Good afternoon, everyone.
Most readers will probably agree that Nashville is at something of an inflection point. Over a decade after the New York Times’ death knell article declaring Nashville “It City”, we’ve watched Nashville transform as people and money from around the world poured into town.
From a ten thousand-foot view, Mayor Cooper’s time as mayor has been defined by a lack of transparency as he raised the property tax, shepherded in a variety of large tax-intensive developments, and tightened the relationship between the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp and the mayor’s office.
It’s not entirely due to Cooper that we’ve reached this “come to Jesus” moment as many begin to express concern that Nashville is slowly transforming into the more Hyde-like Nashvegas, but this sentiment certainly crystalized under him.
Aside from specific policy proposals, a consistent lament I hear from people across the political spectrum is that the city government is ignoring the concerns of residents, increasingly aligning itself with the interest of outside developers and tourist-adjacent industries.
This mayoral election has captured much of that anxiety, coming on the heels of the largely unpopular Titans stadium deal and occurring in the midst of yet another stadium conversation around building a NASCAR track at the Fairgrounds.
As you’ll learn over the next three days, each candidate’s platform reflects this anxiety in a different way. Whether it’s Alice Rolli’s emphasis on aggressively improving MNPS and fortifying MNPD or Freddie O’Connell’s insistence that we expand transit access, candidates generally seem to realize what time it is.
It’s worth noting that John Cooper ran on a “fiscally responsible” platform in 2019, deliberately laying out his opposition to economic incentive deals. Ironically, it’s economic incentive deals that have defined his time as mayor.
Today, we’ll be summarizing three mayoral hopefuls. We’ll continue this series through Friday, detailing the visions and platforms of each candidate. Our intent is to go beyond the all-to-common performative aspects of the political forums and try to paint a picture of what their actual plans will be once they get into office.
Preferred candidates will be indicated by a ✰✰✰ in front of their name. If you notice a candidate missing from our guide, it is because there was not enough information provided to properly outline their platform.
At the bottom of this email, you can find dates and other voter information in addition to links to our previous election guides.
❏ MAYORAL CANDIDATES
As the chief executive, the mayor of Nashville is responsible for the administration and supervision of all departments created by the Metro Charter. Aside from ensuring the city runs smoothly, the mayor appoints members to boards and commissions and submits an annual budget to the Metro Council. Earmarking and prioritizing funding is an important way for the mayor to set the priorities of the administration.
As made evident over the last few years, the mayor is also able to influence the direction of Davidson County by coordinating with stakeholders and brokering deals with the state. They can also draw attention to certain priorities by investing in research, public outreach, and PR campaigns surrounding certain initiatives. The mayor serves for four years and has a two-term limit.
Candidate Quick View
✰✰✰ ALICE ROLLI
Alice Rolli is no stranger to the world of politics. A native Nashvillian, she’s worked under Governor Haslam as the Assistant Commissioner of Strategy for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and as a special assistant and campaign manager for former Senator Lamar Alexander— an office, she’s stated, that took great pains to include the voices of parents in their children’s education. Before entering government, Rolli taught in Los Angeles public schools, which she’s described as the “hardest job I think that you will ever love,” and has since served as a regional advisory board member for Teach For America.
Rolli has been pinpointed as the conservative in the race. While making her rounds, jumping from one mayoral forum to the next, she’s solidified herself as a common-sense candidate with a clear plan to tackle the rising crime, clogged roads, and other growing pains brought about by Nashville’s expansion and government inefficiency. She’s proposed to do this by cutting government spending, taxes, and the bureaucratic red tape that has plagued Metro for decades.
Additionally, she's suggested Metro take advantage of beneficial subsidies by patching up Nashville’s relationship with the state. “Government… is not able to keep up with the private sector,” Rolli stated at the Nashville Conservatives’ mayoral Q&A. She went on to explain that state initiatives, such as THDA and home ownership programs, are underutilized, a phenomenon she thinks is indicative of the “failure of [the city’s] relationship with the state.”
Hot Button Issues
Public Safety: According to Rolli, it’s time to focus more on the rights of victims and less on the rights of criminals. “I'm not afraid…to shift from a criminal justice system to a victim's justice system,” she told a small gathering at a local mayoral forum. “This kind of catch-and-release concept that we have going right now is not working.”
Education: Last Tuesday, Rolli stressed the importance of holding MNPS accountable and made clear that she’d have no issue absorbing the school board’s powers. She went on to say Nashville’s school system should strive to be more like Miami-Dade’s, and that without accountability, it was in danger of becoming Detroit’s. As expected, her remarks caused a ruckus; Councilwoman Welsch even accused her of "dog whistling". Her campaign responded to the firestorm with this tweet:
The truth is that we spend $1.2 billion on our schools and we have declining enrollment and declining results. Only one quarter of our kids are reading on grade level and we are failing families when we have 19 schools in the bottom 5% of the state—and 11 of those have been on the list since 2015. Urgency and accountability for all kids in our city must be the priority of the next mayor. If the school board won’t take responsibility for achieving results for our kids, Alice will.
Transit: Though Rolli has frequently discussed road and sidewalk upkeep, she’s also spoken about public transit, which she sees as a regional issue, not a local issue. It’s common knowledge that many people, especially native Nashvillians, can no longer afford to live and work in the city. It’s also widely accepted that former mayor Megan Barry’s “Let’s Move Nashville” transit plan flopped in part because it wasn’t tailored to Nashville’s new status as a commuter city with a growing suburban population. To fix this, Rolli has suggested coordinating transit initiatives across county lines.
MATTHEW A. WILTSHIRE
Another native Nashvillian, Matt Wiltshire has spent over a decade in Metro Government. Before serving as the director of the Office of Economic and Community Development, he served as the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency’s chief strategy officer.
A family man with kids in MNPS, Wiltshire hopes to strike a balance between bolstering Nashville’s economic growth and ensuring Davidson County residents have opportunities to live the American Dream. To achieve this, he plans on creating better working relationships between the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. He’s also spoken extensively about affordable housing and intends to implement wrap-around services to address housing insecurity in Nashville.
Hot Button Issues
Public Safety Statewide gun safety laws and better mental health resources are twin priorities for Wiltshire. While sitting down with the Tennessean, he highlighted the need for foot patrols: “When I was at MDHA we worked directly with Metro Police and entered into a memorandum of understanding that increased patrols and got officers out of their cars walking the beat. We saw tremendous results in reduction of crime at those sites.”
Education A graduate of Hume-Fogg High School and member of Hillsboro High School’s PTSO, Wiltshire wants Metro Nashville Public Schools to become the best in the county. According to Wiltshire, this can be done by creating an equitable environment and brainstorming data-driven solutions in collaboration with the school board.
Transit Wiltshire believes that in a booming city like Nashville, there should be more investment in public transit. He plans to encourage a culture of mass transit by increasing bus stops near affordable housing.
Councilmember O’Connell, the current representative for District 19, is best known for his progressive approach to public policy, particularly public transit. However, he’s emphasized several times that he’ll do his best to represent all Davidson County residents as mayor. An alumnus of Brown University and the founder of Mimetic Industries, O’Connell believes his wide breadth of experiences give him an edge when it comes to leading Nashville.
Over the years, we’ve watched O’Connell diligently work toward his goal of making Nashville a more walkable (or bikeable) city. He’s also focused extensively on homelessness and affordable housing as a council member, even going as far as proposing to create an Office of Housing and Homelessness in 2021. Moreover, O’Connell developed a renewable portfolio plan for Metro’s energy policy in order to transition Metro buildings over to 100 percent solar energy. As far as his relationship with the state goes, the aggressive progressive has consistently joined his colleagues in pushing back against the GOP supermajority since his election in 2015.
Hot Button Issues
Public Safety: As one would expect, O’Connell believes guns, prisons, and broken windows policing will not make Nashville safer. While he consistently has stated his support of first responders, his overall plan is to create community partnerships with the police to tackle rising crime.
Education: With two children enrolled in MNPS, O’Connell promises to ensure Nashville teachers “remain the best paid in the state.” He embraces a wrap-around approach that would focus on everything from manageable class sizes and arts programs to providing free meals and winter coats.
Transit This topic is O’Connell’s bread and butter. To call O’Connell a spokesman for public transit is an understatement: the man is practically a living, breathing billboard for Metro’s transportation initiatives, who— credit where it’s due— walks the walk by taking WeGo or riding his bike to work. If elected, he would expand the transit network by updating its technology, building more transit centers, and incentivizing ridership overall. (It’s worth noting that, as a council member, he has worked towards incentivizing this transition and sponsored a bill that cut parking downtown.)
Not sure what council district you're in? Enter your address and find your district here. If you're interested in early voting, there are multiple polling locations open to voters at various times. Visit the early voting schedule here.
On election day, your polling place will be assigned to you and will be open from open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Find your election day voting location here.
- July 5, 2023: Voter registration deadline
- July 27, 2023: Absentee ballot request form deadline
- July 14, 2023: Start of early voting
- July 29, 2023: End of early voting
- August 3, 2023: Election Day
- List of Candidates: Metropolitan General Election
- List of Candidates: Metropolitan General Election Certified Write-ins
- List of Candidates: TN House District 51 Special Primary Election
- List of Candidates: Endorsed by Planned Parenthood