Screen shot from attack ad by Steve Smith on Freddie O'Connell in 2023 mayoral race.

The commercials were short but brutal.

After an ad campaign in January that attacked Mayor John Cooper with a set of kids’ blocks spelling out A-B-C (anybody but Cooper), Lower Broadway bar magnate Steve Smith turned his attention to Freddie O’Connell in late June.

“Remember A-B-C?” the voiceover said. “Now it’s N-O-E. Not O’Connell Either. After eight years of representing Broadway, it’s still the same *bleep* different day. Nashville’s not ready for Freddie.”

The *bleep* in question was accompanied on screen by a still picture of a man defecating in the street, presumably near Smith’s bars on Lower Broadway.

Smith saw O’Connell’s performance in early polls and tried to stop his surge. It backfired, with the attention around the ad actually boosting O’Connell’s fundraising efforts before the end of the second quarter. Another ad failed to turn the tide against the District 19 councilmember, as did a third effort by Bobby Joslin and Bill Hostettler under the title “Friends of Enoch Fuzz.” 

O’Connell would go on to finish first in the Aug. 3 election and qualify for a runoff against second-place finisher Alice Rolli.

After Smith began running the ads, O’Connell reached out through Smith’s friend Tom Sturdivant several times to meet with the Tootsie’s owner. Following O’Connell’s victory, Smith called attorney Bryan Lewis.

“‘You know, I want to meet with Freddie and speak with him and see what he’s about,’” Lewis said, describing Smith’s comments to him. “And the meeting was a very good meeting. Steve relayed his concerns about crime. And, you know, the overall condition of Broadway, and said, ‘I would like for the condition of Broadway to improve.’ And we relayed to Freddie that there were instances of just plain drug dealing going on out in the street, and the police were not doing anything about it. Freddie seemed to be very concerned about that.”

Lewis, Smith and O’Connell met at Aubrey Harwell’s office on Aug. 16 along with Sturdivant and former planning director Doug Sloan.

O’Connell told the Banner that the source of the friction between the two was a misunderstanding. Smith told O’Connell he thought the councilmember had not been responsive during COVID when he reached out. O’Connell apologized on the spot for the missed communication and said he never got the message from him.  

“And I honestly was just, ‘If I missed it, I missed it,’” O’Connell said. “It might have been very well the case that I didn’t have his number saved. And just, you know, I didn’t get around to a voicemail from an unknown number or whatever. And I think that it’s a funny thing to have that conversation after the fact. But I think it was a pretty, pretty important moment to just acknowledge that. OK, he’s got a footprint in the entertainment district, and I represent District 19. And he felt that I had not been appropriately responsive.”

The detente is a far cry from when O’Connell blasted Smith for the ads on July 18, writing on Twitter, “If every place owned by Steve Smith closed, the city would be safer, Broadway would be less obnoxious, and the beer would be cheaper.”

The Banner asked about Joslin and Hostettler turning around and donating to his campaign. O’Connell said he had a “great” conversation with Bill’s son Will about building affordable housing that led to other discussions. He and Joslin hashed out their differences over a breakfast. Then, Joslin showed up at an O’Connell fundraiser.

“It’s like so many conversations, I think, where there wasn’t a conversation beforehand, right?” O’Connell said. “You’ve named three people who were all involved in attacks on my candidacy in this campaign before we ever sat down to talk.”

All three are supporters, for now.

“We have very high hopes for Freddie as mayor,” Lewis said. 

That’s harder to put on a set of kids’ blocks.

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...