Discussions grew heated Tuesday night when Nashville’s four leading mayoral candidates came together at Belmont for their first televised debate.
Mayor David Briley, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, At-Large Council member John Cooper and former Vanderbilt University professor Dr. Carol Swain’s widely differing views on everything from education to policing to infrastructure became clear from the very first question, when moderators asked if the candidates think Nashville is moving in the right direction.
Briley, Clemmons and Cooper all agreed that in some ways Nashville is progressing, but they pointed to specific issues that can improve. Clemmons highlighted three key areas where some families are being left behind in Nashville’s prosperity — education, transportation and affordable housing. Cooper pointed to the need for restored trust in government.
But Swain took a different stance, arguing that current government officials have failed to give the city’s residents what they need.
“We’re absolutely moving in the wrong direction, that’s why I’m running for mayor,” she said.
Throughout the hour-long debate, which was sponsored by The Tennessean, News Channel 5 and Belmont University, a common theme emerged. When it came to specific issues like affordable housing, public schools and juvenile crime, all four candidates agreed that something needs to be done, but their proposed solutions varied drastically, and often included targeted attacks at other candidates.
When asked if economic incentives to attract businesses to Nashville’s downtown have gone too far, several of the candidates took shots at Briley’s efforts to bring Amazon and AllianceBernstein to the city.
The three other candidates agreed that incentives should focus on small businesses and businesses who are willing to invest in the city.
“We should be negotiating from a position of strength. We shouldn’t be sitting down at the table to negotiate with million dollar corporations, pushing all our chips across the table and giving them whatever they want just to come to Nashville,” Clemmons said. “We should be demanding things from these companies that want to benefit from all the great things about our city.”
Briley stood firm on the fact that economic incentives have an important time and place, but he also highlighted his own efforts to bring in companies that don’t require incentives.
“There will be moments where we decide, like Councilman Cooper and I decided with Amazon and AllianceBernstein, that those [incentives] made sense. But there will be other opportunities where we don’t have to,” Briley said.
All four candidates agreed that Nashville needs to focus on its citizens just as much as it focuses on tourists. Cooper, Swain and Clemmons pointed out the need to focus more money on neighborhoods. Briley pointed to his scooter ban as an example of one way he’s already shown he prioritizes citizens over tourists, and he condemned Cooper for criticizing his budget but not taking the opportunity to present his own.
In their closing statements, each candidate highlighted his or her unique qualifications for the role of mayor.
Cooper pointed to his experience as a developer and his desire to “find solutions to pay for the cost of growth.”
Clemmons cited some of the work he’s already done as a representative and argued, “what we’re lacking is leadership and a vision to move Nashville forward in an equitable manner.”
Briley claimed, “I have kept the city moving steadily forward in the last 15 months,” pointing to his appointment after Mayor Barry’s resignation and saying that he has helped the city to heal since then.
Swain, who claimed she had never wanted to run for office and was recruited by people who wanted change in Nashville, criticized the way that all the other candidates could have already addressed these issues during their time political office. “I’m asking you to try something new,” she said.
The Nashville mayoral election will take place on Aug. 1, with early voting starting July 12.