Dec 20, 2021 - Politics

Every potential candidate for Nashville's next mayor

courthouse building with a green lawn out front
The Davidson County Courthouse. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has not announced whether he will run for reelection in 2023.

  • Conventional wisdom says Cooper — with his deep pockets, name recognition and key accomplishments (record pay increase for teachers, a fixed budget) — would be favored should he decide to run.

Why it matters: With less than two years until the election, speculation is rampant among courthouse insiders about who may be eyeing a run.

  • If Republicans carve up the Davidson County congressional district, then Nashville mayor will become the top elected office a left-leaning politician can realistically achieve.
Our running list of potential 2023 Nashville mayoral candidates:

1. Nonprofit executive Hal Cato: He already signaled his interest in running and said he'll make a decision early in 2022.

2. State Rep. Bob Freeman: He won the competitive House seat formerly held by Speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican.

  • Fundraising clout runs in the family — his father is the real estate executive and Democratic bundler Bill Freeman.

3. Metro Councilmember Angie Henderson: A policy wonk on issues such as infrastructure, Henderson represents affluent southwest Nashville but would be making the leap to a countywide election.

4. Metro Councilmember Sharon Hurt: Hurt has easily won two terms as an at-large councilmember and she is a known leader in North Nashville. However, she has room to grow as a fundraiser.

5. Metro pandemic response task force co-chair Alex Jahangir: A Vanderbilt doctor with political connections, he led the city's COVID-19 response and increased his name recognition doing so. He's never run for public office.

6. Activist Odessa Kelly: She is currently challenging Cooper's brother U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper for his congressional seat. But many insiders have observed that her campaign for Congress, if unsuccessful, could pivot seamlessly to a run for mayor.

7. Juvenile Court Clerk Lonnell Matthews: Matthews has two terms on the Metro Council, a stint as a mayoral adviser, and most recently won the county-wide race for juvenile court clerk.

  • It would be a risk to leave his position to run for mayor if that's the path he chooses.

8. Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes: He led the three-year fight to raise the property tax rate, and was finally successful in 2020.

  • Mendes, an attorney, won the most votes in the competitive field of at-large candidates in 2019.

9. Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell: Downtown's councilmember has had a prominent role in the most consequential debates of the last six years. That visibility has translated to real fundraising muscle that could power a citywide run, though he may not be able to self-finance like other contenders.

10. A Republican: Any right-leaning candidate has a tough time winning a Nashville mayor's race that amounts to a Democratic primary.

  • But, as Cooper proved in 2019, there is a conservative vote out there to be had.
  • Councilmember Steve Glover and retired Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain are among the Republicans who could run and gobble up that voting bloc.

11. Social entrepreneur Renata Soto: She ran the prominent immigrant services nonprofit Casa Azafrán, has deep business community ties and recently launched a new nonprofit venture Mosaic Changemakers.

12. Metro Councilmember Tanaka Vercher: No part of town has seen as much population growth as Antioch. Vercher is an ambitious two-term councilmember from the area.

13. MDHA official Matt Wiltshire: Widely believed to be a future candidate for mayor, Wiltshire has never run for office.

  • He has an interesting resume as economic development chief under Mayor Karl Dean, before his current role working on affordable housing initiatives for the Metro Development and Housing Agency.

14. State Sen. Jeff Yarbro: He launched his political career in 2010 by boldly (and unsuccessfully) challenging state Sen. Douglas Henry, who was a Nashville political institution.

  • After fighting a mostly losing battle against the GOP supermajority, Yarbro would be a contender for mayor or Congress.
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