Thursday, September 21, 2023

What to expect with Freddie O'Connell as mayor and a more radical Metro Council.

Freddie O'Connell
 by Rod Williams, Sept. 18, 2023- Nashvillian voters overwhelmingly chose Freddie O'Connell to be the next mayor last Thursday giving him 64% of the vote.  I was hopeful that Alice Rolli would win and thought it possible but was not terribly optimistic.  The reason I had a glimmer of hope that Rolli might win is that in opinion polls asking if Nashville was heading in the right direction or the wrong direction, 56% of Nashvillians said Nashville was headed in the wrong direction. This led me to believe that maybe Nashville would not want more of the same. With an unpopular 32% property tax hike, worst schools, and more crime, I thought Nashville may have been ready for a change. I was wrong.

Despite thinking Rolli had a chance, I was not especially optimistic. We are obviously a Democrat stronghold and partisanship is more intense than anytime I have ever observed. While the race for mayor is a non-partisan race, Alice Rolli was a Republican. Despite Rolli being a mainstream moderate Republican in the vein of Lamar Alexander and Bill Haslam, Trumpism has so tarnished the brand, that many Democrats will never, under any circumstances, vote for a Republican.  Add to that, the State legislatures punitive war against Nashville and anyone with an "R" beside their name is toxic.

Not only have we elected a progressive Democrat to be mayor, but the Council also underwent drastic changes. Women won 22 of the 40 council seats making this the first time ever that the Council will be majority female. All five at-large council members will be women, assuming you count as a woman a biological male who is transgender. 

Olivia Hill became the first transgender person elected to public office in Tennessee, winning one of four open Metro Council at-large seats. I do not know how many of the council members are openly gay, but there are several.

More important that the sex and sexual orientation of the Council is that the Council is ideological much further to the left. The Nashville Justice League is a political entity comprised of the Central Labor Council of Nashville & Middle Tennessee, TIRRC Votes and The Equity Alliance Fund. It saw 13 of the 15 candidates it endorsed win seats.  

So, what does all of this mean for the future of Nashville? I expect higher taxes, worst schools, and more crime. In other words, more of the same.

The mayor nor the Council have much to do with schools unless the mayor should choose to make improving education an issue and do battle with the school board. Three out of four Nashville third graders are not reading on grade level. This is considerably worse than the state average. Statewide, 88.7% of high school students graduate on time. In Nashville, only 81.8% do.  Another indication of our failing school system is that despite increased population in Nashville and increased funding for schools, school enrollment continues to decline.  Freddie O'Connell has not indicated he is ready to do battle with the school board and in debates with Alice Rolli he defended the status quo. We can expect continuing decline in the quality of public education in Nashville. 

The crime rate in Nashville is 5,114 total crimes per 100,000 people while the national crime rate is is 2,346 total crimes per 100,000 people. The violent crime rate is 1,073 violent crimes per 100,000 people, compared to the national crime rate of 388 per 100,00 people. In Nashville one has a 1 in 20 chance of being the victim of crime (link). In a list of the 30 U.S. Cities With Highest Violent Crime Rates, Nashville ranks 28th

Not only do statistics and rankings show Nashville has a crime problem, people feel it. Police response times are noticeably longer, and police do not even bother investigating petty crimes such as car break-ins and theft of packages from one's front porch. In the campaign for mayor, Alice Rolli had the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, and she advocated fully staffing the 200-officer-short police department. O'Connell did not make funding the police or combating crime a campaign priority. 

In addition to worst schools, more crime, and higher taxes, I expect an increase in homelessness and for the city to spend more on affordable housing and not have much to show for it. Is there any way to put a good spin on this? I'll try.

Despite Freddie O'Connell having the endorsement of The Nashville Justice League and being a progressive, he is not the worst kind of progressive.  He is not a Ginny Welsch or Sean Parker. Freddie O'Connell certainly has a progressive ideology, but he appears to me to be a smart, pragmatic, nerdy sort of guy. He probably will want things to run efficiently and smoothly. 

In his campaign O'Connell made criticism of Nashville's lower Broad entertainment district a key part of his campaign. He had a slogan of "More 'Ville, Less Vegas." He said "Broadway would be less obnoxious and the beer would be cheaper" if the many bars owned by Steve Smith were closed. Smith owns more of the bars than anyone else, including the iconic Tootie's Orchid Lounge, Honky Tonk Central and a bunch of others. Despite all of this, I don't expect much to change on lower Broad. Much of it is beyond the power of the mayor to do much about and O'Connell is too pragmatic to kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs. He may tone down Broadway a little by lowering the volume and imposing more controls on entertainment vehicles, but any changes I suspect will be modest.

Another reason not to freak out about a more progressive council is that we have a weak council. The metro charter makes it that way.  While the council could do mischief, the council is limited in what they can do. It may require "equity" in contracts and membership on boards and commissions and it may fund more gang "violence intervenors" and give money to woke non-profits, but the ability of the Council to do much harm is limited. Most of what the Council can do that reflects their radicalism is pass meaningless resolutions that no one reads or cares about opining on abortion or trans rights or some other state or national issue.  

Another reason to not be too terribly destressed about the state of Metro is that the State keeps Metro on a short leash. When Metro tried making Nashville a sanctuary city, the state stepped in and stopped it from happening. When Metro tried to force developers to build affordable housing by passing "inclusionary zoning" the State forbid it. In 2019 when Metro allowed our fund balances to get dangerously low and attempted to pass a budget that didn't balance, the State Comptroller stepped in and forced Metro to get its financial house in order. I expect the State to rein in Nashville should we move in too radical a direction.

While I wish Nashville would have elected Alice Rolli and while I wish so many radicals had not been elected to the Council, there is no such thing as a gay or straight pothole or a liberal or conservative pothole.  Most of what the council deals with is the equivalent of filling potholes. 

Also, things change slowly. Systems are in place that cannot easily be changed.  While leadership from a mayor with support of the council could improve things, absent that leadership they do not noticeably decline. The city keeps running even with a Bill Boner or Megan Barry distracted with sexual affairs and asleep at the wheel. The city could hum along on autopilot even without a mayor. While I expect things to get worse with an O'Connell administration and a radical council, they will get worse slowly. For most people, they will not notice. 

Most of the violent crime is disproportionately a Black problem and occurs in the Black part of town or is among the lower socioeconomic classes among people who know each other. Even if crime does get worse, most of us will not notice. People may gradually get more cautious and avoid certain convivence markets after dark, for instance, and add security doorbells and motion detector lights to their home and be more careful to make sure their car is locked. People will adjust but more crime will not be a major impact on the lives of most people. There are many cities, such as Memphis or New Orleans for instance, that have much worse crime than do we in Nashville, and yet people chose to live there and still think those cities are a great place to live.

As for worse schools, unfortunately for low-income people who may not be able to provide transportation for their child to attend a better school, they will be stuck with worse schools. Within metro public schools there are good schools and parents who are involved and make the effort and can provide the transportation can often get their child in a better school than the one to which their child is zoned.  Of course, not all parents can get their child in a better school and for those parents, the choice is often to put their child in a private school or leave Davidson County for a neighboring county.  With declining enrollment rates that is happening now. It will continue to happen.

While I expect things to get worse, I love Nashville and will not be leaving.  I like living in a vibrant city with opportunities for lots of diversions, good places to eat, a city with nice parks, the music scene, and opportunities for political engagement. I do not have children in school. I have a grandson whose education I care about but when the time comes his parents will make the right decision and figure out an alternative to a failing metro school. If crime increases, I will hardly notice. If taxes are increase, I can afford it.  While I wish I did not live in a woke progressive city, I like so much about Nashville, that I am not going to let us having a progressive mayor and radical council ruin it for me.  I will be aware of how things change because I am a political junkie and write this blog; I doubt most people will notice much of a difference. 

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1 comment:

  1. I pray to God he's not another Biden, a crook and a liar, hope he really does care about Nashville and its tax paying folks, please do things right along with the council, also give Marcus Smith a chance with his free sixty million to make the speedway a beautiful place, something that our city can be proud of and bring thousands of dollars here. Larry Weakley.