During his professional wrestling career “Kane” often got into scraps with a rival known as “The Undertaker.” Now, as mayor-elect of Knox County, Tenn., Glenn Jacobs hopes to have a more collegial relationship with his medical examiner.
Jacobs capitalized on more than 20 years of wrestling fame to bring attention to his run for office, and in the process turned some heads. He takes office Sept. 1.
“My celebrity got me in the door, but I had to educate myself on the issues. People weren’t going to vote for me just because I was a wrestler,” he said. “It was a novelty, they’d laugh and then realize I knew what I was talking about.”
Not that a career in wrestling is a disqualifier, with Jesse Ventura’s term as governor of Minnesota serving as a high-profile example.
The opportunity to work in government on a local and executive level drew Jacobs to the mayor’s race.
“Mayor appealed to me because you can make policy and impact things,” he said. “When you look at a legislature, there’s not much you can do because you’re one of several hundred people. In county government, even more than on the federal level, what you do has an impact on people’s everyday lives.”
He consulted with a number of Tennessee politicos, including former aides to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) who was said to have preferred serving as mayor of Chattanooga to serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Jacobs’ interest in politics and government was born out of a high school assignment to argue Walter Mondale’s positions during the 1984 presidential election. His fascination grew from there, though his philosophy opposed Mondale’s.
He hopes that his stature in the wrestling world, along with his stature at 7 feet tall, will help draw attention to his new role as mayor.
“I hope I can get people interested in local government, and relate to them how important it is to be involved in your community.”
His campaign was a 15-month process that gave him a new view of Eastern Tennessee, where he has lived for 25 years.
“If you really want to learn about some place, run for office,” he said. “You will learn a lot about it.”
Over the course of two clean and civil campaigns, he didn’t have to break a chair over his primary opponents’ head or yank his general election opponent’s leg.
“Political discourse is getting to the point where a lot of people’s campaigns are ‘I’m not as bad,’” he said. “I was proud nobody in my races resorted to that – we talked about the issues that mattered to Knox County.”
Jacobs developed his positions through plenty of conversations with county staff members and officials and his predecessor, Tim Burchett, and he plans to continue many of the same policies, but knows his main priority.
“Any mayor’s job is jobs,” he said. “When people are doing well and working, you have more tax revenue, crime is lower, the quality of life is higher. There are still going to be issues but success breeds success.”
He wants to capitalize on having both the University of Tennessee’s main campus and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory nearby.
“The way the global economy is going to go in the foreseeable future is going to involve another industrial revolution in manufacturing and computational power,” he said. “Given what we have, we can be ahead of the curve and attract some jobs.”
At the same time, he wants to focus on giving young people more awareness of their education and professional options.
“We’ve dropped the ball in career education and we’re left without vital trades workers,” he said. “Not everybody has to go to college.”
As for his career, he won’t be jumping back into the ring too much.
“I’ll do the occasional big event, but my priority now is being the best mayor I can be,” he said.