NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — This August, Nashvillians will head to the polls to vote in the Metropolitan General Election.
Earlier this year, Mayor John Cooper announced he would not be seeking re-election, creating a wide-open field of candidates in the race to be the next mayor of Music City.
One of those candidates is Heidi Campbell.
Campbell, 54, currently represents the 20th district of the Tennessee State Senate. Before becoming a senator, Cambell served as the Mayor of the City of Oak Hill. In 2022, she was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Tennessee District 5 election.
News 2 submitted questionnaires to each of the candidates running for Nashville mayor. The form featured six questions addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues—including crime rates, mass transit, homelessness, and the Metro government’s current relationship with the state government. Below you will find Campbell’s answers to those questions.
How would you address the homelessness issues in Nashville?
Campbell: “The pandemic, paired with record low interest rates, created a wave of relocations, and drove housing prices further out of reach than ever for a lot of Nashvillians. Housing advocates estimate some 20,000 people in our city are currently without permanent shelter. The most immediate solution is housing, which is also one of our most basic human needs. It’s important to recognize that addressing homelessness in Nashville requires a multipronged approach, facilitated through partnership between metro government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and healthcare providers. We need crisis response measures that avoid criminalization and forcible removal. We need to build on the work so many dedicated service providers and housing advocates are already doing, and address affordability and accessibility in Nashville overall.”
What does the future of mass transit look like in Nashville, in your opinion?
Campbell: “Nashville’s economy will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. We must prioritize managing this growth to benefit all Nashvillians. While big ticket items often get the most attention, our aging and overburdened roads, sewers, waste-management, and stormwater systems are at capacity; these are some of the biggest threats to our overall quality of life, and economic prosperity.
From maintaining our roadways and bridges, to high-speed broadband and mass transit, quality infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and our public safety. I believe it’s past time to get the ball rolling on projects that will move us towards useful transit and multi-modal connectivity, as traffic gridlock continues to take hold of our federal interstates, state highways and local arterials. We can’t pave our way out of this problem, and we need to take a fresh look at how we get people out of their cars and into reliable and safe forms of public transit.
As a senator I’ve passed legislation to have the Tennessee Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) study passenger rail opportunities in our state. I currently serve on the Senate Transportation Committee where we just passed the largest transportation bill in the history of our state. Getting into the weeds with these processes has taught me a lot about the challenges our city faces, the importance of working with the public, and engaging community stakeholders. With unprecedented state investment in infrastructure, now is the time for Nashville and Middle Tennessee to get moving.”
If elected, how would you work to repair the relationship between the Metro Nashville government and the state government?
Campbell: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that our city is in the midst of an attempted hostile takeover by the state right now. Nashville needs a mayor with the temperament, experience, and relationships to navigate the complicated landscape ahead, especially when it comes to defending our city and our values. I have worked with colleagues across the aisle to save two thousand acres of hardwood forest, convince our governor to allocate $196M to the Department of Children Services, remove a judge who was illegally targeting and incarcerating black children, and pass dozens of bills to improve the lives of Nashvillians. I believe my experience as a former mayor and current state senator make me an excellent candidate to bridge the gap between our state and metropolitan government.”
What would be your approach to addressing crime in the city and the increasing rate of violent crimes committed by juveniles?
Campbell: “Tennessee has one of the worst gun violence problems in the nation, and it’s getting worse. Both 2020 and 2021 saw homicides spike. Law enforcement links the rise in homicides to the dramatic increase in gun thefts from vehicles irresponsibly left unlocked. On March 27th of this year, America’s gun violence crisis infiltrated an elementary school in our city. Just five years ago, the same type of senseless gun violence occurred at a Waffle House in Antioch. In the last three years, there have been 1,158 shootings reported in Nashville. At this moment in our history, gunshot wounds are the leading cause of death of American kids, more than car wrecks and drug overdoses. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, especially our children. I believe our focus should be on violence prevention and intervention strategies, in partnership with community stakeholders and advocates.”
How would you address the lack of affordable housing options around the city?
Campbell: “Nashville is a rapidly growing city in the heart of one of the fastest growing regions in America. Over time as we have seen both an increase in population and industry, the accessibility and affordability of our city has dramatically declined. While the state legislature has stripped the ability of local governments to require developers to include affordable housing as part of the planning process, there are still a number of ways to tackle the issue at the local level. As mayor, I will harness the full power of public and private partnerships, such as the Barnes Housing Trust Fund, which has leveraged more than $933 million in federal and private funds to deliver 4000 affordable housing units. In order for Nashville to continue its ascent as a global economic center, we must ensure that people can actually afford to live, work, and raise a family here in Music City.”
What do you believe is the biggest issue affecting Nashville and how would you plan to address it?
Campbell: “Nashville schools have been and always will be a top priority for me as a public servant. Our schools, and thus our students, are under-funded, under-served, and under-fire from our state legislature. At over $1B in annual costs, accounting for almost 40% of the entire municipal budget, metro schools receive only a fraction of every dollar that our city contributes to the statewide education budget.
Tennessee ranks 44th in the country in school funding. We spend about $4,000 dollars less per student than the national average. Many of our teachers are underpaid, overworked s/heroes who sacrifice each day to provide our kids with the education and life skills they need to thrive. As a state senator I’ve run and passed legislation out of committee every year to increase counselors and RTI instructors, but the bills have never been funded. Up until a year ago, Tennessee schools operated under the Basic Education Program formula which contained (unfunded) mandates for counselors and RTI instructors; under the current education plan this is no longer the case. Going forward, the onus for implementing these positions is on municipal government. We need to make sure that we aren’t letting these necessary roles go unfilled.
As mayor, I will work with the legislature to get cost-of-living adjustments and increased funding for our schools. We have a phenomenal school board and a proven track record of implementing community school organizers. I will work with school board members and MNPS to expand community services, to identify and improve inequities—as some of our schools are better supported than others—and encourage Nashvillians to invest in and engage with the schools in our community.
Every child in Davidson County deserves access to a high-quality public education, regardless of where they live, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents earn. As mayor, I will be a champion for public schools. Our children deserve better.”
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To read responses from other candidates in the race, click here.
The Metropolitan General Election takes place on August 3. A runoff will be held on September 14, if necessary.
Candidates have until noon on May 18 to qualify.