Thom Druffel’s District 23 seat was safe and secure for months as he looked to coast to an easy reelection. And then, two days before the qualifying deadline, it all changed.
Lisa Williams‘ petition to run against Druffel was verified the same day as Druffel’s vote against the controversial Belle Meade Plaza bill for a mixed-use development at the corner of White Bridge Road and Harding Pike. Even though the intersection lies just beyond the district’s borders, it is extremely familiar to D23 residents.
Did the plaza bring competition to the race?
“I am adamant that we don’t let people run unopposed,” says Williams. “I feel that democracy requires challenge. I have nothing against Thom; he’s a very nice guy. I think it’s important that we have challenges in these situations, and that it strengthens our representatives that they are always on their best game.”
Williams and Druffel agree the Plaza bill has insufficient traffic infrastructure, sidewalk planning and parking. Druffel voted against the Plaza bill, and Williams says she would have “voted against a change of zoning for Belle Meade Plaza.” But the Plaza, which roiled neighborhoods all around the project, is not the only issue in the race, both candidates say.
“I think that when you get a chance to get started on some of the legislation and some of the initiatives, you recognize that there’s an opportunity to continue to grow, and to do more,” says Druffel.
Druffel argues it takes time to make an impact in Nashville, and wants to grow his experience as a councilmember. He says he’s aiming for long-run problem-solving, also pursuing a Ph.D. in education. He has experience managing 40 hotels across the country.
“In government, management becomes a little different, because there’s so many diverse ideas and views. So you’ll learn it takes time to build strategic solutions,” says Druffel.
Williams argues a new, passionate perspective is needed to accomplish progress. She says she has experience taking difficult concepts and making them available to the public through her time working in the technology transfer division of the NASA Ames Research Center in California.
But more importantly, Williams argues, Nashville needs a mom.
“Mr. Druffel is working on his Ph.D. in education — but as a mom, we get stuff done, and we get it done on coffee and dry shampoo,” says Williams. “It’s amazing how quickly women who are motivated can make things happen. My perspective is that Nashville has been dragging its feet on many topics. We just need to make stuff right, and I can do that.”
The District 23 race lands on the same theme as many other district races: As Nashville grapples with rising unaffordability, will a new, outside perspective or an experienced, inside perspective bring about more progress? The district is experiencing steady, rapid growth similar to the overall growth Davidson County is experiencing.
“The people that live in our district are in a lot of ways the engine of our city,” says Williams. “We encompass some of the neighborhoods where people who have some significant power in our city choose to live. It’s important we be aware that they have their finger on the pulse.”
Druffel prioritizes “protecting and enhancing” homes and neighborhoods, “increasing governmental transparency and accountability in Metro budgets,” “developing strategies for inequities in the city,” being “responsive” and participating in community “leadership” during his time as 23’s Metro Council representative.
Williams wants to focus on accessible voting, “continuing to inspire innovation” and the relationship between affordable housing and transportation.