Mayoral candidates participate in forum for the first time in front of local business owners

Posted at 11:13 AM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 12:13:53-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Business owners in Nashville heard from a group of mayoral candidates during a forum on Tuesday morning.

The meeting at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center was attended by a group that employs nearly 20,000 people and represents $3.6 billion. The candidates participating included Matt Wiltshire, Freddie O'Connell, Sharon Hurt, Jeff Yarbro, Alice Rolli and Jim Gingrich.

The candidates addressed a wide variety of topics that impact Nashvillians daily, including transit, affordable housing, education, the Titans stadium deal and crime.

They also addressed the relationship between the city and the state legislature. This comes at a time when the legislature is considering a bill that would cut Metro Council in half.

When asked to speak on the city's relationship with the state, the candidates had the following comments:

Freddie O'Connell:

"This is an unusual moment for the city. As a lifelong Nashvillian whose mom grew up in Dickson, Tennessee, it's wild to be in a place where the same people that she grew up with, so many of whom are still in Tennessee, have made such strikingly different political choices than the Tennessee that gave us everyone from Ned McWherter to Lamar Alexander to Phil Bredesen. The point where the state is now waging, functionally, policy war on the city. This is the first year I've ever seen our state legislature pursue something that amounts to economic destabilization. There's not a secret formula [to a solution], there's not some little bit of magic or thing you could whisper in somebody's ear that's going to get them to back off. The most important thing, I think, is to take some of this stuff offline because we still see so many people using social media to dunk. We hear things that come out of rumor mills. The most important thing we can do is constantly, probably over-invest. As mayor, I'm going to be making sure I have meetings on my calendar regularly with Governor Lee and his staff, with leaders in both chambers, with committee chairs across the state of Tennessee. I think a future mayor is going to have to actually travel outside the county to invest in those relationships."

Jeff Yarbro:

"Regardless of the challenge that's facing the city, be it education, transportation or housing, our relationship with the state is going to be imperative for the next mayor to get right. For the last nine years, I've been working inside state government doing a couple of things: One is when Nashville's interests and values have been on the line, I have not been afraid to stand up and fight for Nashville's interests and I think that to do so respectfully and in many ways, effectively. We are going to stop some of these attacks that are happening this year. We're not going to stop all of them because there are certain places where there's going to be a push. But we are going to stop some of these that are really going to cut our interests. Second, I have learned how to do this in a way that avoids getting into dumb fights and fighting for the sake of fighting. At the end of the day, the state of Tennessee and the city of Nashville are in a symbiotic relationship and if we're in an all-out fight, nobody wins. So we have to get this right and the next mayor has to do that."

Jim Gingrich:

"I think if we think about why people are so cynical about politics today, this is a great example. Because, why did we get here? Because we have politicians trying to score points, thinking about their next reelection or how they're going to get to the next office rather than doing what's right for the people who live in the city, live in the region, live in the state. The fact is, we do have a lot in common with the state. The Nashville region accounted for nearly 50% of the economic growth in the state over the last 10 years. But our commonality exists beyond that. If a Metro worker can't afford to live in the city, a state worker can't afford to live in the city. We've talked about this issue of transit. We have to work with the city because those transit issues cut across the entire region. I've negotiated successfully with the state. I've also disagreed publically with the state. But we need to get to work, back to working for the people of the region, back to working for people of the state."

Sharon Hurt:

"I'm taking it back to the basics. Our charter gave us clear directions that our existence is for those people that we serve. That's what we're here to do. The state is taking us back 50 years. Nashville is the most diverse city in this state. It is not a one size fits all approach that's going to fix this. I'm going to stand with the people. I'm going to stand with them, I'm going to stand up for them and I'm going to communicate with people. I think it's very important not only for one to understand, but it's also to be understood. I will have those hard dialogues that are absolutely necessary in order for people to hear. If they know better, they'll do better is what I'm hoping is going to happen. But we're going to have to call things just out just as they are. I stand for all people and I expect the state to do the exact same thing. They've got to go back and do what it says. 'We the people' and that's why we are here."

Matt Wiltshire:

"While folks have been talking about the relationship between the state and the city, and it is continued to deteriorate between the council and the legislature in the state, I actually have a proven track record of building a successful relationship with the state. I served as the director of economic and community development for eight years. I worked very closely with Commissioner Haggerty when he was the commissioner, Commissioner Randy Boyd who is now the president of UT, while he was the commissioner, and Bobby Rolfe. I have experience building positive relationships with the state to actually accomplish goals that both the city and the state share. It's important for the next mayor to extend a hand, to build relationships. This doesn't mean we kowtow or sacrifice any of the important principles on which our city is built. But what it means is by building relationships, when those tough conversations do come, you can have disagreements respectfully, without being disrespectful to each other. You can disagree without being disrespectful. I have a track record of having done that."

Alice Rolli:

"Like a lot of the moms in the room, I've got two boys and when they get started fighting, sometimes you've got to send everybody to some time out. So, it is not a conservative position to override the local control of Nashville. In 1982, during the World's Fair that was hosted in Knoxville, county commissioners from Blunt County and Knoxville city came to petition Governor Alexander to ask him to override their local control. He refused to because he understood the most conservative position is local control by our local governed. I think I can articulate that in a unique way to anyone on this stage as coming from the Lamar Alexander part of the party, which are today's federal framing legislation, was passed 82-15, that was signed into law, that's today's governing law. Not as a fringe issue, but by working together."