The votes are in: Nashville is “ready for Freddie.”
Freddie O’Connell, a former two-term downtown Metro Council member, is Metropolitan Nashville’s 10th mayor.
He notched a decisive victory against business leader and former political strategist Alice Rolli on Thursday, securing 63.8% of the 114,226 votes cast compared to Rolli’s 36.0%.
“Tomorrow, the rest of the work begins. We know we can do better together,” O’Connell said, declaring victory just after final results were reported at 8:38 p.m. “This is our chance to make Nashville a place where you want to stay and can stay – and I want you to stay. You are the reason Music City’s future will be even better than its past.”
His administration, he said, will be organized around how to make it easier for people to stay in Nashville. That starts with countywide investments in schools, parks and libraries, the “public resources that bind neighborhoods and neighbors together.”
“Our interactions with our local government should leave us feeling satisfied that a real person worked to solve our issue,” O’Connell said. “From litter to fallen trees to potholes, we should be able to rely on our people and our systems that we use to keep this city vibrant. We’re going to make this city work for all of us.”
Earlier in the evening, cheers erupted as a screen streaming NewsChannel 5 showed O’Connell with a substantial early lead at his election night event at Eastside Bowl. People wearing “More ‘Ville, Less Vegas” T-shirts and O’Connell buttons with pizza and drinks in hand as they waited for O’Connell to take the stage. Taylor Swift’s “Ready For It?” played over the speakers but could barely be heard over the hum of the increasingly packed crowd.
District 30 Council member Sandra Sepulveda introduced O’Connell ahead of his victory speech.
“This is not the old politics,” she said, sparking resounding applause from the crowd. “This is the new leadership.”
O’Connell thanked each of his opponents in the race, saying “all of us wanted better for this city,” and also thanked his predecessor, Mayor John Cooper.
“There can never be a moment in this period of Nashville’s history where we don’t remember that he stewarded the city through some of our worst crises in our history and left us in strong shape,” O’Connell said. “His efforts are incredibly important as we all try to springboard to our future successes.”
A new Nashville vision:My neighbor Freddie O’Connell wins race for Nashville mayor and offers hope for residents
O’Connell dedicated the night to his partner Dr. Whitney Boone’s father, David, who died after a prolonged illness on Friday.
“We’re missing him dearly tonight,” he said.
Rolli took the stage at her event at Plaza Mariachi 8:40 p.m. to announce that she had called O’Connell to congratulate him on his victory.
“You carry the hope and the best wishes from our family,” Rolli said to O’Connell.
As she left the stage just after 9 p.m., she asked the attendees to do two things: Drive safe and continue to believe in Tennessee. Minutes later, a five-piece mariachi band took her place on the stage, and Rolli made her way through the crowd, drink in hand, giving hugs and sharing a few laughs.
“I think we made a lot of people step up and say, ‘Hey it doesn’t have to be this way. We can demand better for our kids. We don’t have to settle,’” Rolli said. “I like to think we raised the bar about what was possible.”
Rolli said she isn’t sure if she’ll go back to politics soon, but she hinted at it, referencing how Lamar Alexander — whose later campaigns Rolli managed — lost his first bid for office, but came back later to serve the state. For now, she had other things on her mind.
“I’ve got a lot of thank you notes to write,” Rolli told The Tennessean in an interview in her dressing room, away from the crowd of dancers there for Plaza Mariachi’s regular Thursday night salsa dancing. “And I’ve got a margarita to finish out there.”
Live election results:Follow along as votes are counted
O’Connell and Rolli emerged as the top two contenders from a 12-candidate field in the Aug. 3 general election. Over the last six weeks, the pair have pitched their diametric visions for leading Nashville.
Both candidates agreed on the broad strokes: Nashville needs to support its schools, improving transit is a top priority, affordability is a major pressure point, the city’s relationship with the state needs a reset, and public safety is foundational.
But they clashed on how to accomplish meaningful results.
The nonpartisan race was more polarized than Nashville’s past mayoral races, longtime Nashville political analyst Pat Nolan said. O’Connell ran as a “true progressive” and Rolli identified her politics as “right of center.” Both at times used partisan labels in ad campaigns, with O’Connell releasing mailers calling Rolli an “extreme Republican” in the week leading up to Thursday’s election.
O’Connell, a software architect with around two decades of heavy involvement in community leadership and local politics, built his campaign around bolstering Nashville’s basic city services, advancing a workable transit plan and steering city priorities back toward residents.
His campaign slogans hit on the sentiment that Nashville’s rapid growth and sustained popularity isn’t necessarily benefitting all Nashvillians: “I want you to stay,” “More ‘Ville, less Vegas” and “A Nashville for Nashvillians.”
Nolan called O’Connell a “surprise candidate” who faced initial doubts over his fundraising ability but ultimately became the race’s frontrunner.
With the win, O’Connell becomes the fourth Nashville mayor elected after serving on the Metro Council. He launched his bid for the seat — his first countywide campaign — in April 2022, allowing him more than 16 months to fundraise for a campaign without the assistance of personal loans.
O’Connell said his knowledge of Metro government and policy is a positive, citing his eight years of service representing District 19, Nashville’s fastest-growing district that encompasses the downtown footprint.
O’Connell brought to the table a wealth of policy knowledge developed over eight years representing Nashville’s most populous and fastest growing district. He set himself apart from other candidates with his vocal opposition to the $2.1 billion deal to build a new Tennessee Titans stadium (former AllianceBernstein executive Jim Gingrich was the only other candidate to denounce the deal).
He saw early support from labor groups and fellow council members, and consolidated support from the business community during his runoff campaign, as evidenced in his runoff financial disclosures. O’Connell’s donor list indicates backing from a broad base including organizations that have clashing interests, something that could prove challenging for O’Connell to navigate while in office.
During his runoff campaign, O’Connell landed endorsements from six of his former competitors: Matt Wiltshire, Jeff Yarbro, Heidi Campbell, Sharon Hurt, Vivian Wilhoite and Jim Gingrich. He garnered support — and donations — from several labor union groups and prominent Nashville business interests.
Roughly a quarter of O’Connell’s $1.2 million runoff war chest came from political action committees — some tied to prominent local businesses — and LLCs.
Rolli, whose career as a business strategist was most recently rooted in the education software sphere, previously served as an assistant commissioner of strategy for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under former Gov. Bill Haslam, and managed former Sen. Lamar Alexander’s 2014 U.S. Senate primary campaign. She spearheaded an effort to prevent development around Fort Negley in 2017.
Rolli presented herself as a necessary change from what she calls Nashville’s “permanent political class.” Her campaign focused on “building a bridge” with state and regional leaders and steering away from the “recipe book that has failed other big cities of higher taxes, higher crimes and failing schools.”
Nashville mayoral election:See who has endorsed Freddie O’Connell and Alice Rolli
Rolli’s endorsements include the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, the Davidson County Republican Party and Community Leaders for America (home of the national forum of Republican mayors and local leaders). She received endorsements from former competitors Fran Bush and Stephanie Johnson, who joined Rolli’s campaign following the general election.
Her nearly $442,000 runoff election coffers include donations from a handful of political action committees and several LLCs and businesses. She reported around $146,000 of outstanding personal loans as of Sept. 4.