Stephanie Montenegro's challenge of Tonya Hancock in a Metro Council District 9 race has brought a number of endorsements from council members on both sides. Credit: Campaign photos

Local election season, particularly the start of early voting, has given us a rare set of intra-council endorsements. 

Ten current council members are backing Angie Henderson for vice mayor instead of their current Metro Council president and vice mayor Jim Shulman, who is running for reelection. Six of these council members are running for reelection and would have to work with Shulman if he prevails. 

“I am elated to endorse Angie Henderson for vice mayor. Good character is a necessity to great leadership, and we need someone with good character to lead our Council. Angie is that someone…A vote for Angie Henderson is a vote for progress,” wrote District 32 CM Joy Styles on social media endorsement posts. 

Shulman has organizations like Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, Nashville Business Coalition, and the Fraternal Order of Police backing him but no publicly announced council endorsements. 

So, the next council might be off to an awkward start when it is gaveled in September, especially if Shulman wins this race. The sitting vice mayor enjoys an advantage in name ID, has spent more money in the race so far and is considered by most to be the favorite.

Then there is a rare intra-council fight over the District 9 seat. 

Five current council members are backing Stephanie Montenegro, the opponent of their fellow council member Tonya Hancock.

Montenegro’s council endorsers include Bob Mendes (At-large), Sandra Sepulveda (D30), Emily Benedict (D7), Russ Bradford (D13) and Delishia Porterfield (D29). Of these council members, all but Porterfield are also backing Henderson. 

“While some may see my support for Stephanie as a ‘lack of integrity.’ I see it was an opportunity to give marginalized people representation they deserve,” wrote Sandra Sepulveda, Metro Council Member for District 30, on Twitter. She was responding to comments made by Tanaka Vercher, who represents District 28, and an interview she gave on the podcast “Pod Bless Nashville.”

While not uncommon within the council chamber, this kind of infighting almost never bubbles to the surface for the public to see. In 2019, Mendes lent support and his endorsement to Kyontze Toombs, who was running against then-District 2 council member DeCosta Hastings. Toombs prevailed in the runoff by less than 150 votes. But endorsements like this simply haven’t happened in other cycles.

Montenegro filed her petition for the race 24 hours before the deadline and started publicly announcing official council endorsements in late June. Since, Sepulveda and Benedict have consistently posted their support on social media. 

In response, 11 council members have publicly backed her opponent Hancock since the beginning of July, with at least four endorsements announced after the start of early voting, including At-Large Member Burkley Allen, Nancy VanReece (D8), Jeff Syracuse (D15), Bob Nash (D27), Tanaka Vercher (D28), Russ Pulley (D25), Erin Evans (D12), Larry Hagar (D11), John Rutherford (D31), Thom Druffel (D23) and Zach Young (D10). 

“It is my honor to endorse Councilor Tonya Hancock,” said Druffel. “Tonya is a steadfast supporter of Veterans and has helped to increase the number of Veterans Service Officers to serve our Veterans in Davidson County. She is always looking out for others, on Council and in the community. I encourage you to reelect Tonya Hancock.”

Of Hancock’s endorsers, Allen, Syracuse, Nash, Pulley, Evans, Rutherford, Druffel and Young are running again in this election. All of Montenegro’s endorsers but Mendes are running again in this election.

That makes 12 council candidates in this local election, and possibly in the next Metro Council, at odds over the District 9 race. 

Since her election in 2019, Hancock has voted to support police and firefighter spending, end some council health care benefits and has promoted Metro Parks and MNPD collaboration. Until Montenegro’s petition pulling, Hancock seemed like a fit for the district’s suburban, more conservative-leaning constituency. Hancock says her biggest issue is education and points to votes to fully fund MNPS.

Montenegro is the spouse of an MNPS teacher and represents a group of progressive candidates running to prioritize public schools, community infrastructure, affordable housing and oppose large city public subsidies. 

There is a wide gap between the two candidates’ funding and spending. 

Hancock has raised $18,325 since April 1, with $7,500 from the A Better Nashville PAC, a pro-business group. Allen, Nash and District 22 candidate Sheri Weiner also made contributions to Hancock.

Montenegro has raised $8,192 since April 1, all from individuals, including donations from Sepulveda, Bradford, Mendes, District 14 candidate Jordan Huffman and House 51 Democratic primary candidate Aftyn Behn. 

While Hancock has spent $20,333.36, Montenegro has spent $1,634.35. Despite their spending difference, both candidates have hefty endorsement lists.

Montenegro has received endorsements from Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, Davidson County Young Democrats, Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Nashville Justice League, Metro Nashville Education Association PAC for Education, SEIU Local 205, The Equity Alliance Fund, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes, Black Nashville Votes, the Tennessee Student Union and LiUNA Local 386. 

Hancock has received endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Firefighters Local 140, Women in Numbers and the Nashville Business Coalition. 

Addison Wright, a Nashville native, is a student-athlete (swimming) at UNC Asheville, where she's double majoring in Mass Communications and Political Science in the class of 2024.