When Madeline Rogero first ran for mayor of Knoxville in 2003 against now-Gov. Bill Haslam, her gender was a much-discussed part of the campaign. Questions swirled about whether the city was ready for a female mayor, and whether she wore enough makeup. She was hugely outspent in that race, but, improbably, she came within 6 percent of a win. When she ran again in 2011 after working as Haslam’s hand-picked community development director, Rogero and another female candidate emerged as the strongest contenders -- and the question instead became which woman would win. “Things had really changed,” she says.
Rogero’s now the first female mayor of a Tennessee “Big Four” city, and she’s approaching her job with a zeal that reflects her background as an urban planner and a community activist -- revitalizing downtown, expanding transit, protecting green space and extending benefits to same-sex couples (another Big Four first).
None of that should be surprising, given her background. Rogero worked as an organizer for the United Farm Workers in the 1970s. She’s been discussed as a possible Democratic candidate for governor after Haslam’s tenure ends, but right now she says she’s focused on the job at hand. “I love local government,” she says.