Nashville held its nonpartisan mayoral primary on Thursday, and not only did Democratic Mayor David Briley take a distant second place, he came close to missing the Sept. 12 runoff. Metro Councilor John Cooper, the brother of local Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, took first with 35% of the vote, while Briley edged out conservative Carol Swain 25-22 for the second runoff spot. Democratic state Rep. John Ray Clemmons finished fourth with 16%.
No mayor has lost re-election since before 1962, the year that the current form of government (known as Metro) was created by consolidating Nashville with the rest of Davidson County. Briley is going to need a lot to go right to avoid making the wrong kind of history next month, especially since he’s already achieved one ominous milestone: Thursday was the first time that a sitting Metro mayor failed to take first place in the primary. Indeed, the only other incumbent to even be forced into a mayoral runoff in the last 50 years was Beverly Briley, the Metro’s first leader and current mayor’s grandfather.
However, no other mayor has ever needed to run for re-election after having served such a short time in office. David Briley only became mayor in March of 2018 after incumbent Megan Barry resigned due to a scandal, and he won a special election that May by beating Swain 54-23.
Briley has been arguing over the last year the city has stabilized its finances since he took over, and he's touted the arrival of companies like Amazon, which is setting up an operations hub. On election night, Briley also declared that Cooper would take the city “backwards” and said that his rival is part of a “national trend” towards divisive politics.
Cooper has portrayed things differently, saying that the city's policy of using incentives to attract businesses is a "trickle-down approach" that isn’t helping neighborhoods other than downtown. Cooper, who has opposed a number of Barry and Briley’s proposed projects, has worked as a real estate developer, but he’s also argued that the incumbent is too focused on development. And while Cooper hails from a prominent Democratic family, he’s sought to win over fiscal conservative voters as he’s insisted that under Briley, billions in public money is going “[c]arefully unaudited.”
Cooper only entered the contest in April after initially saying that he wouldn’t run, and Briley outraised him $1.18 million to $312,000. However, Cooper self-funded another $1.5 million of his own money and decisively outspent the rest of the field during the final weeks, and it’s probably too much for the incumbent to hope that Cooper won’t throw down more of his own cash.
So far, neither Swain or Clemmons have endorsed either runoff candidate. Swain, who was the most conservative in the primary, said just after the first round that she wasn’t sure if she’d back anyone, but that she “certainly [is] not going to support Briley.” Clemmons, who appealed to progressives, says he won’t be endorsing either Briley or Cooper.
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