Freddie O’Connell, Alice Rolli secure spot in Nashville mayoral runoff

O’Connell lands on top, while Rolli edges Wiltshire for second. Yarbro and Campbell round out the top 5.

By: - August 3, 2023 10:33 pm
Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell and Republican strategist Alice Rolli will advance to a Sept. 14 runoff to determine who will be the next mayor of Nashville. (Photos: John Partipilo)

Metro Councilmember Freddie O’Connell and Republican strategist Alice Rolli will advance to a Sept. 14 runoff to determine who will be the next mayor of Nashville. (Photos: John Partipilo)

Metro Council member Freddie O’Connell and Republican Strategist Alice Rolli will face off in Nashville’s mayoral runoff.

O’Connell led the 12-person mayoral field garnering 27% of the vote, with Rolli coming in second with 20%. With neither candidate reaching the 50% plus one threshold, they’ll head to a six-week runoff election held on Sept. 14. 

O’Connell launched his runoff campaign with a 45-minute victory speak at the Hutton Hotel in Midtown Nashville Thursday evening, where he maintained his committment to focus on neighborhood improvements over development downtown.

“Is anyone out there ready to stay?” O’Connell said. “There is our chance to make the Nashville where you can afford to stay.”

Metro Nashville Councilmember Freddie O'Connell, surrounded by supporters, speaks to a crowd at his Hutton Hotel Election Night watch party. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Metro Nashville Councilmember Freddie O’Connell, surrounded by supporters, speaks to a crowd at his Hutton Hotel Election Night watch party. (Photo: John Partipilo)

In her comments Thursday night, Rolli addressed public education and public safety in Metro Nashville Schools, saying that if she is elected mayor, she will use “every available means and every available dollar available to protect our kids, no matter which school their parents choose for them to go to.”

“If you believe as I do that we can love Nashville and we can love Tennessee, that we must work productively with our neighbors, that working together, more good for more people here will be accomplished,” said Rolli to a crowd that included Republican National Committee Member Oscar Brock and Republican state Rep. Mike Sparks. “Our city is too great to follow the recipe that has failed too many other cities.”

Thursday’s election marked the end of the first round in an otherwise frenzied campaign — which started over a year ago — but kicked into high gear when incumbent Mayor John Cooper decided not to run for reelection seven months ago. 

Only three candidates — O’Connell, council member Sharon Hurt and former Metro official Matt Wiltshire — joined the race before Cooper’s announcement. Afterward a crowded field emerged, highlighted by Rolli, former Alliance Bernstein executive Jim Gingrich, property assessor Vivian Wilhoite and state Sens. Jeff Yarbro and Heidi Campbell. 

Early polling had Yarbro and Campbell leading the field, but after the campaign season turned to the summer, O’Connell took the lead in most public polling. 

O’Connell capitalized on Wiltshire, Yabro and Campbell’s crowding of the more traditional Democratic lane, pushing his progressive bona-fides while boosted by a strong cohort of on-the-ground volunteers. He also drew a distinction between himself and the other candidates by touting his council no-vote on the new $2.1 billion NFL stadium for the Titans, using it to kickstart a slogan of “more ‘Ville less Vegas”

Alice Rolli, backed by her husband, Michael, prepares for a Sept. 14 runoff election. (Photo: Holly McCall)
Alice Rolli, backed by her husband, Michael, on Aug. 3, prepares for a Sept. 14 runoff election. (Photo: Holly McCall)

The Titans stadium was a pivotal issue in the crowded campaign field.  

Rolli secured the second spot as she heavily courted conservative voters, targeting her advertisements on Fox News, focusing on public safety as a central campaign theme and promising not to raise taxes. She also threatened to take over the school system at a mayoral forum, citing a need for radical change. 

O’Connell and Rolli’s face-off comes as neither candidate raised the most money or provided the most self-funding.

The selfing funding distinction belongs to Gingrich, who lent his campaign nearly $2 million of his own money but dropped out in mid-July when he ran out of cash. 

Wiltshire led the field in combined money raised during the race, as he loaned his campaign over $800,000 and raised nearly $2 million. The former MDHA official initially launched his campaign as a challenge to Cooper.

Wiltshire ran a split image campaign portraying himself as a family man and pro-police.  At one point, his campaign sent two mailers to different households based on which message he thought would resonate better. He finished in third with 17% of the vote.

Yarbro entered the campaign as a favorite because of his name recognition and nine years in the state legislature, but his campaign failed to gain traction as he finished with 12% of the vote.

Campbell’s campaign bet big on a door-knocking and personal voter reach-out strategy, shying away from traditional TV advertisements and mailers. But, the state senator running for her third office in as many years came up with just 8% of the vote. 

Hurt’s campaign leaned into her personality throughout the campaign, advocating that she could bring the city together. She finished with 6% of the vote. 

To round out the field, Wilhoite received 5%, Gingrich 2%, Natisha Brooks 1%, Stephanie Johnson, Fran Bush and Bernie Cox received less than 1% of the vote. 

Holly McCall contributed to this story.



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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.