Blue cities threaten red states: Here’s what to know about the candidates in Nashville’s mayor race

Voting Paper Trail
FILE — Brittany Greenquist fills out her ballot as she holds her daughter, Isla, on Nov. 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. At a time of heightened scrutiny on elections, hundreds of local jurisdictions around the country still use outdated voting machines that do not produce any kind of paper trail that would make it easier to verify accuracy of the results. Election security experts have been insisting for years that those machines be replaced. Now they are getting help from Republican lawmakers whose constituents increasingly distrust voting machines, especially those that don’t use a paper ballot or produce a hard copy receipt of a person’s selections. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File) Mark Humphrey/AP

Blue cities threaten red states: Here’s what to know about the candidates in Nashville’s mayor race

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In recent years, dozens of mayoral contests in red states have resulted in a Democratic winner, and races in left-leaning municipalities like Nashville put pressure on the Republican Party.

While Tennessee is a reliable Republican stronghold, some of the largest cities are under blue leadership, such as Knoxville and Memphis. Metropolitan Council member Freddie O’Connell and Republican Strategist Alice Rolli are competing in a runoff election for mayor of Nashville on Sept. 14.


Although local elections in Nashville are nonpartisan, Rolli and O’Connell are running on differing policy platforms.

Alice Rolli

Rolli is facing an uphill battle — a Republican has never been elected mayor in the six decades since the creation of the council government. She has a long career working for Republicans, previously serving as a Tennessee state economic development official for former Gov. Bill Haslam and campaign manager for former Sen. Lamar Alexander. Rolli worked as an educator at the height of a teacher shortage in Los Angeles.

“This election is nonpartisan but for 60 years our city has operated under a belief it is non-partisan as long as you are a democrat,” a statement from Rolli to the Washington Examiner said. “Unlike her opponent who has signed all manner of national and international pledges – many adverse to the interests of Davidson County voters – native Nashvillian Alice Rolli has steadfastly kept the race about the local issues at hand,” it continued, referring to O’Connell.

Rolli has campaigned on improving the education system, increasing public safety and reducing crime, and lowering taxes for residents.

Like most elections across the nation, the issue of crime and policing has captured Nashville voters. Rolli cited FBI data that show over 100 homicides per year in the last three years in the Nashville-Davidson County region.

Among Rolli’s top priorities are to improve public safety and reduce crime, stating “her opponent has voted time and again to support policies that have resulted in citizens feeling less safe and our police feeling less supported.”

The next mayor will be tasked with rebuilding the community’s trust in law enforcement and tackling low staffing numbers with the police department.

“While Alice has the support of independents, her opponent has the support of the entire school board – who have presided over an exodus of families from our public schools and who failed to accept more than $5 million in funding to hire school resource officers at every public school across the county,” Rolli said. “Higher taxes, higher crime, schools that aren’t listening to parents – – this is the recipe book that has failed too many great cities.”

Rolli has pledged not to raise taxes, addressing voters’ concerns that affordable housing is unattainable, and noted Nashiville residents “are tired of being pushed out of the county by the tax-and-spend policies that have raised per capita property taxes 70% in the last 8 years.

She “stands strongly for the citizens of Nashville committed to reclaiming her beloved hometown from the national political forces bent on destroying it. She is a fighter and will fight, everyday, for the people and the prosperity of Nashville.”

Freddie O’Connell

With less than a week until the tally, O’Connell said he’s focused on local politics rather than national trends when asked about the rise of progressive mayors in Republican states.

“Though we’ve had support from some local Democratic organizations, we’ve also had a bipartisan donor and voter base the entire time I’ve run and governed,” O’Connell told the Washington Examiner.

O’Connell has represented District 19 on the Metropolitan Council for the past eight years and announced his bid for mayor in the spring of 2022. O’Connell’s career spans various community and nonprofit organizations, as well as working in the private sector focused on information technology.

Citing Mayor John Cooper’s lack of effort to improve the city’s transit system, O’Connell is running as a transit activist and hopes to “build a transportation network that works for everyone,” as stated in an interview with the Tennessean in May.

O’Connell said the mayoral office is how services get passed to help residents directly, such as “acting meaningfully on transit expansion and bringing affordable housing projects to the forefront of our efforts.”

Other key aspects of the Democrat’s campaign include education and public safety. Pushing for more collaboration with community organizations and the government, O’Connell wants to “solve problems that lead to violence before it occurs.”

“We should also implement a Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) to bring together community stakeholders, social service providers, and law enforcement to focus on the places we already know crime is occurring,” O’Connell said in the Nashville Scene in June.

The general election was held on Aug. 3, and it resulted in a runoff. The voter registration to participate in the Nashville runoff election was Aug. 15. The two-week early voting period began Aug. 25, and it includes elections for Metropolitan Council member at large.

Tennessee ranks 10th among the most Republican states in the nation, with 60.7% of voters voting for the GOP candidate in 2016 and 2020, according to the World Population Review.

Liberal cities such as Houston and Austin are both led by Democratic mayors. In 2023, a number of records were broken in GOP-led cities where a Democratic candidate came out on top.

Jacksonville, Florida, experienced one of the biggest upsets this year when Donna Deegan became the second Democrat in three decades to win over the state’s biggest city. She defeated Republican challenger Daniel Davis, who was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).


Nine of the 10 largest cities in America are run by Democratic mayors, but the GOP’s strength is also being tested in less populated rural communities.

Independent Yemi Mobolade beat Republican former Secretary of State Wayne Williams in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in May, the first time in over four decades voters didn’t elect a member of the GOP.

© 2023 Washington Examiner
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