Aug 15, 2022 - Politics

Next year's Nashville mayor's race is already crowded

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.
Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Nashville is on track for another rugged and competitive mayor's race.

  • Incumbent Nashville mayors typically cruise to re-election, but with less than one year to go, that dynamic seems like a thing of the past.

Why it matters: For the third time in five years, a crowded field of viable candidates will be seeking the job of mayor of Nashville.

  • Two legitimate contenders have already entered the 2023 mayor's race: Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell and former government official Matt Wiltshire.

State of play: Mayor John Cooper came into office promising stability and a return to basic neighborhood priorities.

What we're watching: Cooper has not officially announced he's running for re-election, but indications are he intends to do so.

Yes, and: Another serious challenger, the former nonprofit executive Hal Cato, seems poised to enter the race as well.

  • Jim Gingrich, a former top executive at AllianceBernstein, has also sent signals he may run.
  • And courthouse observers are watching to see if state Rep. Bob Freeman will enter the fray.

The intrigue: As the race is shaping up right now, all of the top contenders would be Democratic white men. But that may not mesh with Nashville voters.

  • In a sign of voters' appetite for more progressive candidates, social justice activists Charlane Oliver and Justin Jones won competitive Democratic primary elections earlier this month with well-funded campaigns. It remains to be seen which candidate the progressive political infrastructure will embrace.
  • One name to watch is activist Odessa Kelly, who is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Mark Green. If she comes up short in the solidly Republican district, she could easily pivot to a race for mayor.

Despite the fact that Mayor Cooper hasn't committed to running, his campaign continues to bring in cash.

  • He brought in $343,396 for the fundraising period ending June 30.

By the numbers: Cooper's campaign account had dwindled to just $8,770 before he began earnestly fundraising this spring.

  • Cooper's 2023 campaign has $295,535 on hand.
  • He reported $725,000 in outstanding loans.

Yes, but: O'Connell and Wiltshire are off to notable fundraising efforts as well. In just over one month and without the aid of a formal fundraising team, O'Connell raised more than $102,000.

  • Wiltshire has not had to file a public disclosure yet, but in a press release, he announced he'd raised $351,332 in just one week.

The bottom line: Incumbent mayors rarely see such well-financed challengers.

  • The only incumbent to ever lose re-election in the history of Metro government was Mayor David Briley, who lost to Cooper in 2019.
  • Briley assumed the job after Mayor Megan Barry resigned.
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