Dean has been traveling the state and taking its measure in recent months. He’s also written a new book touting the booming city’s successes, including many that took place or accelerated while he was mayor between 2007 and 2015.
The coffee-table book written with Michael Cass is titled “Nashville: The South’s New Metropolis,” and features vignettes, profiles and photos recounting the city’s growth in the last 25 years.
“I would argue our diversity has been a huge part of our success,” Dean said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The fact that people feel comfortable living here, they want to live here and they see us as a welcoming place has been a big part of our economic success and our rise to prominence as a city that is a destination.”
Dean said he will decide whether to become a gubernatorial candidate in the first quarter of 2017. He said the early start of a bid to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam would be necessary to overcome the fundraising and organizational challenges Democratic candidates face in Tennessee.
“Obviously Republicans have a lot of advantages,” Dean said. “Their domination of the state right now is probably unparalleled.”
But Dean notes that Tennesseans were willing to elect Republicans governors when Democrats held similar sway in the state Legislature, including former Govs. Lamar Alexander, Don Sundquist and Winfield Dunn.
“What I hear from lots of Republicans and Democrats is that they want somebody who is pragmatic, somebody who cares about growth, somebody who cares about what the people care about, which I think are jobs and a sense of opportunity,” Dean said.
“Nashville is a city of opportunity,” he said. “And Tennessee should be a state of opportunity.”
Dean acknowledged that a successful gubernatorial bid would have to attract a large number of Republican voters because the Democratic base alone wouldn’t be enough to put him over the top.
The former mayor said that has been demonstrated by presidential elections in which Republicans like Donald Trump and Mitt Romney carried the state overwhelmingly despite losing Democratic Nashville and Memphis by similarly large margins.
Dean also would have to fight a rear guard against some urban Democrats upset at him for promoting charter schools in the city and state.
Longtime Democratic operative Will Pinkston, who was among three school board members who won races in 2016 despite heavy spending on behalf pro-charter school challengers, said Dean’s policies were at odds with public school families in Nashville.
“He fundamentally did not understand public education and, as a result, Nashville saw eight years of turmoil in our school system,” Pinkston said.
“As Tennessee Democrats begin sizing up their potential gubernatorial nominees, they need to be asking tough questions about Karl Dean’s destructive education policies.”
Dean is unapologetic about his pro-charter position, which he said is in line with other big city mayors and with President Barack Obama.
“The important message for me is that charter schools are public schools,” he said. “It’s a different way of management, it’s a way that gives parents more choices and has produced very positive results in Nashville.”
“I don’t regret my support for charter schools and I think it’s consistent with being a good Democrat, and in line with some very, very good Democrats,” he said.
Despite Nashville’s economic success over the past decades, the city continues to grapple with an affordable housing shortage and worsening traffic, both byproducts of rapid growth. But Dean argued that “those are good problems to have.”
“It’s a better problem to have that more people want to live in your city that puts pressure on the market than having the one where people don’t want to live there and you have pressure on the market going downward,” Dean said. “The transit issue is a sign of the city’s strength and how robust the economy is.”
“I’m confident that Nashville will be able to address it,” he said.