The District 11 runoff between Jeff Eslick, a self-described conservative, and Eric Patton, an out-and-proud progressive, features two very different candidates but until now, the campaign had focused on their very different policy positions.
A political action committee’s mailer in support of Eslick this week changed the tone of the race when it focused on Patton’s sexual orientation. The piece calls his opponent Patton “gay and tired.”
Patton agrees, sort of.
“As someone of an LGBTQ+ experience born and raised in Tennessee, it’s safe to say I am gay and tired, just as the t-shirt says,” said Patton in a press release following the circulation of the mailer. “I’m sick and tired of this hatred attacking me and the folks in the LGBTQ+ community.”
Giving a side-by-side comparison of Patton and Eslick, the mailer shows Patton with an annoyed look on his face, wearing a tank top featuring a rainbow and the words “gay and tired” on it. Behind him is a pride flag. Next to Patton’s picture is a picture of Eslick, smiling, wearing a suit, standing in front of an American flag. The crests of the firefighters and police unions, who have both endorsed Eslick, are pasted next to him. Underneath each candidate, the mailer lists various LGBT-related policy ideas, casting Patton as pro-LGBT and Eslick as anti-LGBT.
The mailer was paid for by a newly registered PAC called Old Hickory Community Association.
“If you bring that up or say anything about it, you’re labeled as whatever they want to label you as,” Robert Farrar, the treasurer for the PAC, told the Banner. “Just like Eric’s labeled me as a homophobic or whatever. I’ve got — it doesn’t matter — I’ve got several gay friends, and we go out on boats, well I mean — but anyway…”
Farrar argues that the imagery and ideas being promoted by his PAC, which he says is funded by members of the community and made up of him and a group of men who live in Old Hickory, are an important “piece of the puzzle,” for the Metro Council race. Although LGBT issues are usually the provenance of state and federal legislation rather than Metro government, Farrar says he and his group felt the message of the mailer was important.
“If you don’t start talking about it in the communities, the states are never going to hear it,” says Farrar. “They’re gonna make their decisions based on a lot of ideas, but if they see it in the local communities that may be transferred into the general communities that may be then transferred to the state and then into the federal government.”
With 26 bills targeting the LGBT community during the Tennessee General Assembly’s session this year, Tennessee led the nation in anti-LGBT legislation this year.
“If you read the Nashville Scene article, they kind of put us out on an island as a bunch of old grumpy people,” said Farrar, referring to an article in the Scene that calls Old Hickory the “last bastion of old Nashville.” “And we may be, but we have our values. Conservative values.”
Farrar told the Banner that the PAC was not and did not plan to get involved in the mayor’s race. In a Facebook post from Aug. 15, however, Eslick encouraged his followers to attend a meet and greet with Alice Rolli — hosted by “Bob Farrar and Friends.”
Eslick did not respond to the Banner’s request for comment, though he posted the following statement on Facebook:
“I have been made aware of a political mail piece that is being delivered today,” the post reads. “It is not from my campaign, nor was it approved by me. I have been running a clean campaign and have not resorted to negative advertising. My message has been about the issues I feel are the most important to the district and the city of Nashville. It is unfortunate that others haven’t done the same.”
Patton and Eslick made it into the runoff for the District 11 seat with less than 100 votes between them. Eslick, who runs the media firm that was used by conservative donor Steve Smith to launch attack ads against mayoral candidate Freddie O’Connell, came in first with 38 percent of the vote. Patton, who has received endorsements from more progressive groups and aligned himself with more liberal Metro Councilmembers, received 36 percent.
Throughout the election season, Eslick has largely outspent Patton, with expenditures of $81,953 since he entered the race, spending a lot on TV ads, a rarity for a district council race. Eslick loaned himself $77,108 for the race, while Patton’s money mostly came from donors.
“Every day of this campaign, I’ve tried to live the values my neighbors deserve in a leader, like honesty, fairness, compassion, and tolerance,” Patton said in a release. “I have kept this race about the issues and focused on what Old Hickory and Hermitage need — schools, services, and small businesses. Now, more than ever, we need leaders who are willing to work together to find solutions, rather than trying to fight culture wars at every turn.”