Nashville-Area Democrat Bob Freeman Ponders Leaving the State House for City Hall to Tackle the Titans Stadium Deal, Metro Public Schools
Live from Music Row, Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed State Representative Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) in studio to answer questions on a run for Nashville mayor, reducing Metro Council, Titans Stadium deal, and the state of MNPS.
Leahy: State Representative Bob Freeman is in studio. Well, Bob, the political world here in Nashville kind of blew up on Tuesday when Mayor John Cooper, announced on Tuesday that he’s not running for reelection surprised a lot of people. And then all of a sudden, they’re various people who hadn’t announced are considering it.
And so already announced Matt Wilshire, Freddie O’Connell, and Sharon Hurt. In the possible running lane, Bob Mendes and former mayor Megan Barry. I hope she gets in because it will be like traffic gold for us here. Ratings gold for us if Megan Barry gets in, for obvious reasons.
But the big question, since you’re in here today, since your father, who founded the very successful real estate company that you run now. Your father, Bill Freeman, ran for mayor in 2015, spent a lot of money, and finished in third place, I think it was.
Freeman: Yes. About 150 votes out.
Leahy: But now here you are. You’ve served in the state legislature since 2018. You have, as you pointed out, which I didn’t know, you’ve been a sponsor of a number of bills that have come become law, which is not, for our listeners, an insignificant accomplishment for a member of the minority party to be able to work that. But now, Bob, you said that you’re considering running for mayor. Are you going to run for mayor? Will you make that announcement on this program here today, this morning?
Freeman: That’s a tricky question. You get me in here at 6:00 am in the morning, a little loopy, and see if I’ll…
Leahy: I did offer you coffee.
Freeman: I know, I know.
Leahy: But you’re not loopy. You’re coherent. You’re on point.
Freeman: I’m kidding. So when he made that announcement, my phone immediately started blowing up. And there has been a pretty strong draft me to run group of people that are looking for the candidate that they want to support. It’s not a secret, but my wife had a health scare.
We dealt with some breast cancer last year, and my father has been going through some health issues. It’s not as easy as just deciding what do I want to do, there are other factors there and I am actively working through those decisions. I’m talking to people that I trust and asking their opinion, and I plan on making a decision this week or the first of next week.
I think that what our city needs right now more than anything is that our next mayor can actually work with the state and can help the state realize that this should be a very profitable and successful partnership and that the success of Nashville drives the success of the state.
We provide, depending on what you’re listening to, half of the state revenue. We account for all of the population growth for the most part of the state. People are moving to Middle Tennessee and droves the growth of Williamson, Wilson, and Rutherford is in large part due to Nashville.
And this idea that we can have a combative relationship with the state has been shown to not be true. Look at the legislation that’s in front of us right now to cut the council size, remove the funding for the Music City Center, remove the airport board or airport authority, and the sports authority.
These are all decisions that should be made locally. And if we had the ability to sit down with the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker and negotiate in good faith, I think we would be in a different spot.
Leahy: You mentioned the bill before the Tennessee General Assembly to cut the size of the Metro Council from 40 to 20. What’s your opinion on that bill?
Freeman: I’m going to answer it two ways. One, I think the bill is horrible. I think the idea that people from outside of Nashville get a say in how we do politics here locally is laughable at best. We have members on the right that run for small government local control, and here they are coming in from a body of 99 saying it’s unwieldy to have a body of 40 is kind of a joke.
Especially when they’ve got a county commission of 25. Again, saying that 20 is the right number is kind of a joke. That being said, I don’t know that it isn’t a bad idea to have a smaller council. I don’t know that it isn’t a bad idea to have a council that maybe meets as we do for half the year.
Leahy: By the way, people listening said, oh yeah, Metro Council only meets half a year. I think there’s a lot of applause going on for that right now. Mayor Cooper, being the leader is probably applauding that.
Freeman: I come from a legislative body that meets for half the year. And we are very effective. We have standing committees that meet year-round which I think the council could do. But again, that’s the decision of the voters of Nashville, and they voted it down in 2000. And what was it? 15, I think was the most recent.
Leahy: Let me ask you another question. The Tennessee Titans want to put together a $2.2 billion stadium, mostly subsidized by the state and the city, asterisk, on the city, but the state, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to give $500 million to the Titans for that stadium. You were in the General assembly. Did you vote for that?
Freeman: I did.
Leahy: You did? So you think it’s a good idea for people living in Johnson City to subsidize a bunch of millionaires in the NFL? Do you like the way I framed that? (Chuckles)
Freeman: If you put it that way, no. But if you talk about a $500 million dollar investment in an entity that could make billions of dollars every year in tax revenue from hotels, restaurants, buildings, and businesses that want to be downtown next to the new Titan Stadium, it’s a great business deal.
I always look at things, especially within the government, as a return on investment. We invest regularly in exits to nowhere. We invest in community centers in some of these small rural towns that have no return. We need to continue to do those, but we need to start looking at some of these things and look at the return on the investment that we’ve got.
Leahy: Question for you, and this is very detailed. If you were to run for mayor and if you were to become mayor and win the election right now, the Metro schools are an absolute, total abysmal disaster. Two-thirds of third graders can’t read or write at grade level.
Freeman: Across the state.
Leahy: Metro Nashville is a terrible school system. Would you agree or not?
Freeman: I wouldn’t use the word terrible at all.
Freeman: You’ve got a city of 800,000-ish people.
Leahy: So you’re happy with the performance of K12 public schools in Nashville?
Freeman: I think that there’s always an ability for improvement, but I would not say they’re abysmal.
Freeman: If you look at how we perform compared to other cities our size that have the same socioeconomic issues that we’ve got and I used to know the number, but I think there are 100 different languages that are spoken in MNPS right now.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Bob Freeman” by Tennessee General Assembly. Background Photo “Titans Stadium” by Thank You (23 Millions+) views. CC BY 2.0.