Mayoral candidate Heidi Campbell Credit: Campaign photo

When Heidi Campbell announced she was running for mayor earlier this month, it was notable for two reasons. First, because of the relatively late-in-the-cycle decision, she had just over 100 days until early voting begins, meaning she needs to connect with voters in a hurry. And second, she had a phalanx of legislators standing beside her, including Rep. Bob Freeman, who strongly considered running himself, and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who ran four years ago. She’s hoping that the name ID she accumulated running against Andy Ogles for Jim Cooper’s old seat bleeds over to this race.  She talked to the Banner before the end of the legislative session.

Why do you want to be mayor? 

So, I looked at this race and did not feel like I saw the mayor of Nashville in this race yet and thought a long time about jumping in. I believe that we need somebody who has a good relationship with the state. And it’s about relationships. It’s not just about understanding the dynamics, it’s about relationships as well. And somebody who has leadership and team building skills, and I think that we probably all agree on what issues we’re facing. I think this race is about who has the capability, qualifications, temperament and experience to to navigate the challenges in front of us.

Is there something you think makes you uniquely qualified?

Yes, I think that I have been defending Nashville in one way or another for the last 15 years. And I have been a mayor already and have served on the solid waste board and the greater Nashville regional council and the Mayor’s Caucus and the transit alliance and the South Corridor Task Force and [I] have a deep understanding of how our city works. And while we’re facing what I would call hostile takeover from the state, I also have a very deep understanding of how the relationship with the state and the city works.

Let’s start there. How do you assess the city-state relationship right now?

It’s very damaged. And I think that people have a perception that this is just reactive, and it’s not. It’s more complex than that. As somebody who is up here every single day working with the controlling party on legislation, I understand what is driving this process. I think it’s not something that you could come into even if you did understand it, though, and do something about it if you didn’t have the relationships that I have worked on.

So, what’s driving it?

It’s, well, this is a long answer for this particular piece. Okay, all right. So, you know, this is a long game, that’s part of the Southern strategy. And a lot of this is driven by ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council] and the Council for National Policy and the fact that they really do want to have a Republican-led city and a presence here that is primarily Republican and far right. And it is also driven by what [Republicans] perceive as offenses that they feel that the Nashville [Metro] Council have committed. I have been able to get a lot done in a bipartisan way. Just this week, I quietly defended and was able to get voted down an amendment to our constitution without much fanfare. And I think a lot of work can be done out of the glare of the public eye because [working in the public eye] amps things up on both sides.

What do you do to improve it?

It’s about communication. It’s about relationships. It’s about listening. I think that leadership is about listening and being able to work with people and stakeholders to get what’s best for Nashvillians.

What were you doing when you heard about the Covenant School shooting?

I was in my office and immediately heard about it and dropped everything and went down to the site to work with the police and the administration from the school to reunite families, keep everybody hydrated, get the air conditioning on, and take care of people in that congregation. And that’s important because, as a former mayor, I know that you don’t know what’s going to happen when you wake up every morning. And you need to be able to multitask, drop what you’re doing, be constantly working on long term strategies, but be prepared at any moment for whatever might come up any given day.

What do you think we can do about school shootings?

Well, you know, I mean, I think that continue to work with the legislature on what is a shift in their attitude towards common-sense gun reform, hopefully, at least to implement red flag laws, continue to work with stakeholders, like Moms Demand [Action] and [The] Equity Alliance and other organizations like Gideon’s Army that are fighting for common-sense gun legislation, and also to be creative and think through the process and see if there are other ways that we can achieve that in Nashville given the onerous state laws that we’re facing.

It’s interesting, I was just talking to another candidate who said that they didn’t believe that was the mayor’s role in political topics. The flip side of that is Mayor Cooper was meeting with the Newtown group and gun control advocates yesterday and in a public meeting. Those are two very divergent paths. How do you see yourself as mayor?

I don’t believe you should ever be pinned in by the expectations of what a role may be. The goal is to do the very best you can do to make life better for Nashvillians. A lot of what I’ve been able to get done in the legislature hasn’t even happened in the capacity of passing bills, but in employing the fourth estate to save 20,000 acres of hardwood forests, to get a judge to retire who was incarcerating eight-year-old girls, to get $196 million allocated to DCS. None of those things were done through the traditional role of how a state senate position is defined. And true leaders are able to see beyond the parameters of the role as it’s defined to what needs to be done to get results.

A couple of candidates that I’ve talked to have said that they would, as mayor, advocate for stronger gun control laws and specifically a ban on assault-style weapons. Is that something that you would do?

Oh, of course. Not only that I’m doing it. Just so you know, I have an ERPO [extreme risk protection order] bill right now. And we’re trying to get the late bills committee convened so that we can suspend the rules and bring in my ERPO, which is, you know, extreme risk protection order or red flag.

What are the odds that the legislature does something on it?

I think that there is actually … for the first time, I have seen that my colleagues are a bit unnerved. And so I’m hopeful that we might be able to, to make that happen.

Do you think that’s only because it happened here?


The city has an affordability crisis right now. What’s one way the next mayor can begin to address soaring rents and home prices for those who are trying to return to buy into this market?

So, for years — for over a decade now — we’ve been building a city to visit, not a city to live in and we have been capitulating to developers. I commit to focusing on the people who live here. And affordability is one of the main issues, and requiring new developers to — I realize that there are some state laws that make this difficult — but working with developers to encourage them to have a component of affordable housing in their projects and also working with Nashville businesses, to give them contracts because they are incentivized to have affordable housing and provide for Nashvillians because they live here. It is a good way to change the story.

How high of a priority should transit be for the next mayor?

In the top five. It’s very, very important. We are way behind in our approach to transit. For a city our size to not have meaningful transit is indefensible. And for too long, we’ve kicked the can down the road. So, I am on the transportation committee and just just participated in the passage of the biggest — although I voted against it — the biggest transportation bill that we’ve ever had. 

Why did you vote against it?

Because it prioritizes choice lanes, which are toll roads. And that will be a bad deal for Nashville. Because Nashvillians are going to end up, once again, paying the bill for revenue that’s going to go out to other areas of Tennessee and not into our economy. And it puts us in a situation where we’re on the hook in the foreseeable future with whoever has the lease for those choice lanes to pay whatever they require us to pay for maintenance and in toll fees. For a state that prides itself on being the most fiscally stable state – and let’s not conflate fiscal stability with fiscal responsibility – it’s ridiculous when we could actually pay ourselves to borrow money from ourselves to not leverage that to the advantage of Tennesseans and especially for Nashvillians.

So what would the transit plan in your administration look like?

We have to start looking at light rail and bigger transportation initiatives. And initially, I served on the St. Paul, Minn. District Council, when we were approving a plan for light rail from St. Paul to the airport. And I went back recently to visit and was absolutely blown away by what that had done for businesses and neighborhoods along the corridor. And, obviously it would be good for mobility and for getting cars off roads. And so that would be a good place to start. The airport has, in their new build-outs, created an entry point for light rail. And, and so that would be a great place to start.

The Titans currently have a stadium plan before the Metro Council. Do you support that plan or not?

So, that plan is being decided as we speak. And, you know, the main thing is making sure that we’re getting the best possible deal for Nashvillians. We have to make sure that this time Nashville is not paying the price for, you know, a deal that’s going to actually be costing us more money down the road. And so, I hope that as the negotiations are going forward before the mayoral election, that we won’t be hamstrung by the decisions that are made because I look forward to doing the best that I can to make sure we’re getting a good deal for Nashville.

If you were the mayor, would you be pushing that deal?

No, I mean, I would not be, well, I mean, I hate this question. It’s a very complicated situation. And there are some issues with the current stadium and our requirement for reparations, that, that really complicate things. Inevitably, the problem is that in the past, we haven’t had people in the administration who are making good deals for Nashville.

What’s your assessment of Mayor Cooper’s East Bank plan?

I think there are some good things about that plan. I think there are some complicated issues about making sure that we are providing affordable housing and infrastructure around the area for people. But mainly, it is a plan that considers Nashville businesses and making sure that some revenue does go back to our city. So, it’s a complicated plan, but I think there are some pros and cons. You know, I’m not against development. In this whole entire future that we’re facing, for me, it’s about balance and making sure that the extreme developer-friendly decisions that are being made are being counterbalanced by strong decisions for Nashville in the coming years.

There’s a criticism of the current administration and for the last few mayors that they have focused too much on downtown. Do you think that’s fair?

Yes, I do think that’s fair.

So what could a Campbell administration do differently?

We need to make sure that we’re focusing on our underfunded, and poorer neighborhoods like Bordeaux, North Nashville, and the profound inequity in our schools as well. And we need to make sure that we’re giving greater attention to the schools and neighborhoods that are experiencing extreme poverty. And also there are food deserts and transit issues in those areas that we need to address. Inevitably, we need to make sure that we’re building an equitable Nashville for everyone.

What’s an issue that we’re not talking enough about right now?

Trash. I love trash talking. I mean, I served on the solid waste board. And you know, people I think, are unaware that we are actually at capacity with all of our landfills. Trash is a regional issue. And people, psychologically, are predisposed to think when they throw their trash away, that it’s disappearing. And it’s not. And we are way behind for a city our size. Just like what’s your answer on how we deal with our waste stream? So, we do not really reuse or upcycle or reduce in any way, which are the first things that you should do. But also, you know, our recycling is not really happening in a meaningful way. And we also have the opportunity right now with federal funds to invest in infrastructure and that, that can really change the way that we’re dealing with our waste stream, which is primarily organic. And, and that is something that we ignore to our peril. So, really, making sure that we’re honoring our zero waste plant Master Plan, which I was part of developing on the solid waste board, is really important, or Nashville is going to be in big trouble.

There’s 100 or so days until early voting? Do you have enough time to run a competitive race?

Yes, I just ran the congressional race. And so there’s the degree to which in terms of name ID and awareness that I can I can sort of pick up in a better place than I would be if I were just starting from ground zero.

How much money do you think you have to raise here in order to be competitive?

Well, I mean, it’s probably going to be a couple of million.

How much of your own money can you contribute to that?

I don’t believe in that. I think … I don’t think that self-funding races is good for democracy. I think that it’s important that people raise money because that’s part of the process, the democratic process through which we actually garner support.

What do you think people should think about when they’re considering your candidacy?

The fact that I have, in one way or another, been defending Nashville since the beginning of my political career when I was fighting developers. And then I ran for a congressional seat because we needed somebody to step up and defend Nashville against the egregious redistricting of the congressional seats that gave away one of our two Democratic seats to the Republicans. And then in the Senate, [I] have defended Nashville every single day when I come up to the legislature to fight for the issues that matter to us.

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...