all across the city," he said.

Seema Singh Perez, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, defeated James Corcoran, 6,105-4,470. Her campaign began with and was supported by the Knoxville 2017 City Council Movement grassroots group in a race that was will be telling on the impact such groups may have locally.

“This is a win for the City Council Movement and this is people coming together and saying we want to be represented,” she said. “We used so little money and many hours … this is about people caring about their government.”

Rider defeated Harry Tindell and write-in candidate Amelia Parker with 5,289, 3,405, and 2,015 votes, respectively, and in so doing knocked off a former school board member and state legislator in Tindell and 2017 City Council Movement candidate in Parker.

Parker surprised voters in the primary by tying with Tindell. The City Council broke the tie, 9-0 in Tindell’s favor, setting up a rare three-way race with Parker running as a write-in candidate.

“I’m really excited about tonight’s race, and I’m looking forward to being an active voice in the community to move things forward … this was just a colossal effort from a huge team of people,” Rider said.

What’s next?

The newly elected council members will meet with Rogero Wednesday morning in her office to meet and greet and introduce them to her agenda and plans going forward.

The new council will be busy starting day No. 1.

The Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, city staff and others have been preparing, debating and holding meetings for months on the city’s efforts to bring the city’s codes into the 21st century. The codes cover how development and redevelopment are handled and touch every corner of city life.

The new council will have to address the city’s growing shortage of affordable housing, and help plan for the Jackson Avenue section of downtown among other items.