The entrance to Fort Negley is featured in a Briley for Mayor campaign commercial. The ad claims Briley fought developers to save the historic fort built by African Americans in 1862.

News Analysis by Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN – David Briley’s latest TV spot features him with some kids walking past a school. A woman narrator says, “For David Briley, strengthening Nashville starts with people….” The scene cuts to Briley talking with a family and the narrator says, ”…in our neighborhoods.” 

So far so good.

Mayor David Briley

 But then the narrator says “…and taking on the powerful even when it’s tough.” “Taking on the Powerful” is superimposed over a scene of downtown and the bat building. 

First Pinocchio: Of all four major mayoral candidates, David Briley is by far the friendliest to downtown business interests. He is favored by the Chamber of Commerce. And his former law firm, Bone, McAllister, and Norton has many of them as clients.

The scene changes to Briley walking down a school corridor with four adults and the narrator’s voice says, “Demanding accountability from the school board….” The words “Briley distinguished himself as a leader “ are superimposed on the image and the narrator continues…“so every child gets a better education.” 

Second Pinocchio: In May, School Board Budget Chair Anna Shepherd testified to the Metro budget and finance committee. She told them the school board was committed to five priorities including raises for teachers and bus drivers. The budget the school board proposed was $50 million more than Briley’s school budget of $914.5 million. Their budget had money for history and social studies texts as well as science kits.

“Every student needs a text book. Period. We need to be working towards that goal,” Shepherd said.

Briley didn’t stand up to the school board. He turned a deaf ear to their pleas. However, last week Briley announced teachers would be getting a 3% raise from money he’d found in some of Metro’s TIF accounts. TIF funds are development subsidies that go to commercial projects and schools sometimes get their funds cut if TIF loans do not generate enough tax revenues. 

This year TIF shortfalls cost MNPS $2.7 million. It is to Briley’s credit that he didn’t short the teachers. It is a shame he had to find the money in what amounts to a kind of slush fund. 

Third Pinocchio: The scene changes to Briley chatting with kids sitting on school steps and the narrator says, “….standing up to the Metro Council…” The words “Briley Against a Tax Increase” are superimposed on the image. The narrator says, “to protect families and seniors from higher taxes”. The scene changes to Briley on the front porch with an older black woman and younger black man.

This is just a ½ Pinnochio because it’s not a false statement. It is, however, only half-true. It is a misrepresentation to say Briley stood up to Metro Council on taxes. Even his opponent, John Cooper, voted against raising the property taxes. So Cooper could do a campaign ad claiming he stood up to the city council on taxes, too, but probably won’t. 

 The ad makes out Briley’s “powerful” political opponents to be the City Council and the School Board. They are apparently not his allies but neither have much power and they are safe targets. No mention of Amazon, the Omni hotel, and other entrenched economic interests with inside tracks to public funds. Those are Briley’s allies.

Fourth Pinocchio: A quick flash of an American flag. The scene changes to the entrance of Fort Negley where an American flag is flying.  “And fighting developers to save historic Fort Negley,” says the narrator.

This claim is false. Briley did not fight the plan to develop Fort Negley. He weighed in only after developer Bert Mathews withdrew from the project and former Mayor Megan Barry resigned from office. On March 13, 2018 Briley announced Greer Stadium would be torn down and the land returned to the park as the 2007 Fort Negley Master Plan stipulated. This is from Briley’s campaign HQ:

“One of Mayor Briley’s first acts upon becoming mayor was to protect the land around Fort Negley from being developed – to protect the graves, and honor the history, of the African Americans who died building it. Preserving the land as green space was the right thing to do, and it also marked a new day in how our city deals with developers.”

It was the right thing to do but Briley is claiming victory in a battle he did not fight much less win. Saving Fort Negley was the concerted effort by the Friends of Fort Negley, Historic Nashville, a non-profit preservationist group, coverage by the Tennessee Tribune, and a lawsuit to stop the project. Briley had nothing to do with any of that. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Briley’s opponent in the Mayor’s race, John Cooper, was very much involved in saving Fort Negley. From his campaign HQ:

John Cooper created the website and he hired a marketing and PR agency on behalf of Friends of Fort Negley. He collected letters of support from descendants, historians, community leaders, national preservation groups, and concerned individuals to stop City Hall’s plan to develop Fort Negley. 

Cooper produced an educational video about Fort Negley, gave presentations to the Parks Board and Metro Council. He hired architect Ben Page to create an alternative “all parks” plan to the development that City Hall was pushing. With the NAACP, Cooper supported an application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to have Fort Negley designated as part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. It was the first U.S. site to be nominated.

But let’s get back to the Briley TV spot.

“Because the right change starts by investing in people,” says the narrator. Three shots of Briley walking alongside a mural of the city with a group of people. The voiceover says, “David Briley …honest leadership for a stronger Nashville.” The last shot is from a drone flying towards downtown in the distance.

Briley is the candidate who is focused downtown because that is where the TV spot leaves the viewer. All three of Briley’s opponents claim Metro’s development subsidies benefit downtown business interests at the expense of other parts of the city.