NASHVILLE, TN — Last Thursday, the Panhellenic Society, Urban League of Middle Tennessee, NAACP Nashville, and Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship hosted a forum with the four prominent mayoral candidates: Mayor David Briley, State Representative John Ray Clemmons, Councilman-at-Large John Cooper, and former Vanderbilt professor Dr. Carol Swain. The forum was held at the historic Meharry Medical College’s Cal Turner auditorium. Attendees included members of the Divine 9 Greek Letter organizations, the leadership of Meharry Medical College, numerous elected officials, and members of the community. Moderated by Michael Milliner, Basileus of the Gamma Phi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, the candidates were asked a series of 20 questions, which focused on how each candidate would address the most pressing challenges facing Nashville’s African American communities.
While all candidates had their moments, state representative John Ray Clemmons was easily the most well-received by attendees, eliciting the most applause from the crowd. One of his most unique responses was his plan to fully fund the installation of body cameras for MNPD officers, which he claimed would increase accountability for officers and help restore trust between the police and the community. “It’s been 967 days since the Driving While Black Report was released. There is no excuse why body cameras have not been implemented,” said Clemmons.
The forum also sought answers on the candidate’s stances on education and the mayor’s role in supporting MNPS. Once again, Clemmons gave the strongest answer, calling for “fully funding Metro schools to ensure that all students have equal opportunity to succeed, no matter their zip code.” Clemmons was recently endorsed by the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA), in addition to the endorsements from various labor unions. Clemmons demonstrated his commitment to having the tough conversations about equity in our schools and being a true partner to the Director of Schools and Board of Education.
The discussion on education was quickly followed by one on youth violence. Clemmons gave an impassioned answer, citing the work done by Gideon’s Army to help children succeed. He tied his answer on youth violence back to the importance of education, stating, “Our children are in school only 7 hours per day. The other 17 hours they are in the community. When children are facing hunger, displacement, homelessness, or witnessing trauma, we know that what happens in the community, they take inside the classroom. It’s time for Metro to acknowledge our direct impact on student performance.”
The hot-button issue of the forum was property taxes. At the June 18th council meeting, the Mayor’s budget, which fell short of the significant additional teacher pay increases, a police precinct in Antioch, and additional firefighters and police officer positions offered in the Vercher/Mendez budget, was adopted. Councilman-at-Large John Cooper aligned with Mayor Briley and voted for the status quo budget. The measure failed by just 1 vote. When asked about supporting a tax increase to increase teacher pay, Clemmons, setting himself apart from the rest of the field, was the only candidate to voice support for a property tax adjustment. Clemmons said that “a mayor needs to be able to make the tough choices,” and further demanded fiscal responsibility from the mayor’s office.
At the end of the forum all of the attendees were asked to vote in a straw poll for no more than two candidates vying for Mayor in the August 1 election. Clemmons decisively won the crowd of nearly 300, gaining 46% of the vote. John Cooper came in second with 26%, with David Briley close behind at 25%. Carol Swain suffered a decisive fourth place with 3% of the attendee’s vote.
The forums will continue throughout the election season.