May 9, 2022 - Politics

David Briley's big comeback

David Briley in a suit with a orange tie

David Briley. Photo: courtesy of the David Briley campaign

Less than three years after David Briley became the first incumbent mayor in Metro Nashville history to lose reelection, he found redemption at the polls.

  • Briley won the Democratic primary for Division I Circuit Court judge and doesn't have a Republican opponent on the August ballot, so he is headed for the bench.

Why it matters: Briley has had one of Nashville's most consequential political careers over the last 20 years. He tells Axios that being elected judge was his goal long before entering the mayor's office.

Context: An attorney by trade, public service is baked into Briley's DNA. His grandfather, Beverly Briley, was the first mayor of Davidson County's consolidated Metro government, and his brother, Rob, was a state lawmaker.

  • Briley followed the family tradition of public service by winning an at-large seat on the Metro Council in 1999. After an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2007, he won a closely contested election for vice mayor in 2015.

Flashback: Briley says that when he ran for vice mayor, he imagined his next job would be circuit court judge. But after Mayor Megan Barry was forced to resign in 2018, he got an unexpected promotion.

  • Later that year, he won a special election to complete Barry's term. Briley earned support from the city's civic leaders and business community, which seemed to put him on the path to winning in 2019.

Yes, but: Instead, Metro Councilmember John Cooper, fueled by millions of dollars in campaign donations, surged past Briley to unseat him.

What he's saying: "I wanted to serve again," Briley says. "I can't tell you I wanted to run again. Running is hard, and it sort of opens old wounds sometimes. So running a campaign was not the goal. The goal was to be able to serve the city as a judge, and so that's the way you get there."

The intrigue: While Briley acknowledges that the negative political culture that permeates national politics also takes a toll on local officials, he says "there wasn't much of it" in his primary race against well-funded attorney Wendy Longmire.

  • "Certainly when I was mayor, there was a ton of that negativity," Briley says.

Between the lines: To sell himself to voters, Briley filmed a somewhat personal ad showing him doing something he loves: cooking a meal for his family and friends.

  • "In this campaign, we got the most feedback from the posts that were the least political," Briley says.
  • "Every Sunday, I posted what I cooked for dinner, and that's what folks cared about. They want to see what you're about as a person, and I think folks are tired of the toxicity."

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