Alice Rolli and Freddie O'Connell at the 92Q Debate. Credit: Screen shot via YouTube

Alice Rolli spent more time debating with callers and commenters than with her opponent Freddie O’Connell during the 92Q debate on Monday night.

Much of the hour-and-a-half forum stuck to the normal structure, with candidates taking turns answering questions covering a wide range of topics, with answers that anyone who has attended a few forums would recognize. But the introduction of questions from callers introduced some more interesting moments throughout the night, largely revolving around Rolli. 

“So you didn’t show up to the 92Q debate in July, you didn’t show up to the Equity Alliance forum, you didn’t show up to the NOAH forum, why should Black people think that you’re going to show up for us if you’re elected as mayor, if you’re not showing up to these forums?” asked one caller. “And I get it you might not want to tell us who you supported in 2020 or who you’ll support in 2024, but I think again the frustration is, these are critical times for us. And if you’re not going to tell us who you’re aligned with, then that kind of speaks volumes.”

The second part of the caller’s question referenced moments earlier in the debate. One YouTube commenter asked Rolli why she was at former President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and if she supported him. When she did not say whether or not she voted for Trump, a caller pressed her on it, asking for a yes or no answer. All of this came after another caller had already asked her about her campaign’s connections to the Proud Boys that surfaced in mid-August. 

“Look, there are plenty of forums that not every candidate came to. I think that there were a lot of candidates,” said Rolli. “There were a lot of forums that three or four of us were invited to. I think I went to a large number of forums. So I think you can look at what have I done.”

She then went on to reference a Tennessean opinion piece that she wrote about attending a black church. 

Rolli received some flack on Twitter this week when she did not attend the forum hosted by Nashville Organized for Action and Hope on Sunday. It was not one of the forums on the list that her campaign, jointly with O’Connell’s, agreed to for the runoff. But the image of O’Connell on stage next to an empty chair with Rolli’s name, placed by NOAH organizers, seemed to have left a bad taste in some mouths, including those in the comment section of 92Q’s debate.

Rolli did have one commenter going to bat for her, a commenter with the username “Stephanie.” Commenters speculated that was former mayoral candidate Stephanie Johnson now works for Alice Rolli’s campaign. 

“You guys are absolutely ridiculous in these comments… you all are clearly for Freddie so just saw that you don’t give him the same critical lens just clapping nonsense,” she wrote. She later followed up with “You all are saying she never goes to the black community and she is telling you she keeps company with black people and you’re asking why are you bringing that up. Y r u asking love?”

Candidates on downtown nightlife, MLB expansion

At the Rotary Club’s lunchtime meeting earlier in the day, both candidates spoke for about 20 minutes each. The conversations were moderated by Newschannel 5’s Ben Hall, who curated the questions from the group’s membership.

Both candidates were asked about the general level of craziness downtown at night and what, if anything, could be done to curb it.

“We’re not all the way there yet. One of the most important things that Metro was going to have to do as a local government going forward is pivot to a model where we are not just entrusting the police to be the only part of Metro that operates on 24/7 365 basis,” O’Connell said. “We are going to need our transportation licensing commission, our codes department, our Department of Transportation, the beer board, which has elevated the director to the director of nightlife. It is important for us to have a function of our government, including someone in the mayor’s office that is available after 4:30 pm to address some of the greatest pressure points and we’re moving in that direction.”

Rolli said she’d take an active role in figuring out a solution.

“Well, I would first like to visit with our newly appointed Night Mayor and make sure that we are meeting you know in those hours between 4:30 p.m. and 8 [a.m.],” Rolli said. “I have a very manage-by-walking-around kind of style. I’d like us to figure out if our frontline officers do not feel empowered to be able to take care of different activities that are happening downtown.”

Hall asked both candidates about potential Major League Baseball expansion and what role the city might play in it. 

“I would be delighted to entertain a conversation with anybody who wants to fully privately finance our next civic entertainment facility,” O’Connell said, seemingly shutting the door on the city paying for a stadium.

MLB has successfully leveraged public dollars from cities for stadiums in the past and three franchises, the Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, are currently near the end of their leases and have stadiums in need of an upgrade.

Rolli said her focus would be on making the Titans stadium successful rather than building a new baseball stadium.

 “I don’t see a public appetite at this moment for that,” she said.

Rolli not lowering taxes, contradicts ad’s claim

After the event, reporters asked Roli about an ad running by Save Nashville PAC that said she would lower taxes in addition to crime. 

“No, no, I’ve said I’m not raising taxes,” Rolli said. “It’s not my claim. It’s not my ad.”

The spot, which features footage taken from Rolli ads, is part of a buy across broadcast and cable by Save Nashville. It’s currently the only pro-Rolli advertising on television.

“Look, there was some group in the [Aug. 3] election that had thrown Enoch Fuzz’s name on stuff that he had nothing to do with,” Rolli said. “I mean, there’s all there are all kinds of people doing all kinds of stuff in this campaign. And that’s not my job to police them or fix it.”

Her campaign has released a 90-second ad that is viewable only on digital. Rolli was asked if she was going to be back on the air soon.

“I don’t know. I don’t think any of that’s up yet. I think they’re working on a re-cut” of her previous ads, she said.

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...