Dec 13, 2021 - Politics

Hal Cato considering run for Nashville mayor

Hal Cato stands on stage with a microphone.
Hal Cato. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for The Green Room

Hal Cato, one of Nashville's most prominent nonprofit executives, is considering a run for mayor in 2023, he confirms to Axios.

  • Cato is the CEO of Thistle Farms, the faith-based program that helps women who are victims of human trafficking. He has told Thistle Farms he will be leaving in 2022.
  • In more than six years with the nonprofit, Cato says he's proud to have helped grow Thistle Farms' annual revenues from $2 million to $9 million.

Why it matters: Nashville Mayor John Cooper has not announced if he will run for re-election in 2023.

  • Cato is the first viable potential challenger to emerge, and the possibility of his candidacy is sure to kick Nashville's political rumor mill into overdrive.

What he's saying: Cato, who founded the volunteer nonprofit Hands on Nashville and served as the top executive at the youth services nonprofit Oasis Center, tells Axios that 2022 "will be a good time to consider a new challenge."

  • "I do think next year I'll be ready for a change professionally, and the mayor's office certainly is one of the things I'm thinking about among a handful. It's a huge decision, and I never saw myself running for public office."
  • "But then again, my whole life has been, 'What's the next best thing I can do for Nashville?'"

Driving the news: Cato says he's heard from many people who think he should run. He plans to make a decision in the next few months.

Context: Cato is married to well-known businessman Michael Burcham. The perception is that the couple has enough wealth to help bankroll a mayoral campaign.

  • In addition to Cooper, former mayors Phil Bredesen and Karl Dean drew on significant amounts of family wealth to help finance their campaigns.

The bottom line: Cato likely has the kinds of political connections necessary for a run, as well as the progressive credentials on which to build a platform.

Editor's note: The description of the Oasis Center has been corrected to note that it's a nonprofit providing counseling and other services to youths, not an addiction recovery center.

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