In the runoff for Nashville mayor, the candidates disagree on something fundamental: the core duties of the job.
The difference has emerged recently, with Councilman John Cooper describing the role as mostly administrative, while incumbent David Briley is injecting more partisan political stances into the contest.
On the ballot, the mayor's race is nonpartisan. And in the grand scheme, both candidates say they are Democrats. But they're also doing some maneuvering late in the race.
In a clear shift during the runoff, Briley is now talking about his "progressive" record. He has made a point to bring up gun control, climate change and immigration.
WPLN asked whether the mayor's role is about being administrator or taking symbolic stances. Here's how he answered:
Primarily, the job of the mayor is to make sure that people are taken care of; that we're doing everything we can in our city to provide an opportunity to be successful, reach your fullest potential, be prosperous in the city of Nashville. And if you're going to do that, you have to focus on people.
And when it comes to immigration in particular, the current immigration situation in our country is a clear obstacle to those things — to success and prosperity and reaching your fullest potential.
Now the mayor can't legislate on immigration, but the mayor, and mayors across the country coming together can change the dialogue, change the direction of the country generally when it comes to those issues.
And so frankly, all the work that I could do on public education, to get it funded, to have better teachers and more resources for students, will be lost if parents of immigrant kids are afraid to go to school with them.
And so it's not "either/or," it's "both/and." The mayor has to focus both on those brass-tacks issues like teacher funding, but also focus on the national dialogue, the national discourse on immigration, and try and get it changed so that we can make progress nationally so that we can see progress locally.
As national political subjects enter the race, Cooper has stayed focused on Nashville. He's beating the drum for a mayor's office that goes "back to basics."
Here's how he answered the same question, about the duties of the mayor:
Well, the symbolic stances are super great and important. But only the mayor can make capital allocation decisions, like the CEO of a company, right? Only the mayor can do that. And the mayor has to do a good job of doing that. And that's why I increasingly come back and remind people that it's a very administrative job, right? It's unlike a lot of things that people kind of wish that it were.
It's very administrative. You got basically 22,000 employees. You've got 25 million square feet of schools, all of which have roofs and air conditioning systems. You've got 1,900 miles of roads with no sidewalk on them. You've got an aging and decaying water system, right? All of these things are a management challenge.
So, it's very easy to ignore that, but that's why back to basics — and that's why I say, as much as I'm a Democrat, it's not about Republicans and Democrats, it's about dollars and cents. Because we do have very regressive taxes that pay for municipal services. And so you got to get the money to the right people and be very careful about it and not let anybody kind of hijack our priorities for their purposes. It's got to be the public's purposes if you're gonna be doing anything at all.
For extended interviews and analysis about the mayoral runoff, visit WPLN's special election show, "Decision Time."