Ready for Freddie O'Connell to be Nashville's next mayor? I hope so, because, following a divided vote among progressives/liberals, Alice Rolli has an uphill battle ahead of her. This runoff election is similar to the one Megan Barry won eight years ago. 2015 now seems to be light years in the past after Barry's resignation in the aftermath of her using her office for play dates with her bodyguard, Rob Forrest; David Briley taking over as mayor for a bit; John Cooper winning in 2019; and COVID-19 and Cooper's rigid restrictions of business. Barry, a progressive, defeated conservative David Fox in 2015. Fox is now is Rolli's campaign manager.
We've been through a lot in eight years, but I still thought that Nashville would turn out stronger for such an important election. Many Cloud Nine Higher fans and followers do not live in Davidson County, but many do. John Cooper, our current mayor, decided earlier this year not to seek re-election to the office.
This produced a large field of twelve candidates. One of those twelve, Jim Gingrich, suspended his campaign after early voting started. While Metro Nashville does not designate parties for its elections, most of the mayoral candidates were known to associate with the Democratic party. Alice Rolli associates with the Republican party.
Since so many progressive, Democratic-style candidates were on the ballot, the vote was split. Rolli was able to pull ahead of the pack and finish second to Freddie O'Connell. O'Connell is the current council rep for District 19, which includes downtown Nashville. The count: O'Connell 27,470, Rolli 20,458. A total of 101,245 votes were cast in the election for mayor. O'Connell and Rolli now face off in the September 14 runoff election.
By all accounts, including the informal analysis from my friend, current District 14 council member and attorney Kevin Rhoten, turnout was low. This is disappointing, but it also is an indication of how the candidates for mayor did not inspire the public. No one seemed to attract a groundswell of enthusiasm.
TV ads, especially those created by Jim Gingrich and Matt Wiltshire, seemed cheesy and were short on specifics about how the two would run Metro Nashville government. Kevin Rhoten thought that the O'Connell ads were more effective: "Less Nashvegas - More Nashville", according to my friend.
I realize it is popular to come out against crime, but I don't think that Nashville's crime is worse than any other major city in America. In fact, I think we are safer than most American cities. Some mayoral candidates depicted our city as a crime zone. This was misleading in my view.
The best campaigns are run through in-person contact and phone calls. Direct mail is always used a lot, and I received numerous SMS texts on election day. The rain fell on the big day, but we had two weeks to vote early and locations all over the county to go make it happen. Weather is no excuse these days.
I don't have any statistics to back it up, but I don't think that relying on email and social media works. Email and social media are great (and probably essential), but the best way to get votes is to knock on doors, appear at events, and work the phones. I think some of candidates for the various offices learned this the hard way.
Finally, one must wonder if female turnout was strong. Activist Aftyn Behn pulled off a huge upset in the Democratic primary for District 51 state representative, besting Anthony Davis. Davis was endorsed by most major politicians in town and sent out at least two mailers that I received (District 51 includes my home neighborhood of downtown Nashville). I had never heard of Behn until election night. I do not vote in primary elections, and this publication is not affiliated with any political party.
In the race for vice mayor, incumbent Jim Shulman, who sent out emails regularly about council meetings and ran a regular video broadcast or podcast he dubbed "A Community Conversation", was upset by District 34 council member Angie Emery Henderson.
We will move forward as a county and support our new leaders. Hopefully, we will turn out in bigger numbers for future elections - including the September 14 runoff.
James A. Rose, Publisher