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Mayoral Candidates Square off on Campus Before Election

Mayoral candidates get set for debate in the Fisher Center, Tessa Pendleton

Nashville mayoral candidates Freddie O’Connell and Alice Rolli had their final face-off on Belmont University’s campus, debating issues ranging from transportation to the cost of living to school choice.

Hosted in a half-full Fisher Center, the candidates not only debated key issues, but also took personal jabs at each other over the issue of school choice and the Nashville public school system.

One of the more important issues for college students, the cost of living in Nashville, was commented on by both O’Connell and Rolli during the debate, with both disagreeing on how best to tackle the issue.

“One of the most important things I'd put on the table would be to start coordinating the tools we have,” O’Connell said.

Some of these tools he said include a newly passed property tax freeze and relief program for senior residents, additional investments in housing as well as transit programs.

Rolli, however, primarily focused on reducing taxes for Nashvillians.

“The first way we made living in this city less affordable is raising taxes,” she said. “And so, the idea that making the city more affordable means spending more of your money, I think is hard for most Nashvillians to get their minds around.”

O’Connell expanded more on the issue after the debate, pointing to public transportation as one method of improvement for the rising problem of the cost of living here in Nashville.

“We have known for a long time that this was not only an issue, but for a few years increasing in severity as an issue,” he said.

This, combined with rising housing costs across Nashville, has put a strain on many including students and has highlighted the issue on Belmont’s campus.

Alice Rolli declined to speak with media after the debate.

She did, however, touch on school choice during the debate, where she called out O’Connell for choosing to send his kids to a public school they were not zoned for.

“I want parents in our county to have the same choice that Freddie's children have. Freddie's children are zoned for a school that he does not send his children to; he sends them to a different school,” she said

O’Connell responded to this by saying, “I think it's completely reasonable to be able to choose within public schools, and I think it's a little bit unusual... to have another candidate try to determine what's appropriate for my family.”

Rolli said O’Connell was being hypocritical, considering his stance on school choice and the public school system.

“Many of the defenders of the status quo do not want families to have a choice of where to send their child to school, and many of those same defenders of the status quo elect to send their child to a more successful school. And it's the hypocrisy there that is bothersome to me,” she said.

O’Connell responded by inviting Rolli back to the public school system.

Both candidates closed the debate with their cases for why they should be Nashville’s next mayor.

O’Connell highlighted his family roots here in Nashville as well as many of his endorsements from previous mayoral candidates, such as Matt Wiltshire, Jeff Yarboro, Jim Gingrich and Heidi Campbell.

“Music City is in our blood. Our family has lived in the Salem town neighborhood for the past 16 years in North Nashville,” he said adding. “I love Nashville. And that's why I've worked so long on ensuring that we have the tools to build a better future.”

He also took one final jab at Rolli’s recent firing of a campaign consultant who was found to have connections to the Proud Boys.

Rolli discussed the lack of accountability from previous administrations and touched on the many ways the Metro Council has failed the city. She said voters should look towards her campaign as an answer to these issues and to put the focus back on Nashvillians.

“We are not in any way beholden to anyone but our citizens who live here,” she said. “Our citizens who want someone to come when you call 911, our citizens who want to send their children to a school that their tax dollars pay for, and our citizens who are tired of pointing fingers between different levels of government.”

The ending of the debate was met with applause from a majority-older crowd.

And missing from the crowd were Belmont students, with few in attendance to witness the Thursday night clash of candidates.

Carter Barnett, president of the Belmont’s Student Government Association, was one of the few students at the debate, and said he was glad to hear about candidates' different methods of addressing issues here in Nashville.

“I would like to have seen a much bigger turnout,” said Barnett on the lack of student attendance.

Early voting will continue at select locations until Sept. 9 with election day set for Sept. 14.


This article was written by Katie Beth Cannon and Braden Simmons.

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