Council Contests: At-Large Seat A
The primary contest between Lynne Fugate and Charles Lomax Jr. is a warm-up for the general election.
A complete overhaul of the Knoxville City Council that began in 2017 will be completed this year. Thanks to term limits, four seats are open, and after the ballots are counted in November the winners in this year’s election will join five others in their first terms.
A former school board chair and a former planning commissioner are vying to replace term-limited George Wallace on City Council.
At Large Seat A, now occupied by George Wallace, is one of the open seats. Former school board chair Lynne Fugate and former planning commissioner Charles Lomax Jr. are the only candidates in the running to replace him. That means both their names will be on the ballot in November, regardless of the outcome of the August primary.
Fugate enters the race against Lomax with high name recognition and believes her unique collection of experiences have prepared her for service on City Council.
Fugate, who is now executive director of the Girl Scouts of East Tennessee, has been active in the community since moving back to Knoxville 31 years ago, serving on numerous boards and with various organizations. A South Carolina native, she earned her finance degree from the University of Tennessee, moved with her husband back to the Palmetto State, then returned for a banking job.
Fugate specialized in lending to small businesses and the developers of affordable housing. She was tapped to be on a committee formed by then-Mayor Victor Ashe that led to the creation of the Knox Housing Partnership, which develops affordable housing, and the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (now administered by the East Tennessee Foundation).
Affordable housing has emerged as a key issue in this year’s election, and Fugate is convinced her experience has prepared her to tackle the issue. The city doesn’t build housing, she noted, but can create incentives and partnerships that result in residential development that low- and moderate-income people can afford.
Further complicating the issue is that rental and owner-occupied housing require different approaches, both from the developers’ perspective and the residents’.
“I’m wary of people who have simple solutions to complex problems,” she said.
Fugate left banking in the early 200os to be executive director of Nine Counties/One Vision, a regional effort to produce a vision for development in Knox and surrounding counties. She said some people look at economic development as attracting new businesses to the region, while others focus on promoting existing business. “It’s not either/or,” Fugate said. “It’s both.”
Downtown redevelopment was a focus of Nine Counties/One Vision, and Fugate recognized that the center city has blossomed in recent years. Extending redevelopment out along the adjacent corridors -- Broadway, Magnolia Avenue and Chapman Highway, for example -- will require an adjustment in strategy.
The buildings tend to be smaller than those downtown, which means they have fewer potential revenue streams to pay for expensive rehab work. Fugate suggested an affordable loan fund for such projects -- especially owner-occupied, mixed-use developments -- would be one strategy that could work.
“That’s one of the issues that needs to be addressed to spur development,” she said.
At the urging of Dan Murphy, who decided not to run for re-election to the Board of Education in the 4th District in West Knoxville, Fugate ran for the school board seat in 2010 and won in an uncontested race. During her two terms, she served as chair and vice-chair of the board, and was supportive of controversial Superintendent Jim McIntyre. “He always put the students first,” she said.
Fugate, who lives in Sequoyah Hills, said the experience prepared her for City Council. “It takes the willingness to do your own homework to figure out what’s going on and be willing to make the hard decisions,” she said.
Fugate has parlayed her experience into campaign funds, raising $13,750 in the first quarter of the year and having $22,076 on hand March 31. She said she’s been getting out to areas of the city where she isn’t as well known -- school board races are district-only affairs -- by attending as many neighborhood organizations meetings as she can.
Again, she pointed to her experience as a plus in helping neighborhoods deal with their issues, which differ from community to community.
“My understanding of the school system will help when working with neighborhoods,” Fugate said. “The quality of schools and the quality of neighborhoods are inextricably linked.”
Charles Lomax Jr.
While he doesn’t have Fugate’s name recognition, Lomax has community experience as well and has been around politics for longer than a decade, first as an assistant on the Election Commission staff and most recently as a Knoxville-Knox County Planning commissioner.
Lomax was born at University of Tennessee Medical Center and lived on Dandridge Avenue and other places in the city before his family eventually moved to Karns, where he graduated from high school in 2000.
He entered the University of Tennessee and as a freshman began working at the Knox County Election Commission. Lomax counts former Election Administrator Greg Mackay as a mentor. “Greg has been such an influence in my life for the positive,” he said.
Lomax also began preaching at the age of 18, became a pastor a decade later, and now serves as pastor at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Alcoa. He lives in Whittle Springs.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in sociology at UT, Lomax moved to Atlanta to obtain a master’s of divinity at the Morehouse School of Religion’s Interdenominational Theological Center and last year completed his doctorate at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
Lomax moved back to Knoxville after his time at Morehouse and went to work for the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, where he was in charge of training mentors for the Amachi Knoxville program aimed at helping young people with an incarcerated parent.
“That showed me a lot of the issues in the city -- poverty, everything they face in their day to day lives,” he said.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero appointed Lomax to one of the city’s seats on the Metropolitan Planning Commission, which was renamed Knoxville-Knox County Planning earlier this year. Lomax resigned his seat to run for City Council.
He said his time on the planning commission “taught me about land use, zoning regulations and what it takes to have a vibrant city.”
In part, Lomax said he’s running for City Council because he doesn’t want his knowledge to go to waste. “I want to show African-American men in the community you can stand up and make a difference,” he said.
Lomax’s campaign rides on three broad themes: Smart growth, affordable living and millennial retention.
Noting that Knoxville is projected to grow by 30 percent over the next 30 years, Lomax said shaping development -- an aspect of his role on the planning commission -- would be vital to the city’s economic growth.
“If we’re not wise about how we use the buildings and space we have, we’ll be in trouble,” he said.
Lomax also said promoting affordable housing is not enough for individuals and families struggling to make a living. Spreading good jobs throughout the city, eliminating food and pharmacy deserts, and encouraging healthy communities are part of his vision. “It makes no sense if all you can afford is housing,” he said.
Making Knoxville a place where talented young workers want to live is another priority. The University of Tennessee attracts smart, creative minds that should be enticed to stay after graduation through the availability of desirable jobs and an entrepreneurial culture, Lomax said.
“It would be beneficial for us as a city to take advantage of the talent that comes our way,” he said.
Lomax, who acknowledged he trails in fundraising, raised $6,200 during the first quarter of the year. One of his strategies is to go to local restaurants and coffee shops when canvassing in an area, as he did earlier this week at Jackie’s Dream in North Knoxville. “We’re trying to highlight local businesses as well as get our message out,” he said.