Let’s start off by introducing yourself. Who is Chris Cheng?
I’m Chris Cheng. I’m 34 years old. I was born in Nashville. I think what was then Baptist Hospital. I grew up not far from Cane Ridge Park. My mom and dad my mom’s from Woodbine she lived off of Jay Street. And my dad is an immigrant from Hong Kong. He moved here in 1972 to go to Belmont University in Nashville. That was his, that was the American dream for him when he was growing up in Hong Kong. He had a woman, someone that his mom’s church had been to Belmont for an event and, and so that was him that was, so he grew up he wanted to be fulfill his American dream. And he came to Belmont University. And so I have a brother and a sister as well. And I just love I love Nashville. My wife and I are are hot sauce makers. We work at the farmers markets. We have a funny background. Jessie’s be a NICU nurse at Vanderbilt. And then in my 20s, I was an Army officer. I served in our regular army. I also served as an Army Ranger officer stationed in Colorado and Georgia and did some deployments in Kuwait and Afghanistan. But we moved back home, we fell in love with farmer’s markets, and we moved back home and I really, really wanted to start, we really wanted to do something in the farmer’s market community. And so that’s our life. We make hot sauces, the old Hunters automotive, which is another garage conversion like this facility, and we sell it at the local markets around town. So tomorrow, we’ll be at the Richmond Park farmers market from nine to 12. And then we’ve done markets all over town, from Crieve Hall to Donelson to 12 South, East Nashville. That’s how we spend our days and we work with local businesses and farms and, and and mom and pop stores and gift shops across town. That’s, that’s what we do for a living.
If you’re gonna write the job description for at-large council, what do you think the job entails?
So yeah, for me, one of the big reasons I want to run for at-large and in the job description is someone who kind of has a really holistic perspective of the county and someone who’s really invested in not just one neighborhood, but all the different neighborhoods and communities. And there’s a couple of reasons why I was drawn to that position in particular. One is, we live in Old Hickory now, but we grew up south of town. Chelsea, we’re off Smith Springs Road in Antioch. And I was further south. And we we work again, all over the county with different businesses of all different types. And I think you want to have someone who’s really like kind of policy-driven and someone who has like a passion for things that that are important across the county. And so for me, one of my biggest things, in addition to small businesses, is community infrastructure. That is something that is near and dear to my heart. And what I mean by that is our parks, our greenways, our schools, our libraries, our community centers, the recreational facilities, these are the places that I’m so thankful that we have that we have and I’m also really just, I loved those growing up. So when we started dating as teenagers, we didn’t have a lot of money — we make hot sauce for a living, so we still don’t have a lot of money — but we would go to the parks like Cane Ridge park and play tennis, I never go there and go to picnics and softball and playing kickball. And for me, it didn’t matter how much money you make, or your socio-economic background or your age, it was a place where people can come together and have fun and meet each other, I think bumping up against different neighbors bumping up against people you don’t know, and kind of having these informal relationships and bonds that people build, say, with our libraries, especially in our schools, and these resources. These are kind of to me, like the great equalizers in our society.
So with Nashville growing, with affordability problems, it’s so important to me that we invest in these places they can, they can benefit everyone and give everyone an opportunity to not just survive, but thrive. Even something as simple like our libraries, like I really talked about our libraries a lot in it. And it’s like, oh, our libraries, like are so important to me. And I think our communities and again, my dad being an immigrant like for our immigrant community, they offer English, this type of language resources, citizenship courses, workforce opportunities, so you can learn about those things. They even have like a seed library, like we’ve used the seeds this year to try to grow tomatoes and different other vegetables. And I think it’s something where you can always learn and have these resources there. So there’s, again, hubs for me that are just deeply important to all parts of our community. And going back to the question for the at-large you know, I’d love someone to be constantly there. So if I was able to get elected and be one of our five at-large Members, I’d want to be someone when there’s a new development no matter what part of the county there is or a new policy, I’d be out there at the table and being like, “Hey how can we, you know, how can we advocate for our small businesses in this situation? Is there a way that our local coffee shop or bagel shop or farmers market here can really thrive and create some spaces for them?” So is there some green space we can continue to protect and to have like where we can have craft festivals or community celebrations? These are so much as I think the at-large person the way I would try to run the job is to be that person who’s a resource for our community assets across the county.
Of the four candidates in the runoff, who got the FOP endorsement. You’re the only one that hasn’t served on council before? Why do you think they chose you?
I didn’t know that. I think about the who’s for me. I mean, I started our I started in our military, I think that was something I walked into the door, I’m not sure if they had any idea who I was there. And I walked in, and I was like, hey, you know, and I’ve never been a police officer. And I’ve never and for me, I told them that I was honest, like, Hey, I’ve never been a police officer. But thank you for what you do to, you know, to protect our communities. And but I have served in uniform before. And I know the challenges of that, and also know them. I remember it was like to be held accountable as a young army officer, not just but my senior ranks, but you also had to you had to answer to your soldiers and your noncommissioned officers, and I think being 22 years old, and be an army officer is a is a weird job, like you come in, and it’s an awkward position where you’re in charge of folks or, you know, twice my age, much smarter than me much more experienced, more like physically fit. And so what is your role and for me, you can take it a couple different directions, you can say, “hey, I, this is my rank.” And this is, you know, here’s for me to listen, or the role I took was just hey, I’m just I need to learn from you. And then our number one job is to take care of our people and our soldiers. And I told them that those are my experiences. And, and I’m willing to listen, and particularly for me growing up as a son of the immigrant, south of town, and, and, like, I kind of want I want to play a unique role in that position where I have served in uniform before, but also want to represent for our communities and say, Hey, like, I’d like to be my ambition here is to be a bridge between these groups and to be almost like a facilitator of like, Hey, this is our communities feeling like I’m involved, I want to communicate, you know, any of their concerns or, or ideas they have for like policing, and our first responders, and also do the same thing for our police, like, Hey, here’s the challenges our police forces having, whether it be staffing, whether it be, you know, hours where they can do overtime on different parts of town. And and also like, there’s a one really specific issue that I wasn’t aware of coming in, I’ve been to, I’ve learned so much in this process is vehicle maintenance. So much of our police force is like, hey, we even with lower staff, we can’t be there if our vehicles can’t get us there. And I was like, oh, one of my first jobs, one of my early jobs in the army, who was in charge of our maintenance for our unit as a young officer. And so I definitely appreciated some of these. Some of these like logistical challenges, I think that you don’t often hear about on the headline news. And but again, I want to be my ambition there is to bribe provide value. And then the day I think, being a member of not just the five at-large members, but the council as a whole. A lot of people have different strengths and in different abilities and experiences. And I think I can offer, you know, as being a previous service member, but also grown up here and be a part of a committee I can offer like, Hey, this is these are the perspectives I can bring to the table. And I’d like to I’d like to play a role.
I know our council is nonpartisan, but it’s a newcomer, where would you place yourself in the world of progressive and conservative, where are you?
Oh, this is phenomenal question. So I came in I was I again, coming through as an outsider is like, Oh, it’s a nonpartisan election. You know, and there’s certain bad things about that wastewater management, potholes, sidewalks, parks, and I was been I’ve been relentlessly focused on these issues. I consider myself I, my dad grew up my dad, being an immigrant, my mom from here, I grew up in a Democratic family. Those are, those are the values that I was around growing up, and those and those are the values that like, I’m always rooting for the underdog, I’m always rooting for the working class. And that’s something that is near and dear to my heart. At the same time, like I grew up, I went to, you know, serve in the army, I went to school in college in California, and then also went to grad school in Boston, I studied at the Harvard Business School and the School of Public Policy. The public policy school is one of the I mean, they have people from all over who have graduated there. But it’s traditionally a very, very progressive, you know, institution that, you know, tries to give equal opportunity for thought. And so I’ve had a lot of different perspectives and a lot of different insights. And so I think one thing I’m willing to do is always is to listen. And I think a lot of times my father was a federal mediator. He retired as a federal mediator. And he taught us like there’s always value in different perspectives. And I think there is a good I’m excited that the county that the council does have different perspectives. And there are progressive there are like business friendly folks, there are people who are looking for the first responders. And for me, I really, really, really like when I was an Army officer, we had people I think, I think the Army gets a, you know, a reputation has been quite homogenous, both and looking at thought, and in my experience, at least, was completely different. You know, we had soldiers of all different races, ages, religions, gender identifications, political identifications, and one thing you have to do is come together for a common purpose and a common mission and I think those are all a really good experience for me. And that day was just taking care of the people. I thought as being Army Ranger, you just like jump out of airplanes a lot and, and do things like that, which, which I did. But really, it was just taking care of your people make sure they get home safe. And even we were home safe. Little things like making sure they went to the dentist, making sure they made sure they, you know, took care of their families head off time for the mental health and, and that’s it for me with a broad spectrum of ideologies. Like, I think I’d love to continue to push the envelope for us to find common ground fight where we need to fight, but find common ground where hey, we really, really, really need to preserve, for example, our green spaces, you know, Nashville is growing. You know, this is important to all of us to live a healthy place. Make sure our stormwater management, if there’s natural disasters, we’re prepared for that, you know, a place where we keep our utilities on, and with the different storms just whenever the total utility is going off. It’s like I’m so thankful that, you know, we live up in Old Hickory and you know, it wasn’t like this everywhere. But NES was out there. So a lot of people are like, focused on our public employees and the service members, we have to make sure that they can afford to live here but also have the resources to maintain the core services in the city. And so that’s what I’m mostly focused on primarily.