Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Freddie O’Connell’s Mayoral Win—What’s Next for Nashville?

Photo Courtesy of Travis Saylors via Pexels

The September 30th weekend marked the inauguration celebrations of Nashville’s 10th Mayor, Democrat Freddie O’Connell. The results came after a 64% landslide victory in the runoff election against his opponent, Republican Strategist Alice Rolli. Rolli and O’Connell pulled ahead as the two candidates with the most votes early in a 12-person mayoral race, setting them up to face off, which took place on September 14th. 

In his inaugural speech, Mayor O’Connell highlighted Vice Mayor Henderson, the new metro council (with 14 new council members), and Councilwomen At-Large Zulfat Suara and Olivia Hill, the first Muslim and transgender elected officials to be reelected and elected in Tennessee, respectively.  

He wasted no time getting to work and laying out his priorities, which he dubbed his “fifteen fixes” on the campaign trail.  Some of these include emphasizing equitable development in all Nashville neighborhoods, creating affordable housing quickly using public land and dollars, and improving the way Nashvillieans get around the city without a car. 

Consistent with these goals, Inauguration Day was fare-free for all Nashvilleans to use WeGo (Nashville’s Metropolitan Transit Authority) to get around. O’Connell also called out the state government on matters like gun control, school funding, and access to “accurate history,” likely in reference to its recent ban on Critical Race Theory

Similarly, he took a jab at the state government by insisting that the city should have more children reading well by 3rd grade—“especially brown and black boys.” The remark was a direct attack on the state’s Third Grade Reading Retention law that showed that 60% of Tennessee’s 3rd grade were behind on their reading skills. 

Former Mayor of Nashville (1999-2007) and Vanderbilt Professor of Public Policy Bill Purcell weighs in on Mayor O’Connell’s priorities: “The number one priority is education—always was, always will be.”

“Safety is a close second. [Nashville has] the challenges of all major cities,” he adds. After repeated previous clashes with Tennessee’s state government, it’s clear that the first order of business will be repairing the city’s damaged relationship with the state. 

Mayor O’Connell stood alongside Governor Lee and other GOP lawmakers at the reopening of the Broadway viaduct earlier this month, though it remains to be seen how repairing the relationship will pan out after his inaugural speech comments.

Freddie O’Connell has his roots here in Nashville, where he was born to public servant parents, with his mother working as a Nashville public school teacher and his father serving federal civil servant and part-time songwriter. His partner is a child neurologist at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and his two daughters attend Metro Nashville Public Schools. 

Mayor O’Connell’s background is in the public policy and tech realms, having earned his bachelor’s degrees in music and computer science from Brown University.  His work experiences range from various software and media companies and a six-year stint as a radio personality. He has established himself as a problem solver from the outset, and his success as a council member is resounding through his being voted as “Best Current Metro Council Member” six times in a row. 

Ultimately, it is clear that Mayor O’Connell has his work cut out for him from balancing competing priorities, criticism regarding the new Titans stadium, and a tenuous relationship with the state. He must leverage his eight years of experience and existing relationships with council members to align the council and the Mayoral office—an advantage the previous Mayor did not have. 

Inaugurating a new era for Nashville, Mayor Freddie O’Connell has embarked on his tenure with a commitment to progress and equity. By focusing on what the city can do and not finding himself at odds with the state, he has outlined a roadmap that has the potential to build a more inclusive and prosperous Nashville shared by all its residents.

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About the Contributor
Shreya Gupta
Shreya Gupta, Managing Director
Shreya Gupta (she/her/hers) is a junior from Marlboro, New Jersey majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and minoring in Political Science. Her interests include healthcare, historical injustice, and equity-based policy. Outside of VPR, Shreya is active in Vanderbilt Student Government, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Vanderbilt College Democrats. She also does health policy research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and enjoys working with brands to generate content. She loves to read, try new restaurants, and watch Korean Dramas.