Like many Nashvillians, I’ve been squinting my way through the mayoral race as if watching a high-speed train in slow motion on its’ maiden voyage around a hairpin turn. You hope it doesn’t crash but every cell in your body prepares you for collision.
The primary election was close and heated. Megan Barry won 24% of the vote, David Fox finished second with 23%--just edging out Bill Freeman--who garnered just 1532 votes less than Fox-- coming in third with 21%.
As a woman of modest means, Metro Council Member Barry has been focused and strategic. As a seasoned politician, she knows the rules of engagment tend to be a little different for women. A mere whisper of a fact from a women can often be heard like a crashing of symbols--especially in a competition. We girls learn early on--tone is everything.
When it was revealed that Fox’s biggest financial supporter is his brother George, a wealthy hedge fund operator (and the mysterious donor behind a Super PAC funding Fox’s campaign), Barry was vocal in asserting that both her opponents are men of wealth whereas she relies on grass roots support to build her campaign nest egg. All of this is true although Freeman’s road to financial wealth was hard earned--and perhaps explains why he enjoyed support from such a diverse cross section of voters.
Fox took to painting Barry with broad-brush strokes, suggesting she’s light on experience (which is ironic since she was re-elected in 2011 to a second four-year term and the only candidate with actual governmental experience). As for Freeman, when faced with the question of his wealth before the primary, the successful, self-made businessman abstained from responding to anything negative that might take him off his campaign message. Unfortunately for him, it may have cost him and begs the question: do nice guys really finish last?
Since the primary, the issue on everyone’s mind is who will receive the majority of votes previously pledged to the other five candidates—especially Howard Gentry and Bill Freeman. Gentry, an African American has always held strong support in his community but came late to the race and received nearly half the votes as Freeman. And Freeman, as someone with a passion for providing housing for those in recovery (or transitioning from prison), enjoyed long-term relationships within various communities—including many African American voters in North Nashville—an area that could very well be the deciding vote in this election. Neither of them officially endorsed Barry after she won the primary.
With competition in full swing and only 9 days left to the election, Fox’s team put some of the Super PAC money to use and produced a series of negative campaign ads (excellently produced) aimed at attacking Barry. The most notable ad is meant to be a parody of a Mathew McConahey car commercial and depicts Fox driving through downtown Nashville musing to himself about Barry’s fictional failures as a Metro City Council Member. By the time Fox salutes a Hanna Barbera character standing on a street corner dressed in a Fox suit, it’s easy to forget you are watching a political ad and not the Playboy Cartoon Channel. And one is left with the impression that it wouldn’t matter if Barry balanced the national debt and cured cancer on her lunch hour, it still wouldn’t be enough.
But today, Fox went for the G-spot (God) when he ran an ad on African American targeted radio accusing Barry and her husband, Bruce Barry, of opposing prayer before high school football games, opposing the National Day of Prayer and fighting against Christian organizations. All ludicrous accusations that were taken out of context and meant to scare African American voters. It concludes by saying that Barry does not share the values of Nashville’s black community—which seems odd for someone who identifies as white and Jewish. Oy Vey!
Perhaps his antics were inspired by Barry’s impressive and lengthy list of endorsements including the former Governor, Phil Bredesen, Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors or perhaps Fox was feeling desperate about not soliciting favor with minority voters until a few weeks before the election. But whatever the reason, Fox’s ad seems to have fallen flat. On social media outlets, many African Americans commented that the ad seemed disingenuous--if not insulting.
What’s been fascinating is that as the negative meter on this campaign rises, both candidates (ironicly) seem to be reflecting back to each other precisely what they themselves don’t possess. Barry doesn’t have Fox’s money and more importantly, Fox doesn’t have Barry’s experience.
Not long after the Fox radio stunt today, former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry endorsed Megan Barry as the best candidate for mayor.
If this were a movie, the train would slow to a halt just before careening towards the cliff as Bill Freeman walks into frame, breaking the 4th wall and straight into camera requests that those who supported him in the primary give Megan Barry an opportunity to earn their trust.