Analysis: New face of Nashville dominated mayoral debate

Metro government reporter Joey Garrison breaks down Thursday night’s NashForward debate, which featured 14 young Nashvillians.


Who won last night’s Nashforward televised mayoral debate? That’s always the big question. I thought long and hard for an answer.

The truth is this: No candidate helped themselves enormously but no candidate totally flopped, either. Each staked their claim on campaign messages and slogans they’ve pushed for months now. Voters now have four weeks to decide what matches their tastes.

Instead, it was a new face of Nashville that emerged Thursday. Nashville has become a younger and more ethnically diverse city since mayoral elections of eight, 16 and 24 years ago. This is well-documented, and it was on full display from several of the 14 young millennials who got the chance to ask mayoral hopefuls questions at Thursday night’s NashForward debate. The Tennessean and Belmont University sponsored the event, along with broadcast partner WSMV-TV.

Suad Abdualla, a Muslim and Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher originally from Kurdistan, asked them about their visions for Nashville’s school system — one that has grown to become the most diverse in the state.

Maria Zapata, who works at Conexion Americas, a community center for Latinos, asked how candidates would seek out voices of immigrant families who don’t traditionally get involved in local politics.

Diana Montero, a member of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, announced that she is an undocumented “Dreamer.” Noting that some 33,000 Nashvillians are also undocumented, she asked how candidates would equip Metro employees with services and programs to help immigrants regardless of their status.

Many of these stakeholders and groups have held mayoral forums this election cycle — in fact, TIRRC and other organizations are hosting an immigrant and refugee mayoral forum Monday night. The NashForward town hall on Thursday, however, put their concerns before a televised audience — and I bet many people watching from home learned something new.

In the ongoing mayor’s race, each of the candidates has embraced challenges that come with a more diverse city. That was no different on Thursday.

On the question posed by Montero, charter school founder Jeremy Kane said he would hope to follow in the steps of Lipscomb University, which required undergraduates getting a teaching degree to be certified to teach English Language Learners. He proposed a municipal card to provide identification that could be used as a bus pass and library card

Candidate Linda Eskind Rebrovick applauded Mayor Karl Dean’s creation of the Office of New Americans, which she said she would continue and enhance. She, too, said she supports a municipal ID card.

Attorney Charles Robert Bone said that only 1 percent of Metro teachers are Latino even though one out of every five of Metro students are. He called changing that “a tremendous opportunity.” He said the city needs a strategy that says all immigrants have equal opportunity to access all government services.

Howard Gentry, the city’s Criminal Court Clerk, weighed in saying that Nashville also needs a mayor who has already put these kind of programs in place. He talked about a program in the clerk’s office that brings court information to non-English speaking communities.

Megan Barry, an at-large councilwoman, said that Nashville sent a positive message to the immigrant community in 2008 when it defeated the city’s English-only referendum. She said she wants to ensure Nashville’s diverse languages are represented in Metro government.

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