Freddie O’Connell wins Nashville mayoral election in landslide victory
O’Connell, a district council member, was heavily favored in the runoff election
Nashville Mayor-elect Freddie O’Connell surrounded by his daughters at his victory party on Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Metro Nashville Council member Freddie O’Connell will be the fourth straight mayor to ascend from the city’s legislative branch to the executive seat after winning Thursday night’s runoff election.
O’Connell grabbed 64% of the vote, while his opponent, former Republican strategist Alice Rolli, snagged 36%. A total of 114,103 people voted in the runoff.
“We’re going to begin a transition process and it’s going focus on three important things that we’ve all talked about over the past year,” O’Connell said to a packed room at East Side Bowl in Nashville’s Madison neighborhood during his victory speech.
“How Nashville grows, how Nashville works and how Nashville moves. We’re are going to organize the mayor’s office around these principles concentrating on how we make it easier to stay.”
The 46-year-old mayor-elect is a Nashville native and tech entrepreneur who served as chair of Metro Nashville Transit before his first election to the Metro Council in 2015.
When O’Connell announced his campaign in April 2022, he initially expected to challenge Nashville Mayor John Cooper. He was soon joined in the field by former Metro official Matt Wiltshire and council member Sharon Hurt.
All signs pointed to Cooper running again, but six months before election day, he held a press conference announcing he would not seek a second term. The field expanded quickly, with state Sens. Jeff Yarbro and Heidi Campbell joining as well as businessman Jim Gingrich, property assessor Vivian Wilhoite, Rolli and several other candidates.
O’Connell received the most votes among the 12-person field in the August general election. Nashville’s elections are nonpartisan but require a candidate to win 50% plus one of the votes in an election to avoid a top-two runoff.
O’Connell’s general election campaign focused on his experience in government and anti-establishment streaks, often touted his “no” vote against a new Tennessee Titans stadium, and used slogans such as “I want you to stay” and “More ‘Ville, Less Vegas.”
The campaign pivoted to a more partisan message in the runoff election, emphasizing O’Connell’s Democratic Party bona fides and attacking Rolli’s Republican ties and attendance at former President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
O’Connell also made overtures to Nashville’s business community in the runoff. The Nashville Banner reported he met with honky tonk owner Steve Smith, who briefly funded O’Connell attack advertisements in the general election but backed off in the runoff.
O’Connell raised nearly $1.2 million during the runoff from groups often on opposite sides of issues, including union-affiliated and business-affiliated political action committees.
The money followed O’Connell because he was heavily favored to win.
After securing herself a spot in the runoff, Rolli never managed to grab momentum in the race.
She tried to position herself as a moderate Republican candidate above party politics whose experience outside Nashville’s local government structures positioned her better to run it.
Rolli previously worked in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, as the campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s 2014 reelection bid and currently runs her own consulting firm.
But, within days of the August general election, Rolli attended a gathering of the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee and later had to cut ties with a campaign advisor who worked with the Proud Boys, a far-right fringe group.
One of the first challenges facing O’Connell will be the 19 new faces on the 40-member Metro Council. Council members can only serve two consecutive terms in their positions.
Four at-large Metro Council seats and three council districts were also on the runoff ballot Thursday.
Burkley Allen, Quinn Evans-Segall, Olivia Hill and Delisha Porterfield won the four runoff at-large council posts. Incumbent Zulfat Suara will be the other at-large council member after she won enough votes in the August general election to avoid the runoff.
Hill will make history as the first transgender person to be elected to office in Tennessee, particularly notable after a year in which the Tennessee General Assembly focused on bills stripping rights from LGBTQ Tennesseans.
Mike Cortese won in district 4 and Tasha Ellis in district 29. As of Thursday at 9 p.m., Jeff Eslick led Eric Patton by 27 votes in district 11.
It will be a short transition for O’Connell, who will sworn in as mayor sometime before the Oct. 3 Metro Council meeting.
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