2023 candidates for Metro Council At-Large Credit: Campaign photos

Following the deadline for candidates to qualify for the ballot, the Banner sent a questionnaire to all metro council candidates asking them basic questions about themselves and policies they support, oppose or might encounter while in office: the Titans’ stadium plan, license plate readers, police staffing, property taxes, the city-state relationship, affordable housing and transit. The following is a synthesized version of each of the 21 at-large candidates’ responses, including some extra context about some of the candidates. 

Incumbents

Burkley Allen is one of two incumbents running for a second term. She previously served two terms as the District 18 council representative. She voted in favor of both the Titans stadium deal and license plate readers (LPRs) but does not support facial recognition technology being used in public. Affordable housing is one of her top priorities, and as a councilmember, not only has she participated in the affordable housing task force, but she also worked to pass multiple pieces of housing-related legislation, including one allowing people to build Detached Accessory Dwelling Units in their backyard. She played a big role in regulating short-term rentals, requiring permits and enforcement. She says the city can not move forward without securing dedicated funding for transit and believes community engagement will be an important aspect of getting people on board in order to avoid a failure similar to that in 2018. 

Zulfat Suara is the other incumbent running. A Nigerian Immigrant, Suara voted yes on the Titans stadium deal and no on LPRs. She works as the Executive Director of Grants and Contracts at Meharry Medical College and has served as a member of various community organizations during her time in Nashville, including the American Muslim Advisory Council. She does not believe Metro needs more police officers, and instead believes we should be investing in non-policing alternatives such as mental health professionals and community programming. In the 2019 run-off, she secured the last available at-large seat, becoming the first Muslim to be elected to the metro council. She is one of three metro council members who filed a lawsuit against the state over the metro council reduction bill, along with Delishia Porterfield, who is also running for an at-large seat. 

Non-incumbents

Chris Crofton is a musician and comedian. Up until his announcement that he would be running for an at-large seat, wrote an advice column for the Nashville Scene, which often touched on national, state and local politics. In 2022 Vanderbilt University Press published his columns in a book called “The Advice King Anthology.” Rather than more police officers, he believes we should be funding comprehensive health care, public education and better wages for workers. He also feels we should be funding these things rather than LPRs. He would not have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal. One of his top priorities is more non-alcohol-related culture downtown, along with affordable housing and transportation. 

Tony Chapman is a Republican from Antioch. Chapman did not answer any questions.

Chris Cheng might be recognizable from his hot sauce business, Hot Sauce Nashville, which he owns with his wife and sells at local farmers’ markets. He was also a captain in the U.S. Army, serving as a Ranger. One of his top priorities is supporting small businesses, and he hopes that the new Titans’ stadium deal will encourage people to spend more money at local restaurants and businesses. On the question of more police and LPRs, he is open to discussion and wants to ensure there are open lines of communication to see what is best for the city. He wants to explore options for dedicated transit funding, and aside from upgrading bus services, wants to encourage regional transit systems. 

Stephen Downs is a retired social worker and has served on the state Democratic Executive Committee. His top priority is repairing the relationship between the city and state governments, saying the Metro Council “bit off our nose to spite our face” by voting against hosting the 2024 RNC. He has worked with various political campaigns, and done community work such as neighborhood clean-ups and organizing events. He feels the city likely needs more police officers beyond the unfilled positions, but his first focus is providing raises to the police force. He has concerns over LPRs and believes a better relationship needs to be developed between the public and the police force. He believes there are lots of improvements that could be made to the city’s transit system, and that dedicated funding is a must. 

Quin Evans-Segall serves on Nashville’s industrial development board. Although typically a rather invisible government body, during her time on the board she pushed back on deals the city was making, such as one with the Montgomery Bell Academy. She co-founded Voices for a Safer Tennessee and has served on a number of nonprofit and community boards and committees. She is a lawyer by day. Many of her top priorities involve updating city government to be more effective and efficient, and better able to carry out vital tasks such as updating the bus system. She does not think the Titans’ stadium plan was a good deal, and she has concerns over LPR usage. 

Ronnie Greer was the District 17 representative from 1999 to 2007. He said he would not have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal. He’s not sure if Nashville needs more police officers or not, is unsure about LPRs, is unsure if WeGo needs improvements over the next four years and is disturbed by the relationship between the city and the state. 

Arnold Hayes is a retired engineer and teacher and previously served on the Community Oversight Board. He does not believe the city needs more police officers and instead would like to focus on making the city safer in other ways, such as funding for mental health programs. He said he would not have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal and would have preferred to take an issue like that to the voters and let them decide. He wants to ensure more support for the Barnes fund but also wants to reevaluate summer emergency housing and at what temperatures it should be opened. He would like to see bus routes expanded over the next four years. 

Brian Hellwig is an “asset protection specialist” at Home Depot, which means he focuses on safety and theft mitigation. He previously served as the chief safety and security officer at Kent State University. His top priority is security and safety, with a focus on retail theft and organized retail crime. He believes downtown development has been great, but that there needs to be more emphasis on safety. He would not have supported the Titans’ stadium deal. Hellwig is very supportive of LPR usage and would support the use of facial recognition technology. He also believes the city needs more police beyond the unfilled positions. 

Olivia Hill first made a name for herself when she sued Vanderbilt over allegedly discriminating against her because she’s transgender. She has worked to advocate for women and the LGBTQ community. A veteran of the Navy, her top priorities are infrastructure, homelessness and transportation. She does not believe the city should use LPRs, and while she did not take a position on the Titans’ stadium deal, she now wants to focus on the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as updating the transportation and utilities downtown. She believes we need to expand the bus system and establish a dedicated funding source for transit. 

Yolanda Hockett is the program committee chair of Rebuilding Together Nashville and works as a juvenile corrections administrator. She would have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal “if youth benefited from it,” and supports LPR usage. She believes property taxes will need to be adjusted in the next four years in order to meet the needs of the city. Supporting the city’s youth is one of her top priorities.

Howard Jones might be a familiar name to anyone who has voted in Nashville recently. He has run for office multiple times, including most recently a bid for circuit court judge. He has worked as a high school principal, a senior pastor, and a community organizer. His top priority is community safety, and he believes the city needs more police officers beyond the unfilled positions. He said he would not have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal, and he supports LPR usage, as well as the use of facial recognition technology. He believes that if the city can do a deal like the Titans’ stadium, it should be able to put together a $1 billion plan to address affordable housing. He would support a dedicated funding source for transit and believes WeGo should be updated to support the needs of the city. 

Marcia Masulla helped start Nashville Fashion Week. She worked for the Tennessean up until 2017 when she started ROAR Nashville, a communications firm. She also worked as an aide for Mayor John Cooper. She has worked with local nonprofits, including the Tiny But Mighty Fund, the Table Action and serves on the community benefits agreement board between Nashville SC and Stand Up Nashville. She said that while she would not have initially supported the Titans’ stadium deal that was first on the table, the final deal made sense. She is open to the usage of LPRs and possibly even facial recognition, but wants to see the data from the pilot program to back it up. She feels it is important to invest in the Metro Nashville Police Department and expand programs that could help to prevent crime. Safety, affordable housing, education and transit are her top priorities. She believes there needs to be a referendum to secure dedicated funding for transit so that we can expand bus service, create dedicated bus lanes and expand or create other services. 

Delishia Porterfield is the only one of the three district councilmembers running who is not term-limited. She was first elected to the District 29 in 2019 through a special election, before winning the seat in the general election that August. She voted against the Titans’ stadium deal, does not support usage of LPRs, and rather than invest in more police officers, wants to invest in affordable housing, creating well-paying jobs and other community programming to decrease crime. She is one of the few candidates who definitively says a property tax adjustment will be needed in the next four years in order to meet the needs of the city. She joined Suara in the lawsuit against the state over legislation to cut the metro council in half, and has been an outspoken voice against many of the state’s actions during the past session. She also made headlines when she led the charge to reinstate Rep. Justin Jones after his expulsion, which was notable because Jones beat her for the District 52 state house seat in the 2022 election.   

Russ Pulley is term-limited in District 25. He is a retired FBI agent and spent 24 years officiating college football in the Southeastern Conference. He has been a part of various community organizations and church groups in the Green Hills area. He voted yes on the Titans stadium deal, wants to invest in more police and “strongly” supports LPR usage. Crime, public safety and affordability are some of his top priorities. During the 2020 budget cycle, he pushed for a $2 million increase in the Metro Nashville Police Department budget, despite an attempt from current at-large councilmember Bob Mendes to strip that from the budget. Recently, he was a main opponent of a bill from District 5 Councilmember Sean Parker that redefined “family” in the zoning code, allowing more unrelated individuals to live in a single household. 

Gilbert Ramirez is a retired Metro Nashville Police Officer who now works in private security. During his time with MNPD, he organized community events, such as health fairs and festivals. He believes Nashville needs 400 officers beyond the unfilled positions. He believes the city needs to slow downtown development, such as plans for the East Bank, and focus on the surrounding neighborhoods. He did not give a yes or no answer on the Titans’ stadium. He believes facial recognition technology and LPRs could be useful, but is cautious due to studies showing facial recognition can lead to racial profiling. His top priorities are education, affordable housing, infrastructure and transportation. 

Indrani Ray is a healthcare consultant who previously worked for Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the state. Ray did not answer any questions.

Jeff Syracuse is one of three district council members vying for a promotion to an at-large seat. He is currently wrapping up his second term as the District 15 representative in the Donelson area. He voted in favor of both the Titans’ stadium deal and LPRs. He has spent his career working in the music industry, and during his two terms placed a strong emphasis on preserving the music business in Nashville. He is in favor of Nashville dedicating funding to transit and increasing WeGo’s bus services. Syracuse also has played a big role in advocating for better trash pick-up, and pressuring Red River, a waste service contractor, to be more consistent with their pick-ups. He was also responsible for legislation late last year that banned smoking in bars and concert venues, a bill that was met with contention from local dive bars. He supports having another transit referendum and wants to see a big emphasis on regional transit.  

Deloris Vandivort is a registered nurse. Her top priorities are schools, infrastructure, and getting the city’s finances in order. She believes downtown development needs to slow down, and would like to see lower Broadway become a walking-only area. She would not have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal as is. She does not have an issue with LPR usage but has concerns over facial recognition technology. 

Jonathan Williamson works in the Hospitality industry, at Marriot as a business systems analyst. He would not have voted for the Titans’ stadium deal, and he does not feel the city needs more police beyond the unfilled positions. He does not feel LPRs should be used the way they are and is against facial recognition technology. He feels a property tax adjustment will “absolutely” be needed, in part because of the stadium and East Bank development. He supports the creation of a dedicated funding source for transit and wants to expand regional transit to neighboring towns.