Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 36, Number 1

In the Running -Thompson, Dean & Venick

Karl Dean, '81, was elected mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and assumed office in September 2007, shortly after this edition of the Lawyer went to press.

Long before Fred Thompson, '67, generated international headlines and a lot of excitement in Tennessee, where the former senator is well respected, by announcing that he was "exploring the possibility" of running for president, two other Vanderbilt law alumni - Karl Dean, '81, and Irwin Venick, '75 - had launched their own campaigns for office. Dean is still in the running for mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, and Venick ran for a seat in Nashville's City Council.

Dean now faces a run-off against former Tennessee Congressman Bob Clement in September. If his bid is successful, he will succeed a VULS contemporary, Bill Purcell, '79, during whose eight-year tenure Nashville experienced unprecedented economic expansion and earned back-to-back designations as the hottest city in America for corporate relocation or expansion by Expansion Management magazine. After winning his first race in 1999, Purcell was re-elected to a second term in 2003 with a record-setting 84.8 percent of the vote. Dean, who has served as Nashville's legal director under Purcell for the past eight years, hopes his experience in Purcell's administration will give him the boost he needs in a campaign against Clement, who started the campaign with much more initial name-recognition.

Dean announced his candidacy in December 2006, resigning his position as the city's legal director to devote his full energies to the campaign. He entered the race as the fifth in a field of five candidates. He acknowledges that Purcell, who earned Governing Magazine's Public Official of the Year honor in 2006 as a mayor "who simultaneously improved his city's quality of life and spurred business expansion with an ambitious agenda that included strengthened public schools and revitalized neighborhoods," will be a tough act to follow.

Dean wisely placed education - a hot topic in Nashville, where three fourths of the 74,000 students in public schools receive free or discounted lunch and attracting qualified teachers to some schools in the county-wide district is a continual struggle - at the top of the list of issues he pledges to address if elected. He also launched a series of issues-oriented advertisements to increase his name recognition. Finally, he had a savvy campaign assistant in his wife, litigator and Vanderbilt adjunct faculty member Anne Davis, '81, whom he met when they were law school classmates.

Venick, who faced a slate of three opponents, lost a hotly contested race to represent the district where he lives and works on Nashville's City Council. He readily acknowledges that serving on the council, which is sometimes reduced to refereeing fights over historic zoning ordinances and trash pick-up and where meetings sometimes last from 6 p.m. until midnight, is far from glamorous, and that campaigning for the job was exhausting. He estimates he wore out at least two pairs of shoes going door to door to introduce himself to people in his district, visiting with neighbors during events and forums organized by neighborhood associations, and installing yard signs. "There is a 'no good deed goes unpunished' aspect to running for a local office," Venick says, "but I wanted to give back to the community, and this kind of public service is a good fit for my legal and mediation skills."

Venick practices law with his VULS classmate, Doug Dobbins, '74. He supplemented his emphasis on plaintiff-side employment with mediation training in 2003, and his campaign emphasized his problem-solving and consensus building skills, which he still hopes to put to use as a public advocate. "Much of the work in local government involves getting people to work together to achieve common goals," he says. "I'll continue to look for ways to accomplish that in Nashville."