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VOL. 39 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 28, 2015

Barry: This is no time to ‘put the brakes on’ city’s economy

By Sam Stockard

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Local attorney Will Cheek III is backing Megan Barry in Nashville’s mayoral runoff because he’s impressed by how well she balances “socially progressive” convictions with support of business interests.

“I think she’s done an excellent job of making the business community happy while at the same time pushing some things that are important to her heart, but not to the point where it aggravates the business community,” says Cheek, a lawyer with Bone McAllester Norton.

Barry, an at-large Metro Councilwoman for eight years, is an ardent supporter of outgoing Mayor Karl Dean’s initiatives, including public financing for the $623 million Music City Center and a 20-year tax abatement for Bridgestone’s corporate headquarters.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Tennessee’s law defining marriage as an act between one man and woman, she conducted the first same-sex marriage in Nashville.

Cheek agrees with her on both of those fronts. But an observation by his 9-year-old daughter really threw him over the edge with the Sept. 10 election looming. Early voting is underway and ends Sept. 5 in the runoff between Barry and David Fox, a former Metro School Board chairman.

“We were talking about the mayor’s race and going by and seeing all the signs, and my daughter Ella says, ‘It’s about time we have a girl mayor,’” Cheek recalls.

“Now, I don’t think we should elect Megan merely because she’s a girl, but boy, I think she’s very qualified to run the city, and I’d love to see her get elected.”

Walker Mathews, owner of R.C. Mathews Construction, is supporting Barry as well, in spite of his Republican leanings, but says this election should not be a partisan affair since the Metro charter makes the mayor’s office a nonpartisan position. He met her five years ago on Chamber of Commerce tours and has watched her in Metro Council meetings.

“I’ve seen her be decisive in making excellent choices to promote the growth of Nashville,” Mathews says, noting she helped the city realize the Music City Center, Sounds stadium, Riverfront Park and Ascend Amphitheater.

To show his support, Mathews sent a letter to 300 people detailing why they should vote for Barry. In it he states Nashville voters have heard Nashville spent too much money on “high-profile projects,” but he contends the city was “prudent” in taking advantage of recessionary factors to construct “civic infrastructure that will help the vitality of our city for decades to come.”

Megan Barry

Birthdate: Sept. 22, 1963

Birthplace: California

High School: Notre Dame de Sion

College: Baker University

Post-Grad: Vanderbilt University

Jobs: Council member at-large, director of ethics and social responsibility at Nortel Networks, Ethics and compliance officer at Premier Inc.

Memberships: Board member at Center for Nonprofit Management, YWCA and Belcourt Theatre

Family: Husband Bruce, son Max

Rescue dogs: Hank and
Boris

With Barry’s votes, Mayor Dean took a “bold approach” on the Music City Center, Mathews adds, a comparable move to former Mayor Phil Bredesen when Nashville built Bridgestone Arena as home for the Predators in 1996 and the Titans’ stadium, now Nissan Stadium, in 1998.

In today’s business climate, trying to build the convention center would cost anywhere from $50 million to $75 million more, Mathews points out.

“Based on her record, Megan is absolutely the pro-business candidate,” Mathews says.

And though some argued early in the election she couldn’t get the business vote, Barry did receive an endorsement, along with Fox, from the Nashville Business Coalition, which says Nashville would be in good hands with either one in the mayor’s office.

Barry also netted the endorsement of Bredesen, a two-term mayor and two-term Democratic governor she calls one of Nashville’s most fiscally responsible mayors ever, as well as attorney and former opponent Charles Robert Bone and Nashville firefighters.

During the Bredesen endorsement announcement, they talked about the business investments Nashville has made and their impact on what she calls “our very vibrant economy.”

“You will not see me wanting to put the brakes on growing our economy. I think that would be the wrong way to go, and that’s not my vision for Nashville,” Barry says.

During the first NashForward mayoral debate, she threw a zinger at Fox in her opening statement, saying “I think David has a different vision for Nashville. His vision is one of austerity, and mine is one of prosperity.”

A former ethics and compliance officer for health care company Premier Inc. and an independent consultant working on business ethics and corporate social responsibility, Barry says her experience on the Metro Council and in the business world makes her the best candidate to keep Nashville moving forward.

Asked what it would mean to become the city’s first female mayor, Barry points out Nashville has had numerous women “putting thousands of cracks in the glass ceiling,” from Betty Nixon to Carrie Gentry. Barry says she will “govern for all of Nashville” and work to bring women and minorities into bigger roles in Metro government.

Barry’s background

The Belmont-area resident was born in California, where her father was stationed at El Toro Marine Corps base. She grew up in Kansas and earned a degree in elementary education at Baker University before moving to Nashville in 1991 and earning an MBA from Vanderbilt’s Owen School.

She married Bruce Barry, a Vanderbilt University professor of organization studies, and they have one son, Max, a college sophomore, and two rescue dogs, Hank and Boris.

They built their home on 20th Avenue South in 1999, purposely giving it an older feel to blend with the neighborhood, and filling the walls with local artwork. It is said to be a gathering place for Nashville’s social progressives.

Consequently, Barry polled well in the Belmont and Green Hills areas along with East Nashville, picking up 23.5 percent of the vote, 24,553, to Fox’s 22.8 percent, 23,754, and Bill Freeman’s 21.3 percent, 22,308.

Barry touts her eight years on the council from 2007 to 2015, including time as chair of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee and Education Committee. In her final term, she served on the Codes, Fair and Farmer’s Market Committee, Public Works Committee and Rules and Confirmations Committee.

That experience got the recent endorsement of some 35 former, current and new Metro Council members.

Outgoing Councilman Ronnie Steine, who supported Bone in the election’s first leg, says he is switching to Barry in the runoff because of her council work.

“Her eight years on the Metro Council is a huge, huge advantage for her. She’ll take office with an understanding of the government, both what works and what isn’t working,” says Steine, a councilman for 19 of the last 24 years.

“She also will take office with a council that’s going to have in excess of 25 new members, and she will be able to understand both what they’re doing and how to communicate with them.”

Steine contends Barry has a “better sense” of Nashville’s direction and understands the foundation built over the last eight years needs to be “diversified and spread out” to the rest of the county.

While Fox has criticized Barry for playing a role in driving up Nashville’s debt through public financing, she is banking on her support for Mayor Dean’s projects while saying she’s done more for infrastructure than advertised.

“We’ve already been working on these issues,” she explains. “This is a continuation in continuity of what we’ve already achieved.”

On major issues

Barry takes a regional view on transportation because 50 percent of the people who work in Davidson County live in surrounding areas, saying she would engage the region’s political leaders.

She backed Amendment 3 in the Metro election, a requirement for 40 percent of hours worked on Metro construction projects exceeding $100,000 be performed by Nashville residents, 10 percent of which would go to low-income individuals.

On the debate over the operation of schools by charter or Metro Nashville Public Schools, Barry says she favors a balanced approach.

She also says schools should be used for community purposes.

In addition, Barry says she wants to strengthen the Office of Neighborhoods in the effort to provide more affordable housing, which is certain to be a major issue during the next four years.

Money matters

Barry had relatively weak campaign funding during the first part of the election, netting $851,095, a $200,000 personal loan and disbursements of $1.04 million. She had $128,148 on hand at the end of the pre-general reporting period.

In contrast, Fox reported $2.039 million in total receipts, with a loan of $1.56 million and total expenditures of $1.91 million. He had $128,336 on hand at the end of the pre-general period.

Fox’s campaign received notoriety from about $375,000 in campaign ads from a Super PAC, which, as it turned out, came from his brother, George.

Fox the candidate says he would sign an affidavit under oath that he didn’t know about the contributions beforehand and that his campaign director didn’t coordinate it.

Though she has criticized the Super PAC impact on the campaign, Barry says she takes Fox at his word when he says he had no knowledge.

“It’s about who we are as Nashville and we were very proud to run a lean campaign where we used the dollars that people donated to us very wisely. And so we went out to earn every vote. I’m going to do that again,” Barry explains.

But can she bring in enough money to beat Fox?

“The good news is that when you’re in the runoff, people become more generous,” she says.

Spreading the base

Nashville political commentator Pat Nolan points toward Barry’s success in bringing out her voters from Hillsboro Village and Belmont during the initial vote.

“I think she’d like to get that vote to come out again. I think she also would like to see what she can do to maximize her vote in the African-American community based on somewhat of a Republican-Democrat line, although I don’t think she’s going to directly talk about that,” Nolan adds.

Barry understands tapping into Nashville’s black vote, including people who voted for Howard Gentry and Freeman in the initial election, could be key to winning the runoff.

“I think in a field of seven, that vote gets spread around. So now where there are only two, my message is clear,” she says. “My message is one of addressing and making sure that every child, regardless of their ZIP code, has access to public education.

“And my message is about transportation and making sure that Nashville stays affordable, all the while making sure Nashville is a warm and welcome place.”

The Rev. Judy Cummings of New Covenant Christian Church introduced Barry on the initial election night and says she’s already doing what she needs to do in the African-American community – listening.

Cummings says she decided to support Barry because she has “a track record” on the Metro Council and will be able to keep moving the city forward for all residents.

She didn’t agree with Barry’s support for the proposed Amp bus line from East Nashville to St. Thomas Hospital on West End, she says, but did back her effort to introduce a living wage, though it eventually helped only a few employees making less than $10.77 hourly.

“She’s always one that will communicate with you, listen on both sides of an argument and knows our community, understands what the needs are, knows Metro government, understands what works in Metro government and what doesn’t work in Metro government,” Cummings adds.

As for Barry potentially being Nashville’s first female chief executive, “It shouldn’t be a factor,” Cummings says, “but to have the first woman to be mayor would be a feather in our cap, and I would say we are a progressive city and that we are not looking at gender, but we are looking for the very best mayor for the city.”

Social issues

Fox isn’t critical of Barry’s stance on issues such as gay marriage, saying he supports that right as well. But he says Barry is “well to the left” and her passion lies with “culturally divisive” issues.

“We’re trying to hire somebody to run our city. We’re looking for a CEO. We’re not running for U.S. Senate,” Fox says, adding he has heard from voters who take exception to her political leanings.

Nolan also points out: “She ran quite a bit on a number of issues that sounded like they were issues that would come up more frequently in a Democratic primary for the state Legislature or Congress.”

A woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage highlighted her message, he notes. She also spearheaded legislation to provide gay, lesbian and transgender employees of Metro with nondiscriminatory protection.

Patrick Hamilton, a Barry campaign donor, considers that part of Barry’s ability to balance social issues and good government.

“I think her time on Metro Council would well serve us when she takes over the mayor’s office,” Hamilton explains. “I also am a big fan of Megan’s because she was one of the people who really stood with the LGBT community as the early legislation was making its way through the Metro Council, and I think she stood up and stood with the community long before it was kind of politically safe to do so.”

But even as Barry vs. Fox is being couched as liberal vs. conservative or Democrat vs. Republican by some observers, Walker Mathews says that’s the wrong assertion.

Running the mayor’s office is about trash pickup, police and fire protection, managing the schools discussion and making sure codes and water and sewer departments run well, he says.

“This is what it’s all about as far as being the mayor, and it’s not about any of these social issues,” Mathews adds.

“I just think the more people get distracted about those the more they’re distracted from really what does it mean to be our mayor.

“And I think that Megan is pro-business and really understands what it’s going to take to move the city forward.”

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.