August 18, 2023 10:00am

Power Poll: Phil Bredesen, GOAT, Mayor From 1991-1999

Karl Dean second greatest; Bill Purcell third

Photo of Bruce Dobie
Nashville, TN Correspondent

Power Poll Nashville members declared Phil Bredesen the best of our last six mayors, with Karl Dean placing second and Bill Purcell third. Bredesen’s margin of victory over the rest of the pack was sizable.

Meanwhile, other fascinating nuggets from the August survey… Members were asked to self-identify on a political spectrum, which afforded first-time insight into the leanings of our Power Poll community. An overwhelming number—surprise, surprise—fell squarely in the middle of the spectrum. Half of respondents characterized themselves as “just a little left of center” and “socially liberal” but “business friendly,” while another one-fourth of respondents identified as “small-government” conservatives who “love Corker and Alexander.” Just under one-fifth considered themselves lefty progressives and a scant 1% said they were “MAGA all the way.”

In other words, Power Poll Nashville is a fairly centrist crowd.

Finally, in the context of the ongoing mayor’s race, many have been discussing whether the city has gotten more liberal, or more conservative, with all the newcomers moving here in recent years. By a more than two-to-one margin, members think the new people coming here are on the left side of the political dial rather than the right. I should point out plenty of people said they had no clue what the people moving here are like.

Here are the specific questions and answers to this month’s Power Poll. For the first time in many months, we did not break all-time voting records.


Many Power Poll members thought this question was a bit harsh to the mayors who placed towards the bottom of the pack, so let me focus on who Power Poll members picked on top of it instead.

Ranking supreme was Bredesen, mayor from 1991 to 1999, and a man widely considered to be the father of modern Nashville. The impressively wealthy healthcare exec from the Northeast spent his way into becoming a political force to be reckoned with in the 1987 mayor’s race, which resulted in the election of Bill Boner. After four years of misery with Boner, the city elected Bredesen, the first in a string of Yankees to occupy the post.

With his calm, detached rationalism, Bredesen seemed to effortlessly lift Nashville into the ranks of major U.S. cities, transforming the city’s sleepy parochialism into something more aspirational, forceful and dazzling. And he made it all seem so easy.

Bredesen was followed in office by Bill Purcell (1999-2007), the third favorite choice of our Power Pollers, who promised voters less bling-bling and more fundamentals—neighborhoods, sidewalks, basic government services, parks, schools. Meticulous, smart, and the only mayor able to throw down the extra hot at Prince’s, Purcell stepped down to make way for Karl Dean (2007-2015), the second choice of Power Pollers. Dean, more in the mold of Bredesen, set about building what was then the largest public project in Nashville’s history, that being a new convention center.

All three chief executives—Bredesen, Dean and Purcell—are alive, well, and at work in the city today.


Lots of folks believe that the newcomers moving here are wealthy conservatives who are drawn here because we have no state income tax. Anecdotally, all of us hear of people who match this description.

By and large, however, Power Pollers seem to believe that those types of folks are dwarfed by the influx of younger progressives who can’t wait to put a Freddie O’Connell for Mayor sticker on their guitar cases.

Everything seems to be getting more extreme.

Our state government apparatus grows more conservative. Our Metro Council (see the recent election) grows more liberal.


I was in an elevator downtown the other day and ran into a bank president—“I love Power Polll but it’s a little liberal for my taste,” he said, nicely.

I had a left-leaning mayoral candidate recently say to me that he was surprised to hear how well he had done in a Power Poll survey considering Power Poll’s Chamber-ish nature.


The truth is, your Nashville Power Poll membership would appear to include all of the above. We got your way-lefties, your centrist Democrats, and your moderate Republicans. If there’s any category in which we appear to be running a deficit, it’s among the MAGA crowd. Only 1% are MAGA.

We all know what the unifying characteristic of Power Poll members is: they can get stuff done. It’s an accomplished group.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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