Metro Councilman At-Large John Cooper won 35 percent of the votes in Thursday’s Nashville mayoral election, significantly shy of the 50 percent he needed to win the election outright, but setting him up for a September 12 runoff election with incumbent Mayor David Briley, who finished in second place with 25 percent of the vote.
Former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain, a conservative, finished in third place with 22 percent of the vote, missing the runoff by finishing three points behind Briley.
Cooper’s brother, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), has represented Nashville in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003.
Briley is a former vice mayor who was elevated to the mayor’s position in March 2018 when former Mayor Megan Barry resigned in disgrace. Briley won a special election to serve the balance of Barry’s four-year term as mayor in May 2018, defeating Swain in that election by a 54 percent to 23 percent margin.
Nashville is governed under a metropolitan form of government that includes the city of Nashville and all the other communities in Davidson County.
Nashville/Davidson County is an island of blue in a sea of Tennessee red. In the 2016 presidential election, Davidson County was one of just three of Tennessee’s 95 counties that voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump. Clinton won Davidson County by 26 points, 60 percent to 34 percent, while Trump won the entire state by 26 points, 61 percent to 35 percent.
At his election night party, Cooper promised that, if elected mayor in the runoff election, he would champion “effective progressivism.”
The Tennessean reported Cooper told his supporters, “We want a town where educator pay and police and firefighter pay come first. And infrastructure in your backyard comes first. That is what is progressive and what effective progressivism means.”
Cooper won 30 of the city’s 35 council districts, according to analysis of election results compiled by Harpeth Strategies:
Council District breakdown of yesterday's mayoral race pic.twitter.com/vvHByp5nnB
— (@DaveRosenbergTN) August 2, 2019
Cooper is now the heavy favorite to win the September 12 runoff. Briley alienated firefighters, teachers, and police officers by first promising to increase their pay, then backing off of that promise. He has also been criticized as fiscally reckless for selling off city assets in order to balance the budget that continues to expand and proposing, then backing off from, the idea of selling off parking enforcement rights for $30 million.
The budget Briley proposed for the next fiscal year for the city, however, includes the $30 million in revenue from that parking rights selloff, which he publicly has said he has temporarily abandoned.
Briley also supported a $9 billion transit plan that Davidson County voters rejected decisively by 64 percent to 36 percent in a May 1, 2018 referendum.
Cooper opposed the $9 billion transit plan. Citing a Tennessean article, Cooper’s campaign website notes that shortly after the plan’s defeat “Metro Councilman John Cooper said that just because voters rejected a plan to ‘mostly build train tracks and a tunnel’ doesn’t mean Nashville shouldn’t prioritize investing in mass transit. Cooper said this plan suffered because it didn’t help large parts of the county.”
But in the days leading up to the election, Cooper pivoted to the left on the issue of sanctuary cities, tweeting his support for Nashville residents who, on July 22, impeded the lawful actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Davidson County who were attempting to enforce immigration law by detaining an illegal alien for whom they had an administrative warrant.
“I am proud of these neighbors and their community for their actions this morning,” Cooper tweeted shortly after the incident took place.
I am proud of these neighbors and their community for their actions this morning. I want to know more about what role, if any, Metro played in conjunction with ICE this morning. This kind of disruption is unhelpful and harmful to our community on so many levels. https://t.co/99odMr5hFT
— John Cooper (@JohnCooper4Nash) July 22, 2019
“I intend to work with the Sheriff to interpret the 1996 IGSA agreement as narrowly as possible so that Metro resources and local law enforcement are not being used to enforce federal immigration law,” he tweeted later that day.
I intend to work with the Sheriff to interpret the 1996 IGSA agreement as narrowly as possible so that Metro resources and local law enforcement are not being used to enforce federal immigration law.
— John Cooper (@JohnCooper4Nash) July 22, 2019
Briley offered similar sentiments on Twitter that day.
“I am keenly aware that this type of activity by our federal government stokes fear and distrust in our most vulnerable communities, which is why we do not use our local resources to enforce ICE orders,” Briley said in a statement that was tweeted on the day of the incident.
“I will continue to work with local advocacy organizations like TIRRC [Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coaltion] to make sure residents know their rights and and that support and resources are available for undocumented immigrants should the need arise,” he added.
Every Nashville resident and family deserves to feel safe, regardless of immigration status. My statement on yesterday’s events: pic.twitter.com/1t7QYACZyM
— Mayor David Briley (@MayorBriley) July 23, 2019
Though both Cooper and Briley are low-key in their public appearances, Cooper is generally seen as a more effective campaigner. He also has the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, which is adamantly opposed to Briley.
Breitbart News contributor Michael Patrick Leahy is also CEO and editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Star.