KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — In 2021, a record number of people voted in Knoxville's standalone city council election. Part of that may be because of how much the candidates spent.
"I think it made a definite difference," Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie said. It also worked to [the incumbents'] advantage because their ads started to go negative."
Together, the 10 candidates running for five city council seats spent about $17 per voter. The incumbents wish they didn't have to spend that much.
"There should not have been this much money involved. I don't like money in politics," said Councilwoman Seema Singh, who spent about $30,000 on her campaign. This should have been me knocking on doors and making phone calls and contacting people and that doesn't cost much money."
Singh was among the smaller spenders this cycle. In District 4, Councilwoman Lauren Rider and challenger Jim Klonaris spent a combined $120,000.
"That's insane. I think there's a lot of nonprofit organizations and other things that would have been a better place for that money," she said. But when your opponent spends a ton of money, you, in turn, have to spend a ton of money."
In total, the candidates spent a combined $375,000 campaigning for a spot on Knoxville's City Council. For perspective, that's about as much as it would take to fund two electric KAT buses and a depot charger.
Councilman Tommy Smith, who spent about $74,000, said he was glad people were voting and donating because it shows they're getting involved.
"Money doesn't vote. Signs don't vote. People vote," he said. People showed up to help us with contributions."
Andrew Roberto spent about $54,000 running for re-election. He also said that money wasn't the deciding factor in the election.
"It's always important to be able to go talk to folks," he said. When you're fortunate enough to have people who contribute to the campaign, what it helps you do is get your message out."