Decision: Nashville

Election illustrates city's history

Friday, August 23, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 34
By Kathy Carlson

Next month’s Metro mayoral runoff election pits two Nashville natives with long connections to the state and city and long family histories of public service.

Incumbent Nashville Mayor David Briley remembers when the now-closed Becker’s Bakery was possibly the top draw along what’s now known as 12 South.

Councilman at Large John Cooper talks about the days when the Grand Ole Opry decided to flee downtown. The fates of both the Ryman Auditorium and downtown Nashville were open questions.

Both probably remember a time long ago, seemingly in a galaxy far away, when traffic breezed through downtown and hardly anyone even considered living there. Those days are long gone, and the two candidates in the nonpartisan race offer distinct views on moving forward.

The two face off in a Sept. 12 runoff election, with early voting beginning Friday, Aug. 23 at the Howard Office Building, just south of downtown at 700 Second Avenue South. Full information on early voting locations and hours is available through a link on the Davidson County Election Commission web site,

Briley and Cooper were the top two vote-getters in a field of 10 candidates for mayor in the general election held on Aug. 1. Cooper received 35,676 votes, or 34.98% of the total; Briley received 25,786 votes or 25.28%. Finishing third and fourth were retired Vanderbilt law professor Carol Swain, who took 21.92% of the vote, and state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, with 16.07%. Since no candidate received a majority of the votes, the top two proceed to the runoff election.

Briley, 55, an attorney, is the eighth mayor of Metro Nashville; his late grandfather, Beverly Briley, was the first elected mayor of the Metropolitan government of Nashville and Davidson County, which consolidated city and county government functions.

He graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy, Georgetown University and Golden Gate University School of Law. Briley served on Metro Council as an at-large member from 1999-2007.

Briley was elected vice mayor of Nashville in 2015. He was sworn in as mayor in March of 2018 following the resignation of Mayor Megan Barry.

Cooper, 62, a businessman with experience in banking, retail and real estate development, has served on the Metro Council as an at-large member since 2015.

He graduated from the Groton School, Harvard University and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

Cooper’s brother is U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and their father, the late William Prentice Cooper Jr., served as Tennessee’s governor.

Cooper and Briley spoke with The Ledger contributor Kathy Carlson about their views of the mayor’s role, their visions for Nashville and some of the challenges facing Nashville. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

They also spoke in greater detail about finance and budget issues facing Nashville, and those topics will be covered in an upcoming issue of The Ledger.