I was wondering if someone at the Northwest Arkansas Times was afflicted with a wicked sense of sense of humor this weekend, as I read the letter from Jim Sheldon, titled, “Mayor an elitist,” only to turn the page and read the title of Donald Kaul’s column, “Champion of the Rich.”
It’s true - other than a grotesquely bad poem which appeared in local letters pages a few months back, there hasn’t been a lot of praise for Fayetteville’s fighting mayor of late. Well, there is is this:
Fascinating interview with Dan Coody, the brave and progressive mayor of the small town of Fayetteville, Arkansas . . .
The interview wasn’t by anyone local. Local criticism might be summed up in this 2004 entry by David Garcia on the Arkansas Indymedia site:
My first concern goes right back to Arkansas politics, in this case, Dan Coody, the mayor of Fayetteville. Dan was elected as an environmentally friendly liberal, beating the incumbent mayor, a conservative Christian who was openly in bed with the Chamber of Commerce and the real estate developers. Since getting into office, the new mayor has crawled into bed with the exact same crowd as the old mayor. The only difference is that the new mayor is not upfront about it like the old mayor was.
Instead, our "liberal", "environmentally friendly" mayor has divided the activist community, playing the various factions off against each other, while he pushes through the urban sprawl agenda of the Chamber and the development community. As a result, local environmental activism has virtually collapsed, while the raging development in Fayetteville continues unchecked. Was Dan Coody really the "lesser of two evils"in his race against Fred Hanna? Or does Coody's "liberal", "green" facade just make it harder for people to see what's really going on?
Seldom has there been an elected official that so many people are angry at because they want to support him, because they want to respect him - but the old cliche “I don’t know who you are anymore” seems to apply to so aptly now.
In the early 1990s Dan Coody - along with Julie Nash and Joe Robson - was a breath of fresh air in local politics. He seemed down to earth, someone you could sit down and have a beer with, and talk about the problems facing the city.
For many working class voters, and environmentalists, Dan Coody was more than a breath of fresh air. He was one of them. He would stand with them against the developers and the power players. He - along with Julie Nash - was one of the good guys in Fayetteville city government.
1992: Dan Coody runs for mayor in a crowded field. He is libeled by the NWA Times, but there is no way of telling just how much that contributed to his loss. But one thing became apparent to people close to the various campaigns that year - and in other years: Dan Coody always seemed to take it personally when another “progressive” candidates ran against him. Some times, such candidates would be approached and asked to drop out of the race, so that Dan might have a better shot at victory.
Such requests always got the contempt they deserved. After all, why shouldn’t Dan Coody drop out for them?
Dan lost in 1996, as well.
Finally, in 2000, Dan won.
But people said he was different, that he had changed. That the “man of the people” had given way to a man who was too quick to shmooze, and liked being shmoozed in return.
The man who had utilized public access television so well in his ascension to the mayor’s office was now prone on occasion to criticizing the content of various shows.
And as for the “working class” elected official? Ask the working class folk who have been evicted to make room for recent developments around town - some of which have never been built. Maybe Dan should reacquaint himself with the working class voters in town.
Some say that he likes pretty things, pretty buildings and pretty people a whole lot more than he ever did before. A pretty, quiet city.
A mayor who can talk about “sustainability” but not be considered a good steward toward the environment in his own town?
But few, if any in Fayetteville, want to see Dan Coody as a villain; they want to like him. God knows, it was easy to dislike Fred Hanna. Dan is more problematic.
The problem is that Coody may not actually be aware that he has an image problem.
Then again, how could he not?