With less than 12 months to go before local elections, the mayoral field is beginning to take shape. Unlike past election cycles that featured a Metro mayor completing a first term, there appears to be a strong and well-funded field shaping up to challenge Mayor John Cooper. That field will not include Hal Cato, however. The nonprofit CEO announced on Monday he will not run.
The Banner reached out to a number of prospective candidates in addition to those already declared. Here’s how things stand now:
John Cooper: The current office holder faces a number of challenges. As the Banner wrote in May, Cooper’s overall support remains soft and the number of Nashvillians who think the city is on the wrong track is perilously high for an incumbent seeking re-election. In the coming months, Cooper will attempt to bring both racetrack and East Bank deals to the council, neither of which currently is assured of passage. But Cooper still enjoys strong support among African-American voters and has the ability to make news at virtually any time due to his position.
Freddie O’Connell: The District 19 (Downtown, Germantown, Salemtown) council member has been a sharp critic of Cooper’s. As the first opposition in the race, O’Connell has staked out generally more progressive positions than Cooper. He raised $100,000 in the first weeks of his candidacy and is on track to more than double that before end-of-year financial disclosures are due. Is that enough in a race with several well-funded candidates? O’Connell will impress many voters with his command of all-things Metro, as well as his attention to detail on issues like transit. But if the race turns into an air war of advertising, he quickly will be at a disadvantage.
Matt Wiltshire: Like O’Connell, Wiltshire is a rare native Nashvillian. After a decade as an investment banker, Wiltshire worked for a succession of mayors running the Economic and Community Development department before moving over to the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency as its chief strategy officer three years ago. Wiltshire already has raised more than $500,000 since declaring his candidacy in July and his Sept. 29 fundraiser will add to that total. He has been critical of the city’s missteps on basic services like garbage, recycling and fixing potholes and sidewalks, so it’s no surprise that in addition to affordable housing, he pledges a “back to basics” focus.
Hal Cato: After months of flirting with the idea, the former Thistle Farms CEO passed on the race Monday. “As you know, launching a campaign to serve as the next Mayor of Nashville was something that deeply interested me,” he wrote in an email to friends. “Having grown up in and with Nashville, I believe we’re at a critical moment that will define our city’s priorities, as well as who can thrive here, for years to come. After a lot of consideration, I have decided that I am not the right next leader for our metropolitan government. This was a not a decision made without a lot of thought and prayer about what is right for my family and our city.” Cato had been expected to pull heavily from the coalition that successfully elected Megan Barry in 2015.
Bob Freeman: The Democratic state representative from the 56th District, who is unopposed in his November re-election bid, told the Banner he is “still exploring” the possibility of a mayoral run. His father, Bill, finished third in 2015 and the Freeman name carries a lot of weight in Democratic circles. Two health issues, though, have complicated Bob Freeman’s decision: His wife, Rachel, has been battling breast cancer, and Bill recently suffered a stroke. Both are expected to recover, but Freeman won’t consider running before they are cleared. With the ability to put significant personal funds into a race — he’s the executive vice president of the family-owned Freeman Webb Company — and good name recognition, Freeman can wait later than most to make a decision.
Sharon Hurt: As a twice-elected at-large Metro Council member, Hurt is one of the higher-profile African-American office holders in Nashville. She retired in 2021 after two decades with the Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership (JUMP), a nonprofit focused on economic development. Hurt told the Banner she was “exploring the potential” of a mayoral run, but that she was conscious of other elections in 2022 and “wouldn’t want to get in the way of them.” Although she has won countywide races, Hurt’s real strength is in North Nashville and a strong Black candidate would change the dynamics of the race.
Jim Gingrich: Would Nashville really elect someone who didn’t live in the city five years ago? The former Alliance Bernstein COO brought the investment management firm to Nashville in 2018 from New York, and since his retirement, he’s been involved in a number of nonprofit and civic ventures. Early this year, he began exploring the idea and even commissioned his own poll. He said he’s still exploring what a run might look like, but he sounds a lot like someone who wants to run. And remember, people called Phil Bredesen a carpetbagger at one point, too.
Quincy McKnight: When the conservative, Black entrepreneur dropped out of the GOP primary for the 5th District congressional seat, he appeared headed for the mayor’s race. “After much prayer, consideration, and consultation with my close advisors, I have decided I can best serve the people of Nashville as the tenth mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County,” he said in a statement in February. But since then, he’s removed references to that from his campaign site. It’s doubtful that a city as blue as Nashville would elect someone whose Twitter feed is full of Newsmax appearances and photos with the My Pillow CEO, but stranger things have happened. The Banner was unable to reach McKnight.
Vice Mayor: Segments of the Metro Council have grumbled for four years at how Vice Mayor Jim Shulman has run the body, and it appears as though he’ll have at least one opponent next year. District 34 council member Angie Henderson says she’s looking at the race. “I continue to seriously consider running for vice mayor and have many current council members, Metro staff, and constituents encouraging me to do so,” she said in a statement to the Banner. “I’ve been having a series of conversations about next steps with potential team members and trusted advisors for several weeks and plan to make a decision soon.”
Disclosure: Matt Wiltshire and Bill Freeman have donated to the Nashville Banner. Financial supporters play no role in the Banner’s journalism.