Tellingly, they both jumped in recent polls, earning their places among the top three in the twelve-person race; Rolli gaining 9 points with the support of 13 percent of voters, O'Connell jumping 10 points with 20 percent. Here is a snapshot of how these race leaders answered conservative Nashvillians.
BACKGROUND AND PLATFORMS
ABOUT ALICE While both candidates touched on the importance of honoring our fallen veterans, for Alice Rolli, Memorial Day has a more personal meaning. Rolli’s husband, Michael, was a doctor in the United States Army; she has experienced life as a military wife. “...We were stationed in a lot of different places,” she reflected. “We were stationed overseas at SHAPE in Brussels, and then we were stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. He deployed twice, once with the 101st and once with the 1st Cav.”
She also touched on her experience as a teacher in Los Angeles, commending teachers for their hard work: “It really was the hardest job I think that you will ever love.” Addressing her mayoral platform, Rolli explained how the three years she worked for then-senator Lamar Alexander were an honor, as she was able to include the voices of parents in their children’s education. “We [did] not have a voice that was advocating for new ways of looking at supporting parents that were making choices, either to homeschool or to go to charter schools or other types of schools,” said Rolli. “And so Senator Alexander became that voice and I was glad to work for him.” She also mused on Davidson County’s literacy problem, and explained how it came down not to poor students or substandard teachers but ineffective teaching methods :“...over the last 25 years [education] has pushed a method of reading instruction that is not working,” Rolli said. “But we have, across the city, a number of our charter schools and magnet schools that are getting 60 and 70 percent literacy rates.”
Rolli closed her five-minute elevator pitch by highlighting the obstacles Nashville is facing– specifically crime. According to Rolli, it’s time to focus a bit more on the rights of the victims and a bit less on the rights of the criminals: “This kind of catch and release concept that we have going right now is not working….With your vote, we can send a message that we've got to reset that relationship that we've got.”
ABOUT FREDDIE “The best thing you can do after today if you're thinking of voting for me is not telling anybody,” Freddie O’Connell quipped. The crowd chuckled; it is well-known that the current council member and mayoral hopeful takes a more progressive approach to public policy. Despite those differences, he emphasized that his job as mayor will be to represent everyone in Davidson County. In fact, during his introduction, he directed his attention to one of the attendees who consistently emails the Metro Council regarding her stance on certain bills and issues and commended her involvement as “a great act of citizen service.” This, despite the fact that ultimately, the overwhelming majority of his recorded council votes and sponsored bills reflect his proudly progressive policy principles. He went on to promise a transparent office, something we haven’t seen from the Cooper administration: “I guarantee you that people in here…will send me an angry email about something that I make a decision about, but it's okay…I'm going to always have my door and my inbox open.”
He then continued to highlight his platform. “Everyone in Nashville deserves to have a well-run government,” he said, before touching on some of the issues all Nashvillians can agree on: “...we should not be sitting number one on top of the list of worst potholes in the country.” Near the end of his five minutes, he touched on Metro’s struggle to deliver affordable housing, stating that the chief obstacle is Metro’s inefficient process. “We know that we can do better in terms of service delivery, and overall customer service and infrastructure.”
PUBLIC SAFETY AND POLICING
Q “I want to know from the candidates– how do we go about making the streets safe with the police shortage?”
ROLLI “To attract and create the best police– urban police force, in America, is to pay. But it's to also… do what I call kind of a reset of the attitude at the top….I think one of the biggest frustrations right now for the police is that when they arrest individuals multiple times…they get tired of arresting the same person and watching them come out a day or less later, and being right back on the street. And I know, I'm not running for DA. But I…believe that by sending a clear message that we've got to support the police and shift it from being 100 percent about the criminal and a little bit more about the victim. So how [am I] going to do that? I think it's pay, and it's also just continuing to try to attract and retain officers.”
O’CONNELL “...police precincts don't fight crime. Officers fight crime, and communities like to have police precincts because it helps people feel safe. But the truth of the matter is, what [having those] does is [increase] the police budget without putting more officers on the street, because now you're staffing up the precinct….I think Mayor Cooper actually did a couple of things very well. Over the past eight years, we have seen increases…in new recruit pay, but also across-the-board pay. This budget didn't go as far as I think the FOP or the Civil Service Commission were hoping, and I'm going to be part of the council members looking to increase pay further for first responders. We'll see if we're successful. That'll be over the next few weeks.”
O’Connell went on to give examples of community partnerships (he mentioned collaborations with a few nonprofits) and adding safety measures, such as traffic-calming mechanisms and well-lit streets. ”We typically know where the crime is,” he said to the crowd. “And I think that's what I want to do as mayor— focus on knowing where the crime is using good data and the talents of our police force, but also the knowledge of our community stakeholders and service providers.”
Q “If the council should possibly pass a guaranteed income for people in Nashville, would you veto it? Yes or no?”
There was some speculation about whether the mayor can actually veto a bill before the two candidates answered this question. For clarity, the rule concerning the mayor’s veto power can be found here.
ROLLI “A veto is a problem. But would I vote for it? No.”
O’CONNELL “Yeah, I guess I'd say I'm not going to prejudge anything. Because if they said, ‘Hey, we're going to set up something that offers grants to a small section of MDHA residents,’ that's different from a city-wide thing. So I'm not going to unconditionally say I would veto it. But I will say I'm skeptical that it would get through council.”