Staples to Dems: ‘They’re coming after us’

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

A couple of points about Rick Staples getting the nod to replace ousted incumbent Joe Armstrong on the ballot in the 15th state House race:

The entire Knox County Democratic Party can’t fit into a phone booth (even if they could find a phone booth nowadays). Fifty people crammed into a very small room to witness the vote for Armstrong’s replacement. A couple dozen more were denied entry by the cop at the door.

Staples is no longer the Charlie Brown of East Knoxville politics.

And here’s a bonus point: With Staples headed to Nashville and Evelyn Gill taking the District 1 County Commission seat, the coalition known as the Five Points Five that has long controlled the political establishment in Knoxville’s black community has suffered a serious blow (for now, at least).

Eleven of the 15 Knox County Democratic Party officers eligible to vote went for Staples. Two women who’d expressed interest in the seat, Jackie Clay and Armstrong’s wife, Letonia Armstrong, withdrew their names and were not nominated.

Diane Jordan, Rick Staples and Cleola Staples
Diane Jordan, Rick Staples and Cleola Staples

Each candidate was given a couple of minutes for a campaign pitch, and Staples, who previously lost a race for City Council’s fourth district and this summer’s commission race against Gill in the Democratic Primary (which most observers expected him to win), hammered home a change message, challenging the audience to drive down Magnolia Avenue and take a look around:

“What is my experience? I’m there. And I do it because I can. I’m about this community. I got the legs. I got the youthfulness and I’ve also got my mother.” Cleola Staples, who owned and operated a preschool on Holston Drive was sitting in the audience next to former Commissioner Diane Jordan.

He issued a warning that the party needs to unify, reminding the audience that Armstrong was the last Democrat left in the Knox County legislative delegation.

“They’re coming after us, and we have to keep this seat – not just for this year, but for the future.”

Presumably Staples is thinking about 2018, since the GOP didn’t bother to field a candidate in this year’s 15th district race – a curious omission for the Red to the Roots bunch, given the timing of Armstrong’s tax evasion trial – and it is unlikely that Independent candidate Pete Drew, who has run for more offices than anyone can count since Armstrong took the seat from him in 1988 after he switched from Democrat to Republican, will pose much of a threat in November.

It’s also unlikely that Staples’ change in status made much difference in Staples’ weekend plans – planning for an interest meeting of the 100 Black Men of Knoxville and young men whom they will mentor over the coming year, working on a September chess tournament for young people.

“I didn’t realize how busy I am until recently when I overbooked myself one day,” Staples said. “I have to be the busiest person in Knoxville that doesn’t have a title.”

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