Knoxville mayoral candidate Madeline Rogero was once given a piece of framed art work from the children's book "Madeline" by author Ludwig Bemelmans, which read "To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline said poo-poo."
It is a sentiment that reflects Rogero's political approach that she has had throughout her career in public office and a role she is taking as the "underdog" in the race to become the city's next leader.
The "tiger," in this case is renowned businessman and opponent Bill Haslam. His "roar," is the near $500,000 he has raised to support his campaign and the backing of much of Knoxville's wealthy class. It is the same roar that Rogero thinks her opponent has used to scare off other opponents and look invincible.
Just like the little French girl in the book, Rogero is not intimidated by the "tiger," and has put together a strong grassroots mayoral campaign to "make Knoxville a vibrant and livable city."
The comparisons stop there, however, because in reality a ferocious tiger would tear a little girl into shreds. The Beacon found out recently that Rogero is by no means a "little girl," but a fierce competitor who is ready to not only take on big politics but also to become a renewed voice for the average citizen in Knoxville city government.
Rogero is a former Knox County commissioner, serving District 2 for two terms from 1990-99. She is also the former executive director of Knoxville's Promise and has served, or is currently serving, on numerous boards and committees throughout the community. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Furman University, and obtained a master's degree in urban and regional planning from UT.
"I felt like I was in the position to run because I had served before and I was active in the community," Rogero said. "I have a vision to make this a vibrant and livable city and address all the issues that I list in my vision statement."
Her vision statement consists of four major components that she cites as key components to a "jigsaw puzzle," in which pieces need to be in place to reach long term city goals.
The first component is giving greater participation to citizens.
"We need to get a greater voice to more people; too few people have made too few decisions in our city," Rogero said. "Knoxville is a populous town, when you look at the average income, and average job, and you'll see that people aren't wealthy.
"They (the wealthy class) made sure we (the community) had low wage jobs, because a lot of them are big business owners that didn't want to pay higher wages themselves."
"So you sell the community as low wages and that's what you get, and a lot of people resent that," she said. "I've always promoted that we recruit jobs with higher wages and better benefits, otherwise do not waste government dollars."
The next component in her vision is to strengthen neighborhoods. She says it is important to have strong commercial and residential communities.
"We need to make sure that city government works with active neighborhood organizations to make sure we have a good stock of housing for folks in our community," she said. "We need to make sure our neighborhoods are safe, clean, and are good places to live."
Rogero's third component is a revitalization of the downtown area.
"A vibrant downtown has to have a good stock of residents," she said. "We have to develop a retail strategy for Gay Street and Market Square." She also said that creating adequate and affordable parking is essential.
The final component in her plan addresses quality of life issues such as parks and greenways, arts and cultures, historic preservation, alternative transportation and linking economic growth.
"Our economic growth needs to be linked with our environment. For too long we haven't worried about it," she said.
She notes that the city has a huge amount of traffic congestion due to inefficient planning and because the city hasn't factored in resources and quality of life as it has expanded.
She took an aggressive approach in considering alternative transportation methods. In April, she spent an entire week on Knoxville Area Transit buses, talking to passengers and considering plans to get more people to use the bus system by choice rather than just necessity.
If elected, Rogero also has plans to work with UT in addressing and solving issues the city faces. "I think there needs to be a sound partnership between the city and the university, each of our successes is dependent on the other's success," she said. "I want this to be a great place for students to study and live."
Lisa Carroll, a supporter, is impressed with Rogero's intelligence and her grasp of the issues that Knoxville must address.
"Her background as a former member Knox County commissioner and her work with community and non-profit organizations have provided her with experience that is on target for leading the city of Knoxville," she said.
Now that the race is in the home stretch, Rogero is very confident of her campaign.
"I feel great about the campaign and our progress, although my opponent has more money," Rogero said. "This isn't about money, it is about leadership and vision. I am excited with the response we are getting, and we will work every day until September 30," she said.
Although the odds are stacked, she has no plans of backing down.
"I don't take no for an answer. If I know that I am doing something for the right reason, it doesn't matter if the odds are against me," Rogero said. "Average people have the ability to run this town - people are smart and know what they need. I think that I am a representative and that I have the courage to take on the big money."
More information about Rogero is available on her Web site http://www.madelineformayor.com. She will also be taking part in a televised mayoral debate, set for Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in the university studios, located in the Communications Building. The event will be moderated by WATE TV 6's Gene Patterson and is being hosted by the Beacon and the Student Government Association. It will air live on TVC campus Channel 12 and will be repeated at various times leading up to the Sept. 30 election date.
If her bid is successful, she will become the first female mayor the city has ever had, according to Knox County historian Steve Cotham.