Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
December 13, 2021

Happy Monday everybody. We are thinking about our neighbors in Kentucky as we start this week.

Today's newsletter is 942 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Nashville escapes the worst of it

An American flag is draped over debris after a tornado in Dawson Springs, Ky.
An American flag draped over debris after a tornado in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Photo: Michael Clubb/AP

Nashville was somehow spared the worst of a deadly and violent storm that spawned tornadoes across six states.

Zoom out: Bowling Green, just an hour north of Nashville, and Mayfield, Kentucky, which is about two hours to the northwest, were among the towns tragically affected by the tornadoes. At least four people in Tennessee were killed by the storm.

  • "It's been a very difficult day for many of our neighbors here in our state and neighbors in surrounding states," Gov. Bill Lee said after surveying the storm damage in West Tennessee.

Flashback: At one point early Saturday morning it appeared that Nashville was in the crosshairs of a tornado. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-2 tornado touched down in Kingston Springs, west of Davidson County.

  • The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday that it was one of at least seven tornadoes that touched down in Middle Tennessee. An EF-1 also hit Davidson County near Percy Priest Lake and continued into Wilson County.
  • Forecasters, including Nashville Severe Weather, warned the tornado was pointing northeast toward the Joelton and Whites Creek neighborhoods.
  • While wind damage knocked down trees and powerlines, leaving up to 92,000 customers without power at one point, the tornado receded as the storm went through Davidson County.

Context: Nashville singer-songwriter Amanda Williams' storm experience was a metaphor for the entire city. In a Saturday blog post, she described the close call her property experienced.

  • "Giant trees were uprooted and snapped like matchsticks in a circle around the house and new deck, coming mere inches from breaking windows and crushing the second story bedroom where I had been sleeping," Williams wrote.
  • "The felled trees are testament to the – I'll say it – miracle that no one was harmed."

How to help: The Western Kentucky Red Cross has launched a fundraiser to help tornado victims in that area.

2. Hal Cato confirms he's thinking of a run for mayor

Hal Cato
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 reelection 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.

3. Music Monday: Our favorite 2021 songs

Mickey Guyton
Nashville singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

For this week's Music Monday, Adam and Nate each picked their 12 favorite songs of 2021.

  • Nate's top favorite from 2021 is "Long Distanced Conjoined Twins" by Home Is Where, while Adam's is "Renegade" by Big Red Machine featuring Taylor Swift.
  • The playlist alternates among all their favorites.

🥳 Please send us your favorite songs of the year by replying to this email and we'll feature them in our first playlist of 2022!

4. The Setlist

Illustration of a neon sign in the shape of an arrow reading "THE SETLIST."
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🏈 The Titans pitched a shutout and rolled over the listless Jaguars, 20-0. (Music City Miracles)

A study commissioned by the Country Music Association examines the prevalence of racial profiling and harassment at the genre's live events. (Billboard)

⚡️ The CEO of Nashville Electric Service is planning to retire. (Nashville Business Journal)

5. Education politics overhauled

The proposed new Nashville school board districts
The proposed new Nashville school board districts. Map courtesy of the Metro Planning Department

Nashville will hold partisan school board elections in 2022 after the county Republican and Democratic parties voted last week to hold primaries.

  • The Democrats conditionally voted to hold a primary only if the Republican Party did the same. Republicans kept their vote secret until the 11th hour by alerting the Election Commission late Friday afternoon.
  • Democrats feared that if they voted not to hold primaries, the left-leaning candidates would be forced to run as independents and split the votes while conservatives could coalesce behind the identified Republican primary winner.

Why it matters: Democrats will enter the elections as heavy favorites. Nashville councilmember and political data analyst Dave Rosenberg tweeted Friday that the newly drawn school board districts lean heavily Democratic.

  • The least favorable district, John Little's District 4, leans +9 for Democrats, per Rosenberg.
  • In addition to Little, school board members Rachael Anne Elrod, Fran Bush, and Gini Pupo-Walker are up for reelection in 2022.
  • All nine current board members are likely to run as Democrats.

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.

Our picks:

Nate is thankful for the connection made through Axios readers that led to adopting two leopard geckos for his son's birthday present!

Adam is wishing his friend Damon a very happy birthday.