As Mark Padgett campaigns in the Knoxville mayoral race, he stresses his small-business experience as someone who has created jobs and met payrolls in the 21st century — "during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression."
His business, eGovernment Solutions, provides online and software services to about a dozen counties in Tennessee by "under a dozen" employees and contractor workers, about half of whom telecommute, he said.
Padgett said the business has "under" $1 million in revenues.
"I'm in the new economy," he said, nearly running along Gay Street after an interview and dashing to his next appointment.
On the campaign trail, Padgett, 33, likes to talk about how he took $5,000 of his own money and a borrowed laptop to start the business. He slept on a couch at night.
This was after he had worked in the administration of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen to help with streamlining programs in the Safety Department.
The way he tells the story, he was on the way to Bredesen's inauguration in 2003 when he received a call from the governor-to-be, who asked him to start using his MBA and help make state government more efficient. He was there about three years, working in the Department of Safety and installing performance-based budgets, dealing with manpower allocation and redefining processes that results in efficiency, he said.
"And saving taxpayer dollars," a point he always adds.
same address, separate offices
Padgett's latest business location in Knoxville is in the downstairs level of his campaign headquarters at 117 S. Gay St., but he keeps the two separated, he said.
"He sure does," owner and developer David Dewhirst replied, when asked if they were separate. "He made me give him two separate leases and two different bills."
His campaign staff goes up and down stairs as needed, but the downstairs is off limits to the media. Laura Braden, deputy campaign manager/communications director, said he wants to protect the privacy of his employees.
"You want to see my office so you can trash it. My commercials will have my office in it," Padgett said.
The business was in Nashville initially. In 2007, he added an investor, Blake Bookstaff, with Padgett being chief manager, then president and eventually CEO. The business was moved to Knoxville, where he had several physical addresses, Padgett said.
The one on file with the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office is at a UPS store, 5201 Kingston Pike, suite 6325. Bookstaff is the registered agent for the address — hypothetically, the person to whom service of process would be sent in the case of a lawsuit.
"Someone is not always at the office," Padgett said, explaining the postal address is used so that items like hardware and equipment that's been sent are not left unattended when employees are away.
His employees receive health benefits, including vision and dental care, just like he does, he said. He declined to say how many employees vs. how many contract workers he had "for competitive reasons."
While Mark Padgett has been running for mayor, Evan Lindauer, eGoverment Solutions' operating chief, has been helping to run the business. Padgett is optimistic about winning the race and said, "I'm looking for a new CEO."
Family tree: Work ethic, public service
While this election is Padgett's first, he comes from a family long active in local and state politics.
His grandfather, the late Bill Padgett, was a Knoxville city councilman and a Criminal Court bailiff. His dad, Mike Padgett, was one of few Democrats elected in Republican-dominated Knox County — serving as county clerk for 23 years.
Mike Padgett also owned a restaurant in Lonsdale. Son Mark Padgett, as he explains on his website, "learned the value of hard work helping at his father's restaurant, picking up fruit in the morning and washing dishes at night."
Mark Padgett was a regional field coordinator for Bredesen during his successful run for governor in 2002. Bredesen carried Knox County and seven others in East Tennessee.
The family connections have contributed — but are not the only factor — in his ability to raise more money than any of the other four mayoral candidates, Bo Bennett, Ivan Harmon, Joe Hultquist and Madeline Rogero.
"The reason I got involved in the campaign is I felt the things I had seen in Mark at work in the Bredesen campaign, his experiences in the Bredesen administration and what I've seen in him as an entrepreneur — he has a wide variety of skills that are applicable to government," said R. Jackson "Robbie" Pope, an attorney who is one of the candidate's co-treasurers of his campaign.
Pope, now at Regal Entertainment, formerly was with the Kramer Rayson law firm, some of whose members have contributed to Padgett's campaign.
"They're both Republicans and Democrats, which mirrors what is going on in the community (with contributors). People are on both sides of the aisle," he said.
Padgett's other treasurer, Ellen Adcock, director of administration when Victor Ashe was mayor, said the fact that Padgett's a newcomer will help him.
"Madeline's name has been out there for awhile," Adcock said. "Ivan, I'm not real worried about.
"I know a little bit about energy level. Ashe had it. I gravitate to people who are enthusiastic and can cover all the bases at one time. You have to do that to be mayor."
Knoxville attorney Warren Gooch has contributed to Padgett's campaign and helped him raise money. An Oak Ridger, Gooch said he's been active in political and civic affairs of Knoxville for years because he views the region as one cultural entity.
"I've known Mark since he was born and watched him grow up," Gooch said. "I'm familiar with his background, what he's accomplished. Mark is very intelligent and can do any number of things. I think Knoxville is very fortunate to have someone of his caliber running for mayor."
Gooch expects Padgett to win the race and "be focused on moving Knoxville forward for eight years. Yes, it will be eight years. He will bring energy and renewed commitment. If you stand still, you're losing ground."
Padgett's media campaign is just about to get launched, with an eye toward early voting, which begins Sept 7, and the primary on Sept. 27. Having raised nearly $317,000 through July 31, he has the money needed to let voters know who he is and where he stands on issues.
"Mark can do whatever he wants to do," Gooch said. "At his capacity to be successful in business and politics, he brings an intellect, which is a real plus."