Richard Fulton (born January 27, 1927) was the second mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County from 1975 to 1987.
Fulton was educated as a youth in the public schools of his native Nashville. He later attended the University of Tennessee. As a youth he was once a paperboy. He served in the United States Navy in World War II.
In 1956 Fulton was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in place of his brother Lyle, who had died suddenly shortly after receiving the Democratic nomination for that post. However, that body refused to seat him on the grounds that he had not yet attained the age of 30, the age required for senators under the Tennessee State Constitution. The seat was taken instead by Clifford Allen. However, he ran for the position again in 1958, and this time was of age and seated. He left that body when the term ended in 1960 and worked in real estate.
In 1962 he entered the Democratic primary for the Nashville-based 5th Congressional District against incumbent Congressman Joseph Carlton Loser. In the August voting, Loser was the apparent victor. However, the election was contested by Fulton and a minor candidate, union activist Raymond Love. A subsequent series of articles on the front page of the Nashville Tennessean and a lawsuit followed. The allegations of fraud were serious enough that a judge ordered a new primary election. Love did not participate in this race, stating that his only desire had been one for an open, honest election and that the fraud alleged, while sufficient to have perhaps thwarted the election of Fulton, had not been of an extent sufficient to have prevented his election in any event. In the closely-monitored rematch, Fulton defeated Loser rather handily, and won easily in November.
Fulton was handily reelected in 1964, but in the next four cycles came closer than any Democrat before or since to losing a district that has been in Democratic hands since 1875. While his opponents were unwilling to state it publicly, much of the opposition to Fulton among some voters was his unabashed support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which most white Southern Democrats actively opposed.
In 1966, 1968, and 1970, his Republican opponent was George Kelly, who had a prominent flower shop in the Nashville suburb of Donelson. In 1968, Kelly almost defeated Fulton, losing by only four points (the closest any Republican has come before or since to winning the seat). Kelly would have won but for the presence of a candidate running under the banner of George Wallace's American Independent Party, who siphoned off enough votes to keep Fulton in office. Wallace actually carried Nashville in that year's presidential election--the first time since the end of Reconstruction that the Democrats had failed to carry the city in a presidential election. Despite Kelly's repeated efforts to brand Fulton as an "ultra-liberal" in television spots, his campaign faltered in 1970 and he decided to stop running for Congress. (He later achieved regional fame around Nashville as the man who paid young people $10 for memorizing the Ten Commandments.) In 1972 Fulton faced a fairly well-funded challenge from attorney Alf Adams, who tried to tie Fulton to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. However, Davis was badly defeated, winning only 38f the vote to 62or Fulton. This was a considerable embarrassment to the Republicans, since Richard Nixon carried Nashville by a substantial margin--the first (and as it turned out, only) Republican to do so since Reconstruction--with the support of many local Democrats, including Mayor Beverly Briley. The Republicans have only put up nominal challengers in the 5th since then.
Fulton was very well-known in Nashville and the immediate area, but quite obscure outside of it, as are many of the members of the House of Representatives who are not from either high-profile areas or involved in party leadership at the highest levels. However, Fulton was a staunch supporter of music interests in his votes, taking especial interest in areas such as copyright law. This may have in part been due to the fact that Fulton, like many Nashvillians, was an amateur songwriter himself, at one point recording a song about a paperboy somewhat like the one that he had been in his youth. This interest landed him a slot as a contestant on the To Tell the Truth game show as the song-writing Congressman. (The show was not regarded as particularly dramatic in the Nashville area, however.)
In 1975, Briley, the only mayor Nashville had ever had since its consolidation with Davidson County, was barred from a fourth term by the Metro Charter. A secretive group of Nashville business leaders known as "Watauga" (after the area in East Tennessee from which the original white settlers of Nashville had migrated), was not impressed with the prospective successors that they saw among local political leaders. They approached Fulton and promised him that he would almost certainly win if he ran. This proved prophetic, as Fulton won the race that year with almost a two-thirds majority. His only major opponent, Criminal Court Clerk Earl Hawkins, received about 25ŕ(In contrast the third-place finisher, plumbing-supply store operator Ralph Cohen, received only about 6é He was again succeeded by Clifford Allen, this time as Congressman.
Fulton's first term was not without controversy. He ran for governor in 1978, finishing third in the Democratic primary, behind flamboyant East Tennessee banker Jake Butcher and Public Service Commissioner Bob Clement. In 1979 he was challenged by engineer Dan Powers, a political novice who had the backing of Briley, and Helen Wills, an African American who had retired from the United States Army as a lieutenant colonel. Fulton received only 53f the vote, barely escaping a runoff against Powers. Apparently one of the problems some voters had with Fulton was that he ran for governor so soon after being elected mayor.
Fulton's second term for the most part went more smoothly, and his 1983 reelection came much more easily. In 1986 Fulton again ran for governor, again finishing third in the Democratic primary, behind state Speaker of the House Ned McWherter, and another Public Service Commissioner, Jane Eskind. This time, some of Fulton's detractors accused him of particularly heavy spending on public works projects in predominantly-black areas of Nashville, and implied that this was a repeat of the pattern of eight years prior, and that mysterously little work had been done in the area on these projects in the interim.
Fulton was the driving force behind the construction of the Nashville Convention Center in downtown Nashville during the mid-1980s. Almost immediately after its 1987 opening, it was considered antiquated: too small, somewhat inaccessible, and unable to expand. Another larger, privately-owned convention center was already open at the Opryland Hotel just a few miles away during that time, causing the downtown convention center to be overshadowed almost from its beginning. Even now, the NCC primarily books small functions and local events, while the Opryland convention center draws more corporate events and conventions from out of town. Therefore, the Nashville Convention Center has always carried the nickname "Fulton's Folly" in some circles.
Fulton was barred by the Metro Charter from running for a fourth consecutive term, and was succeeded by another member of Congress, Bill Boner. He was not far removed from public service, as his wife Sandra served in McWherter's Cabinet as Commissioner of Tourism. Fulton devoted his time to his family's real estate business and his governmental-relations consulting firm, and occasionally appeared in Nashville media as an expert political commentator.
However, when mayor Phil Bredesen did not run for reelection as mayor in 1999 (it is still unclear whether a term limits provision amended into the Nashville Metro Charter after Fulton's time as mayor limiting city council members to two consecutive four-year terms applies to mayors, superseding the former three-term limit; Bredesen chose not to contest this point), Fulton was again encouraged to run. From the outset of the 1999 race, it was apparent that there were actually three serious candidates: Fulton; Vice Mayor Jay West, son of 1950s Nashville mayor Ben West and brother of popular state representative Ben West, Jr.; and former State House Majority Leader and Vanderbilt University employee Bill Purcell. Purcell received almost a majority of the votes, narrowly missing outright victory; Fulton finished a very distant second, just ahead of West. Since the Metro Charter requires mayors and city councilmen to win a majority, ordinarily a runoff would have occurred. However, Fulton announced shortly after the election that he felt that Purcell had won sufficiently and that he would not be contesting the runoff. By law, the runoff had to occur nonetheless; it was also necessary for some city council races, but Fulton's announcement meant that there was very little remaining interest, and hence a very low turnout, for the runoff when it did occur three weeks later. Purcell naturally won easily, which was apparently the outcome foreseen by Fulton and his supporters whether they had continued to contest the race or not.
Fulton returned to his real estate and consulting interests, which he still pursues as of 2005.
Preceded by: J. Carlton Loser Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee's 5th congressional district 1963-1975 Succeeded by: Clifford Allen Preceded by: Beverly Briley Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee 1975 - 1987 Succeeded by: Bill Boner