Mayoral candidate Jim Gingrich Credit: Nashville Scene

Editor’s note: Jim Gingrich dropped out of the race on July 16.

After a year of thinking about it, including doing his own poll, former AllianceBernstein COO Jim Gingrich hopped into the mayor’s race last week. As part of our ongoing series introducing the mayoral candidates, the Banner sat down with Gingrich to talk about his motivations, what issues he thinks are important and whether Nashville will elect someone who moved here just five years ago.

Why do you want to be mayor? 

I love Nashville. And as you know, there’s a lot to love: culture, the creativity, the quality of life, greenways. But what is so special to me about Nashville is the people who live here. They’re warm and friendly. They care about their neighbors, they care about the community. They care about the future of the city. It’s infectious. And as you know, I love Nashville so much I moved a company here. And then once the company was here, I retired and I have retired in Nashville. Nashville today is experiencing this kind of unrestrained, chaotic growth. And it’s something that all of us feel every day. We feel it in things like potholes, or how much it costs to live here, underfunded schools, crime. 

And unchecked, I think it threatens the soul of our community. We need leadership that has the vision and the foresight to act today, to deal not just what we’re feeling now, but to think about what unplanned growth is going to bring in five or 10 years. And make those decisions today, rather than when they become unmistakably apparent. And it’s possible to have growth and preserve the heart of Nashville, but only if we act urgently. And I had thousands of employees reporting to me at AllianceBernstein. They were spread across 25 countries, more than 50 offices. I oversaw a multi-billion dollar budget. And I got to that position in life because I wasn’t afraid to take on difficult challenges. I am a problem solver by nature, and I got things done. And I’m not a career politician or part of the metro government establishment. And I don’t think at this point where we are as a city, we can afford politics as usual in City Hall, we can’t continue to kick the can on the challenges that we face. And that’s why I’m running for mayor.

What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to run the city?

Well, as I said, I’m not a career politician. I’m not part of the metro government establishment. But my background is as a problem solver and somebody with a track record of making things happen. You don’t get to the point I was at in AllianceBernstein without having done that, not once, not twice, but time and time again, over what for me was an over 20 year career. Metro government has 8,500 employees with a $3 billion budget. I oversaw thousands of employees. And I oversaw a multi-billion dollar budget. And one of the challenges is how do we get Metro government to perform at a dramatically higher level? It’s what people should expect for their tax dollars. And I think the best way to judge somebody for any job is “what did they do before in their life?” And I think I have a track record of getting things done.

Do you think that Nashville currently is on the right track or the wrong track?

Certainly, all the conversations I’ve had over the course of the last year is that people have concerns about the future of the city. They worry about the soul of what makes Nashville so special. And it is a place with soul and heart. But that’s tied to things like the quality of life, and the affordability and so forth. So what we need to do is ensure that in 10 years time, Nashville is as great a city as it is today.

You benefited from that unrestrained growth at AllianceBernstein. Wasn’t one of the reasons Nashville was attractive to them was an incentive package that your company negotiated with the city? Are those policies something that you think now we should not pursue?

Well, there really two parts of that question, Steve. So let me just deal with them one at a time. AllianceBernstein came for the same reason that other people come. Nashville is such a unique and special city. And my interest in running for mayor is to ensure that the heart and soul of this place continue to be what caused AllianceBernstein to find Nashville attractive and what was behind my decision to retire to Nashville. The second part of your question is [about] incentives that AllianceBernstein received from the city. It is true AllianceBernstein received at the time kind of the standard offer of $500 a job. The large majority of people that AllianceBernstein hired were Middle Tennessee folks. That was a package that was unanimously approved by Council. To my knowledge, the company has not yet even applied [for the incentives], because it would require going before Council again and getting approval. So as of yet AllianceBernstein hasn’t been paid a dime by the city, as far as I know.

The second piece of that is the unrestrained growth question. What do you think a mayor can do to put the genie back in the bottle? Because there are so many pieces of growth in the last five to seven years, I’m interested in what you think a mayor could have done to kind of either regulate or tamp that down or that any future mayor is going to be able to effectively deal with.

Again, I think we can have growth and preserve what is so special about Nashville, if you will, kind of the heart and soul. People come here because it’s a terrific city. And if we don’t take care of the things that stem from that growth, it’s not going to be the same city. And so what a mayor has to do is have both the courage and the vision to say “What is growth going to bring in five or 10 years time?” Here’s what infrastructure is going to be required. How do we get in front of an affordability issue? How do we deal with all the other big city problems — it stems from us being increasingly a big city. So that is at the core to me of what a mayor does, because the mayor is the only one with the keys to the budget and the capital budget and is the key linchpin in building relationships with the surrounding counties and with the state that allow us as a city to take the steps today that are going to put us in good stead for the future. And the fact that we’re feeling what we’re feeling today is because of things that got kicked down the road a while ago.

So what’s a “for instance” of something that you as mayor can do?

I think in all of these areas via transit, infrastructure, and the affordability crisis that we have, there are opportunities across the board, for a mayor to take action. I mean, certainly, on things like, yes, we have a trash problem right now. Okay, and that has to do with execution. But we’ve also, as you’re well aware, have a slight shortage of landfill capacity. That is something that should have been anticipated and acted on years ago.

I’m thinking about housing. If you grew up here, it used to be that you could afford to raise a family here, and that’s increasingly not the case now. That is the number one affordability issue on people’s minds. There was an Axios story the other day that said the average rate increase in Nashville rents last year was almost 10 percent. What’s something that can be done about it?

So I would say a couple of things. One, it is a crime in many ways that the people who serve the city, be that firefighter, police officer, teacher, Metro worker, can’t afford to live in the city that they’ve chosen to serve. Clearly a brand new teacher who might be making $50,000 a year to your point, is going to struggle to be paying $1,600 a month in rent, which was the number cited in the Axios article. I’d also say that the affordability challenge is not just housing but increasingly felt by small businesses, by the local music venues that in combination are so important to the culture of what makes Nashville a special place and our important job creators and engines of the economy. You know what I fear? What is Nolensville Road is gonna look like in five years time or 10 years time. 

So I actually think that we have a big housing affordability issue, but the issue is more profound than that. And I think it needs a solution that’s more comprehensive than that. What I can tell you, Steve, is that we are going to run a very substantive campaign based on the issues. We’re going to be rolling out our programs over the course of the campaign. This is going to be a big one as you indicated, it’s on the top of mind of a lot of people, including myself. And you know, I think there are undoubtedly a whole host of things that Americans do. And I also also tell you that there are people in the community that have some great ideas that I’ve already heard from and will continue to hear from.

One of the bigger issues in the last few months has been a new Titans stadium. Do you support a new Titans stadium or not?

I think I am already on the record as believing a few things. One, I love the Titans. I didn’t love the last half of the season, but you know, hope springs eternal for next season. But I love the Titans. And they have been a good partner and the city should be a good partner. However no entity, including the Titans, deserves a lopsided deal. And I think I would have negotiated a different deal than what’s on the table today. I explained what I thought those issues were in great detail in a letter to the council.

Do you think there’s a way to do anything about it? If you are Mayor can you change that deal?

We’ll see where the situation stands. Steve, when I step into office, if there is a contract, I think the city also has to stand by the obligations that have been made. But I don’t know where we’re going to be. If I’m lucky enough to be mayor, we’re just gonna have to see where things are. I mean, it’s a complete hypothetical.

On a related note, what do you think about the proposed east bank changes?

I would say a couple things. One is that we have a lot of neighborhoods with a lot of needs. And of course, that is something that whether you’re talking about the Titans or the east bank have to be front and center. And as Mayor you are always balancing priorities and needs and in the decisions you make those priorities get reflected. I don’t think we know enough yet about what is going to be the ultimate proposal on the east bank. There’s clearly a lot of money that’s going to have to be spent. So I just think we are going to have to see what is envisioned but we have a long laundry list of things that we’ve already touched on that are big priorities for the people who are living across Nashville. 

I asked you this last year, kind of tongue in cheek — Nashville ran Morgan Ortagus out of town for being a carpetbagger. What makes you think that after four or five years of living in Nashville that you’re ready to run the city? 

I moved here in 2018 with AllianceBernstein. So you have correctly identified the fact that I was not born here. I personally think we should be blaming my parents for that. [laughs] Okay, so my parents didn’t choose to live here. I was the one who chose to live here. And I chose to live here, because of how I feel about Nashville. I moved the company here. So it wasn’t just that I made a decision for myself, I made a decision for the entire company. And when the company moved here, I retired. And I chose to retire. And I intend to live here the rest of my days. Whether or not I’m elected mayor or not, I’m gonna stay in this community till the day I die working to make this a better community.

So let me ask a different version of this, which is that there are communities and participants in the city’s politics that have been doing this for a long time. And they have all the same feelings that you do about Nashville. And the criticism that I’ve that I’ve heard is, you’re a smart guy. Ran a good company. Love that he’s here. Why does he get the jump in line?

I think the city has a long history of being a welcoming place. It has embraced people who weren’t necessarily born here and raised here. Some of those people had been our very, very best mayors. And I do think I bring experience that, within the current realm of available candidates, is pretty unique. I’m not a career politician or part of the metro government establishment. I think I bring an outsider’s point of view and I bring a track record of accomplishment. And I’m putting my name forward because I think that at this juncture in the city, it’s what the city needs. And I think I can bring a lot of good and a fresh perspective. 

Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of the campaign. These have been increasingly expensive races, how much do you think you need to raise to be competitive?

As I said, Steve, I’m not a politician. I’m fortunate enough to surround myself with people who know a whole lot more about that than me. We are going to run a very competitive race that is focused on the issues, focused on Nashville’s future. We will get our message out. I do think it’s a message that resonates. You know, I would just point you to my campaign, they have all that stuff. I’m just worried about the substance of what we’re trying to communicate.

Speaking of donors, there’s only so much money to go around. You’ve crunched the numbers from past campaigns, how much money are you willing to put into your race?

I’m undoubtedly going to have some skin in the game. But again, I think that’s something you should really talk to the campaign about, because we’re going to be competitive.

I mean, I could talk to the campaign, but it’s your money.

I think it’s early to even speculate. 

You were looking at this when John Cooper was still considering a run for reelection. He dropped out. Did that have any effect on your calculus to run and whether or not you thought you could win?

No, this isn’t about Mayor Cooper or any other candidate. This is really more about what I think the city needs. You know, in truth. I really reached a turning point in December. When I was with one of the nonprofit’s that I’m involved in, we were handing out things before the Christmas holidays outside of J.C. Napier homes. And I was listening to a woman talk, because we asked, “Why aren’t you taking a turkey?” And she said, “Well, my stove is broken” and it turns out her stove has been broken for 13 months. And we’re asking “Why haven’t you put in the work order?” And she’s put in work orders but can’t get anybody to come to fix it. And there were other stories too, that in some ways, were even more heartbreaking about pipes being backed up in the bathroom, what that meant in terms of, you know, her kids not being able to take a bath and stuff and I was just like, “God, we’re better than this as a city.” You know, I’m upset about potholes. But now I’m really upset. And that, to me, was kind of a turning point. 

Finally, what do you want people to think about when they look at your name and think about your candidacy?

I think as people get to know me, Steve, they’re going to know that I’m a caring person who cares about the people here in the city. As we discussed, I wasn’t born here. I was born in Kansas City and my dad and one of my brothers still lives there. I’m the oldest of three brothers. And you know, my dad was raised by a single mom who died while he was still in high school. My dad’s mom had a beauty shop. My mom was the daughter of a sheetmetal worker, and couldn’t afford to go to college despite being a national merit scholar. And they just raised me with a set of values. It’s work hard. Keep your word. Do what you say you’re going to do. And I was getting chores when I was four. That dialed up significantly when I was nine. I started doing laundry and cleaning when my mom got cancer. Worked my way through college. I think those values kind of play through your entire life. And I’ve had a lot of success. And that success has happened because of stuff I did. As well as some luck along the way. We all have to have luck. But there’s no doubt when I got through college I got through with the help of other people. My dad, my dad got to college because his football coach filled out an application for college unbeknownst to him. So everybody needs a hand up.

And I think I bring a perspective of knowing what it’s like to have to work hard to get ahead. But at the same time, I’ve got a track record of being a problem solver and making stuff happen. I just hope people see that as somebody they would want as their next mayor.

Steve is a three-decade veteran of newspapers, working around the country at places like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune before returning home to Nashville in 2011 to edit The City Paper and Nashville...