Top row, from left: Burkley Allen, Chris Cheng, Delishia Porterfield, Howard Jones. Bottom row, from left: Jeff Syracuse, Olivia Hill, Quin Evans-Segall, Russ Pulley Credit: Campaign photos

Candidates for the four remaining Metro Council at-large spots are looking everywhere for funds and votes in the scramble to the runoff election’s Sept. 14 finish line. 

Whether through loans, PACs, LLCs or a wide range of individual donors, $643,120 was pumped into the race for the four remaining at-large seats during the pre-runoff reporting period. In comparison, throughout the entire first half of the year leading up to the general election, the eight at-large candidates in the runoff reported cumulatively raising just under three-quarters of a million dollars. With fewer candidates in the runoff pool, there’s a lot more money to go around. 

CandidateRaised (including loans)SpentCash on Hand
Quin Evans-Segall$136,616$72,104$74,003
Jeff Syracuse$119,714$152,637$158,243
Olivia Hill$113,331$63,610$59,833
Burkley Allen$90,593$126,107$88,514
Russ Pulley$79,925$107,149$89,262
Delishia Porterfield$61,311$62,644$20,179
Chris Cheng$24,110$12,354$20,039
Howard Jones$17,520$16,650$1,829

Quin Evans-Segall raised the most money at $136,616. Less than $12,000 of that came from PACs or LLCs, with the rest coming from individual donors. Among her donors are at least six current or former Metro councilmembers, former Mayor Megan Berry, a handful of judges and at least one member of Mayor John Cooper’s staff. The PACs that donated to Evans-Segall largely represent the political arms of organized labor. 

Evans-Segall says there’s no easy answer to campaigning countywide for an at-large spot.

“There’s not for me — after talking to a lot of people, it did seem like a lot of people would go hard TV first, digital second, mail third, because mail is really expensive,” Evans-Segall says. “So for us the path was, ‘OK, well, how do you differentiate yourself?’ You do the thing most people aren’t. Right? If TV’s flooded, people get confused because they don’t understand [the difference] between mayor and at-large. Mail, for me, is a little easier to get that message out. And it is a direct-to-voter message medium, unlike TV where it just blasts to everybody.”

Second in fundraising was Jeff Syracuse, who started off the year with $126,114 on hand. He proceeded to raise $141,093 throughout the general election. After capping it off with $119,714 in the runoff, Syracuse has raised an astonishing $386,921 throughout his bid for at-large. 

With that big fundraising comes big spending less reminiscent of an at-large candidate and more reminiscent of a mayoral candidate in the general election. Syracuse paid New Guard Strategies about $85,000 during the pre-runoff reporting period for campaign management. He also spent $54,793 on digital ad buys. In total, the outgoing District 15 councilmember has spent $152,637 leading up to the runoff election, more than doubling all other candidates’ spending numbers — except for Russ Pulley, who spent $107,149.

Syracuse is spending across platforms, buying ads on television — including a pricey $10,000 spot during the Titans season opener — and digital to turn his fundraising prowess into votes. If there’s anyone specific that he’s targeting, it’s women and creatives.

“There’s not a silver bullet,” Syracuse says. “It was hard enough when there were 21 of us.” 

Meanwhile, Pulley, whose $79,925 earned him the fifth-highest fundraising total, got nearly half of his money from close to 20 different PACs. Among them are the Fraternal Order of Police’s political arm, which donated $7,500 to the outgoing District 25 councilmember, $9,400 from a PAC called We Are Ready Nashville and $12,400 from the Nashville Business Coalition. Because it’s the runoff, PACs and individuals can donate more than the typical max limits as long as they did not max out in the general election.

Pulley has gone heavy onto television in the runoff, with a couple of spots featuring former Metro planning director Doug Sloan as well as Pulley’s son. It’s a change in course from his original plan, which was to lean heavy on direct mail. Pulley says he’s changed campaign teams three times.

“A couple of people reached out,” says Pulley. “They showed me some data and made some comparisons. The school of thought was that maybe TV reaches more.” 

As the centrist and independent in the group, Pulley says Republicans reached out about endorsing him but he wanted to stay away from partisan labels, which have been prevalent throughout this local election cycle. 

Jim Shulman, who was beaten by Angie Henderson for the vice mayor’s seat, also made an appearance among Pulley’s donors. Shulman also made donations to Chris Cheng, Jeff Syracuse and Burkley Allen. Mayor John Cooper also got in on this round of funding, maxing out to both Allen and Syracuse. 

Similarly to Pulley, Cheng received more than half of the $24,110 he raised from PACs. Notably, the PACs that contributed to Cheng’s campaign fall on a large range of interest. On one end you have the Growing Tennessee’s Future Outlook PAC, a pro-LGBTQ progressive group. On the other end, the Fraternal Order of Police’s political arm, which typically supports more conservative candidates, also supported Cheng’s campaign. Both GTFO and the FOP donated $5,000. A handful of labor PACs and a realty PAC also donated. 

Cheng tells the Nashville Banner he’s been focused on a lot of direct voter interaction, “pounding the pavement” and hitting as many events as possible. He’s hired no staff and held no fundraisers. Instead he’s relying on word of mouth.

“A lot of mornings I’ve been going to busy intersections with a sign,” Cheng says, who also says he’s relying heavily on word of mouth and social media. The few TV spots he’s running he described as being “not much” of a buy.

Then there’s the loaners. 

Olivia Hill and Howard Jones both loaned themselves around two-thirds of the money they raised leading up to the runoff, although their totals span the spectrum. Hill, who raised $113,331, got $75,000 of that from a loan she made to her own campaign. In comparison, Jones raised $17,520, and $12,000 of that was a loan he made to his own campaign. 

“You’ve gotta get a cross-section of voters out,” says Jones, who’s been organizing canvassing efforts to knock on doors and drop literature on the doorsteps of potential voters. “We’ve covered Districts 1, 2, 3 and 10, and we’ve been in the Bellevue and Edmondson Pike areas. We’re looking at expanding into Green Hills.”

Hill decided not to do any TV.

“We have focused our resources on a healthy digital ad buy that includes social media and streaming services, a targeted direct mail plan, and a field plan that includes a field director we brought in after the general election,” Hill says. “She is focusing on door knocking and phone banking with our volunteers.”

Delishia Porterfield may have been the first of the at-large candidates to make it into the runoff, but her fundraising totals going into this final stretch put her in sixth place among the field.

Porterfield raised $61,311 and spent almost the same amount. She boasts a long list of notable individual donors, including progressive state House member Gloria Johnson and House 51 Democratic nominee Aftyn Behn, a number of current and former Metro councilmembers, newly elected Vice Mayor Angie Henderson and former Mayor Megan Berry. She also received $22,150 from more than a dozen different PACs representing labor, progressive politics and the Nashville firefighters union. 

Porterfield says the endorsement by progressive groups like the Nashville Justice League, which is knocking on doors around the city, has helped because at-large campaigns don’t have the same infrastructure as mayoral efforts.

“It’s a huge help,” Porterfield says. “It is a game-changer. We can’t coordinate, but I see them out there making an impact.” 

As for her outreach efforts, she says she never considered going on TV as part of her plan. Instead she’s put some video on digital platforms instead of broadcast.

“The return on investment wasn’t worth it,” Porterfield says. “I had zero interest.” 

Allen’s cash on hand was second only to Syracuse going into the runoff. At $90,593, she’s made a strong showing for the final fundraising stretch, putting herself in the middle of the pack. 

The incumbent received $38,300 from PACs, with a handful of business-centric groups throwing their finances behind her, including A Better Nashville, a PAC with ties to John Ingram that gave her $9,400. Allen also received a $5,000 donation from the Fraternal Order of Police’s political arm and a $1,000 donation from the firefighter union’s PAC.

When asked what she was doing to reach voters, Allen laughs and says, “Everything.”

She’s not doing any TV, but has relied heavily on direct mail — three countywide pieces in the Aug. 3 election and two in the runoff — that features her bona fides on housing and affordability. She’s also doing radio, phone banking and newspaper ads.

“I called the winner and said, ‘What did you do?’” says Allen, referring to Zulfat Suara, who received enough votes in the first round to avoid the runoff. “She’s a rock star, so I don’t know if it works the same for me.”

Allen’s presence has been ubiquitous throughout the spring and summer.

“My main strategy was to try to be everywhere,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of one-on-one contact with voters. That’s the best.”

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...