Inside the decline, fall and resignation of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry resigned Tuesday, just more than a month after news first broke of an extramarital affair...

Posted: Mar 6, 2018 11:08 AM
Updated: Mar 6, 2018 11:08 AM

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry resigned Tuesday, just more than a month after news first broke of an extramarital affair between her and her former bodyguard. The scandal has engulfed the city and, with Barry's resignation, ended the career -- for the foreseeable future of a Democratic rising star.

In search of what it all means, I reached out to Erik Schelzig, the editor of The Tennessee Journal -- a political tipsheet on Volunteer State politics. Our conversation, edited only for flow, is below.

Cillizza: Megan Barry just resigned after weeks of scandal following her affair with a former head of security. Was it always going to end this way?

Schelzig: Some political operatives were impressed by the open way Barry dealt with the revelations about her affair: She appeared on live TV to acknowledge the affair, asked for forgiveness and took a multitude of questions from reporters.

But she stumbled on questions about whether taxpayer money might have been misused to conduct of her affair and she refused to say when the affair had ended. Other consultants were horrified that she appeared alone on stage without any visible show of support and that the questions weren't limited.

Once the initial shock of the admission of the affair wore off, the drip-drip-drip of further details and revelations only fed the salacious chatter. And when the Barry camp started threatening reporters digging into rumors and attacking the city's Democratic prosecutor, it signaled that her days as mayor would be numbered.

Cillizza: How big a blow is this to Nashville -- and its political class?

Schelzig: In terms of short-term effects, we won't have to wait long to find out: Barry's signature $5.4 billion mass transit proposal goes before the city's voters on May 1.

Opponents hope that the scandal will galvanize public opinion against the ambitious proposal -- and the tax hikes needed to pay for it. (A poll released by Vanderbilt University this week found 42 percent in support and 28 percent against the ballot measure, so there appears to be a lot of wiggle room for what is expected to be a low-turnout election.)

As far as the politics are concerned, the resignation kicks off an accelerated process for electing a new mayor in August. Barry's 2015 election was a victory for the Democrats' progressive wing, and it's unclear who might take up that mantle in her absence. Real estate magnate Bill Freeman, who came in third in 2015 despite spending $3.5 million of his own money, is almost assured to make another bid. Vice Mayor David Briley would also be expected to run.

Cillizza: Briley will now become mayor. What do we know about him?

Schelzig: Briley, the grandson of the first mayor of the merged governments of Nashville and Davidson County, was an up-and-comer in city politics in the early 2000s, but failed to capture the imagination of voters when he ran for mayor himself in 2007. That race was ultimately won by Karl Dean, Barry's predecessor. Briley returned to city-wide office with his election as vice mayor in 2015. Briley's politics don't vary too greatly from Barry's, so no major policy changes are expected.

Cillizza: What impact, if any, does this have on the state's open seat Senate and governor's races?

Schelzig: Nashville is a heavily Democratic city in an equally overwhelmingly Republican state. The Democratic Senate candidate, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, is also a former two-term mayor of Nashville, but comes from a far more centrist political tradition (for example, Bredesen supported a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 2006, while Barry performed the state's first gay marriage as a member of the city council following the US Supreme Court ruling legalizing the practice nationally in 2015.)

Karl Dean, another former Nashville mayor, is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor. Neither Bredesen nor Dean are seen as particularly closely tied to Barry, which won't stop Republicans from trying to tie them together.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "Megan Barry's political career is __________. " Now, explain.

Schelzig: "Squandered."

Barry was superstar material in Nashville. She helped lead the against-all-odds effort to land a Major League Soccer team in Nashville last year and gathered the support of a mass transit plan that could transform the booming city's landscape. She was an unabashed voice for progressive politics in an otherwise deeply conservative state. She would have been the prohibitive favorite to win re-election as mayor or to Congress whenever Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper decides to retire.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 562420

Reported Deaths: 7132
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Hennepin1170781693
Ramsey48500859
Dakota43135425
Anoka39159420
Washington25272274
Stearns21264219
St. Louis16969298
Scott16258118
Wright15030130
Olmsted1284497
Sherburne1079480
Carver996945
Clay790090
Rice7716102
Blue Earth706440
Kandiyohi633681
Crow Wing626586
Chisago557350
Otter Tail549173
Benton539897
Mower453232
Goodhue449972
Douglas446971
Winona440549
Nobles401948
Morrison398359
McLeod398155
Isanti385559
Itasca381553
Beltrami376057
Polk369067
Steele367514
Becker360548
Lyon350048
Carlton332052
Freeborn330329
Pine315121
Nicollet311243
Brown296439
Mille Lacs286850
Le Sueur274922
Todd270930
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Meeker240537
Waseca232121
Martin215930
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Renville173243
Redwood167035
Houston163015
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Chippewa147737
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Faribault145819
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Watonwan12639
Rock123919
Jackson118910
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Pope10426
Murray10349
Swift100518
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Lake79219
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Koochiching78013
Wilkin77712
Lac qui Parle74222
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Mahnomen5178
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Cook1490

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Cases: 359925

Reported Deaths: 5844
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Linn20418330
Scott19292236
Black Hawk15620306
Woodbury14975221
Johnson1418681
Dubuque13210204
Dallas1096096
Pottawattamie10836164
Story1036847
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Clinton541991
Cerro Gordo525687
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Lee369555
Marion355975
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Crawford262940
Boone260033
Benton251555
Washington249650
Dickinson244343
Mahaska226050
Jackson219342
Kossuth213864
Clay212825
Tama207171
Delaware204639
Winneshiek195033
Page190721
Buchanan189131
Cedar185223
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Hardin182142
Wright180735
Hamilton178549
Harrison177273
Clayton167455
Butler162734
Mills159320
Cherokee157638
Floyd156542
Lyon155541
Madison155319
Poweshiek153333
Allamakee149451
Iowa146424
Hancock144234
Winnebago137131
Grundy135532
Cass135454
Calhoun133512
Jefferson131435
Emmet130340
Shelby129437
Sac128619
Louisa127449
Appanoose126647
Mitchell125441
Union123332
Chickasaw122815
Guthrie118629
Humboldt118426
Franklin113421
Palo Alto111523
Howard103022
Montgomery101537
Unassigned9990
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Keokuk95131
Monroe94528
Ida90033
Adair84932
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Davis80024
Osceola77316
Greene76910
Lucas75923
Worth7138
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