Changing course

When contemplating her unsuccessful bid for Metro Council, Nancy VanReece acknowledges one aspect of her campaign that she would've handled a lot differently.

"I would not have printed some campaign materials so early," VanReece says with a laugh.

The District 8 runner-up is referring to last spring's redistricting that dramatically altered the nature of her campaign. Previously unopposed, VanReece suddenly found herself facing off with incumbent Karen Bennett after redrawn council lines removed her from District 4.

Unfazed by the prospect of learning new neighborhoods, VanReece dug deeper into her district to establish connections with working-class people who had basic concerns about the community. Usual topics included code violations, beautification projects, and other seemingly mundane details that truly mattered in their everyday lives.

As a 21-year resident of Madison, VanReece relished the opportunity to discuss these issues with her potential constituents.

"It's important to empower people to demand the changes in our community and see what we can accomplish," VanReece insists. "i feel like people now are more informed about what a council member is supposed to do. Now I hope to continue to provide a voice for the community. These discussions need to be had. I felt we were able to reflect back what the people in the district were saying."

VanReece credits her partner of 23 years, Joan, and campaign manager Linda McFayden-Ketchum for focusing her efforts and forging ahead through a challenging year.

"She (McFayden-Ketchum) demanded the discipline from me and helped me articulate in a way that was just priceless," VanReece says. "I made a lot of friends inside this campaign and built lifetime relationships that are often undervalued."

"Though her effort to become Nashville's first openly lesbian Metro Council member fell short, she continues on her mission of improving her community in a number of ways. Future plans include the formation of a committee that addresses community issues in Districts 8 and neighboring districts.

"Another thing that I learned those this campaign is the discovery of the community's assets and the historic aspects of it," VanReece says. "The best takeaway from this experience is an awareness of my surroundings."

A numbers game

The story of VanReece's campaign can be boiled down to a number of statistics: six different mail pieces, 300 individual donations, 2500 home visits. It all added up to one other important statistic: over 700 people placed their vote for VanReece, including Country Music Hall of Fame member Kitty Wells.

VanReece also relied on support from other high-profile backers. An endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and encouragement from Tennessee Equality Support buoyed her spirits and built momentum within the GLBT community and beyond.

Her status as an out lesbian, VanReece says, was no obstacle in her campaign.

"There were a couple stories about it not being a story, which was a surprise," VanReece says. "There was a weird letter distributed before the election, but I don't know if that had a negative impact. We don't know if there was a whisper campaign. I don't think anybody would look at that part of town and consider it a conservative stronghold. But when you're standing at someone's door, they're talking more about things that effect them."

Moving forward

VanReece has pledged to spin this disappointing loss into greater opportunity. It's a skill she's mastered since her arrival in Middle Tennessee more than 25 years ago. Born in Oklahoma and educated at Baylor University, VanReece moved here to pursue a career in the music business.

Over the next two decades, she provided a variety of licensing, publishing, marketing and branding services. In recent years, VanReece has shifted priorities and shaped the media strategies of numerous organizations. Through her company Carpe Diem Management, VanReece is the Senior Director of Social Media Strategy & Development for Cool People Care, Inc. and manages online media platforms for The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee.

VanReece is also a member of the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Tennesseans for the Arts and NashvilleCABLE, as well as consultant for both for-profit and nonprofit small businesses. In her mind, diversity is key to the city's development.

"If it (Metro Council) doesn't reflect the diversity of the city and it gets too homogenized, it doesn't work out for anyone," she says. "There's been a story about it being a younger council, and I think that will bring a natural change of conversation and will ensure equal rights. You've got a pretty good mix of experience that will help maybe temper the youthful exuberance. And the at-large candidates are really strong."

VanReece acknowledges that she's in "survival mode" and seeking new opportunities since her campaign ended. Though she experienced a turbulent political campaign in her first attempt, there are no regrets about the decision to pursue a career in politics.

"We could not have knocked on more doors or made more phone calls," VanReece says. "I'm really proud that we are able to have these conversations and I look forward to helping my community in any way I can."

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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