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A Day in the Life: Cole Schott ’17 Day in the Life, Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner, Metro Council Campaign Manager in Nashville, TN

“As campaign manager, I play many roles. Among them are chief fundraiser, communications director, volunteer coordinator and strategy/policy advisor.”

My alarm pleads with me at 6 am; I’ve got to get up. It’s an early morning on the campaign trail — the prologue to a busy day. On the schedule for the morning:

  • Review issues for today’s forum, 6:30 a.m.
  • Breakfast and forum prep with the candidate, 7 a.m.
  • Chamber of Commerce West Council Candidate Forum, 8 a.m.
  • Meeting with Metro Nashville City Council Legal Counsel, 10 a.m.
  • Strategy lunch with the candidate, 11:30 a.m.

So we get started.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County is divided into 35 Districts. Russ Pulley, “the candidate,” is an SEC Football Referee, former FBI agent, and longtime family friend. He’s running for Metro Council in district 25 — a busy and densely populated district with a strong commercial presence on the south side of Nashville. This morning the Nashville Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum for candidates in districts 23, 24, 25 and 34. Over the past week I’ve prepped possible questions Russ might face at the forum. Nashville is growing rapidly, and the city’s growing pains are just that — painful. I throw the tough ones at my candidate over breakfast, e.g. “How will you protect residents on fixed incomes who face rising property values and the concurrent rise in property taxes?” I feel confident about the forum, but anything can happen when your candidate’s words are under intense scrutiny.

District races for Metro Council operate on a tight budget and a small staff. As campaign manager, I play many roles. Among them are chief fundraiser, communications director, volunteer coordinator and strategy/policy advisor. This morning I’ll critique Russ’ forum performance, take pictures for the campaign Facebook page and record how other candidates answer questions.

The forum goes well, and we avoid any major missteps, but I’m not entirely pleased with Russ’ presentation. “You need to end your responses with a strong conclusion,” I say. “Don’t trail off at the end. It projects a lack of conviction.” He thanks me for the advice and shakes a few hands before we leave.

After the forum I’m off to the Metro Courthouse to meet with the City Council’s chief legal counsel, Jon Cooper. Jon writes all the legislation that passes through the City Council, and I want my candidate to learn everything there is to know about the parliamentary procedure of our local legislature. If he can speak to these processes, he’ll appear prepared to go to work on day one. Voters look for that in a candidate. I pick Jon’s brain for an hour before I take off to meet Russ for a working lunch.

Over lunch I walk the boss man through the latest stats for the campaign: How much money have we raised this quarter? How much cash do we have on hand? How many doors have we knocked on? How many yard signs are now out? When and where is our next event? What are our fundraising goals for the next week?

And the big one — How many days until Election Day?

“50 days.”

After lunch I make a few fundraising calls then begin planning a meet and greet event for late July. As is often the case in elections to local government, it’s all about name recognition. The more people that see my candidate’s face and learn his name, the more votes he’ll have on Election Day. But until then, we’ll keep working. I return home and pull up a list of target donors on my computer. But just as I’m about to dial the first number, I get a call. It’s the candidate.

“We need a yard sign at 1138 Battery Ln.”

I hop in my car and drive off. We’ve got another supporter.

* * *

Washington and Lee University does not participate in or endorse any political campaign on behalf of any candidates for public office.

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Hometown: Nashville, TN

Majors: Accounting, Politics (American)

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Swim Team
  • University Singers
  • Mock Convention
  • Traveller

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Interned with Senator Lamar Alexander in Washington, DC during Washington Term 2015
  • Worked at YMCA Camp Sea Gull in Arapahoe, North Carolina during Summer 2014

Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? The Johnson Opportunity Grant gives students a tremendous range of options for summer work, internships, and service. Small campaigns such as the one I work on operate with a tight budget. The grant gave me a chance to work for a candidate I’m passionate about without worrying about finances.

How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was once quoted as saying “all politics is local.” As an American Politics major, I really wanted to spend this summer digging into the very granular and personal nature of local politics in Nashville.

What was the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience? About halfway through the campaign I was knocking on doors one Saturday morning and came across the home of my member of Congress, Rep. Jim Cooper. I was shocked when he answered the door and spoke with me. It was really incredible to talk with him about our campaign and his work in Congress.

Post-Graduation Plans: One thing that really interests me today is Economic Development. I think I would really enjoy that work.


Favorite W&L Memory: Winning the ODAC this past season on the swim team. It’s incredible to see a group of people work together for months on end and then be rewarded for all that work.

Favorite W&L Event: Parents Weekend. Parents have so much fun when they spend an evening at Red Square.

Favorite Campus Landmark: Lee Chapel. My parents were married there, so it takes on an even greater meaning beyond Robert E. Lee’s contributions to W&L.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? As Professor Connelly often says, don’t resign yourself to the conventional wisdom. Take courses and make friends that will challenge your worldview and most deeply held beliefs. Those experiences will really help you grow as a student.