By Logan Langlois
NASHVILLE, TN — The race for the Nashville Mayor’s office is officially underway following the conclusion of the first mayor candidate debate on Tuesday at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. The debate included candidate at-large Metro Council member and former nonprofit executive Sharon Hurt; Nashville newcomer and former AllianceBernstein COO Jim Gingrich; Germantown, downtown and Music Row two-term representative Freddie O’Connell; former Gov. Bill Haslam administrator and Sen. Lamar Alexander campaign chief Alice Rolli; former Metro official working on economic development and affordable housing Matt Wiltshire; and state senator representing Sylvan Park to Antioch, Jeff Yarbro. The structure of the debate followed the candidates being asked a set of nine different questions, with each being allotted 60 seconds to respond.
The questions were based on those submitted by journalists, all of which focused on growing local concerns including issues of homelessness, transportation, Nashville’s rising crime rate, the debate surrounding the Nissan Stadium, public schooling, police funding, and the erupting political tensions between Tennessee State and Nashville Metro representatives.
During the debate, the candidates largely agreed on the need to improve public service, transportation, and affordable housing but disagreed on the details of how these plans should be implemented. The candidates also more outwardly disagree on issues such as the debate around the Nissan Stadium, how to address the state and local political divide, and how Nashville should go about bettering its schooling.
Regarding the increasing divide between state and local politicians, candidates Hurt, Yarbro, and O’Connell emphasized Nashville is respectfully holding its own against attacks from the state-controlled GOP legislature, with O’Connell going so far as to say that “the state is now waging, functionally, policy war on the city.” Candidate Gingrich claimed that the divide between city and state officials is the result of representatives grandstanding for the sake of political gain, while candidates Wiltshire and Rolli emphasized the need to work with the state while letting cooler heads prevail, with Rolli arguing that “it is not a conservative position to override local control of Nashville.”
On the topic of education, all the candidates agreed that Nashville’s public school system is lacking and that teachers were having far too much asked of them. Where disagreement arose was how to go about improving public education, with candidate Gingrich advocating for building a plan with superintending schools and then holding them accountable, and candidates Hurt and Rolli, both former teachers, advocating for greater incentives and assistance for teachers, respectfully. Yarbro advocated for the need to push the state to invest more into public education in Nashville, while Wiltshire stated that the best way to tackle the many issues being laid at the feet of public schools is private/public cooperation. O’Connell was also sure to point out that Tennessee has the earliest start times in the country, which has been linked to lower learning comprehension.
During their closing arguments, Wiltshire advocated that he was the candidate with a proven track record of success with day-one plan; Hurt described herself as a determined leader who will fight for the undervalued working class and disenfranchised, saying “I want to restore hope and prosperity on every block of this city.”
Gingrich went on to point to his COO experience, while Yarbro showcased his experience in uniting people across the board for mutual purpose as a senator.
O’Connell showcased his time not only as a Metro Council member but as an occasional entrepreneur, and Rolli upheld that she has a long history of bringing people together from different political leanings.
General elections to determine Nashville’s next mayor will open on Aug. 3rd.
O’CONNELL STATEMENT ON CUTTING SIZE OF METRO COUNCIL:
COUNCIL LAW CREATES CHAOS
Among the bills in the ‘Punish Metro’ package, the state legislature has passed a bill reducing the size of the Metro Council to 20 members. Governor Lee signed it in record time. Let me be clear: This isn’t ‘We the People.’ This is ‘Because We Can.’
Nashvillians have repeatedly asserted they prefer 40 Council members, most recently rejecting a change in 2015 with a 62% majority. This time, Nashvillians did not get a fair say, but dozens of legislators who live far from here did. The new law will also produce incredible chaos in the creation of new districts, the pitting of existing members against one another, and the upcoming August election.I am glad to see, and wholeheartedly support Metro Nashville fighting this attack on our rights in the courts.