NASHVILLE — Mayor Megan Barry, the first woman to lead this city, has
been the kind of politician who seemed to effortlessly reflect the
tenor of her place and time. Like others in booming Nashville, she is
an ambitious transplant, socially liberal but business-friendly, a
non-Southerner comfortable in a Southern context. It is a formula that
has earned her poll numbers that would be the envy of any politician.
But in recent days, scandal has threatened to dim one of the Democratic
Party’s brightest Southern stars. And though many residents of
Nashville, a bastion of social liberalism in a deeply conservative
state, have been willing to dismiss with a kind of Gallic shrug her
admission of a monthslong extramarital affair with the police officer
leading her security detail, other aspects of the episode are mounting,
leading some here to wonder how long she can hang on.
Ms. Barry, 54, a former corporate ethics and compliance officer who
became mayor in September 2015, announced the affair at a somber and
apologetic news conference last Wednesday, and insisted that it was
“I am embarrassed and I am sad and I am so sorry for all the pain that
I have caused my family and his family,” she said, referring to former
Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr. of the Metro Nashville Police Department, who
is also married and who retired from the force at the end of last
month. “And I know that God will forgive me — but that Nashville
doesn’t have to.”
In a brief interview Sunday night, Ms. Barry, amid swirling rumors that
she might resign, said she had no plans to do so. “No, no, no,” she
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Continue reading the main story
But still lingering are questions about numerous taxpayer-funded city
business trips Ms. Barry took with Mr. Forrest, raising the possibility
of bruising weeks ahead for the mayor. The Tennessean newspaper, citing
public records, reported that the pair took some trips in the company
of other city officials, but that nine trips, including one to Athens,
Greece, were taken by Ms. Barry and Mr. Forrest alone.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, at the request of Nashville
District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk, is looking into whether Ms.
Barry or Mr. Forrest broke any laws by misusing public funds. The City
Council, generally supportive of the mayor’s agenda, voted on Tuesday
to create a special committee to investigate the trips.
Ms. Barry has said that she did nothing wrong. A lawyer for Mr. Forrest
declined to comment Tuesday.
This week, The Tennessean also reported that Ms. Barry had recommended
Mr. Forrest’s adult daughter, Macy Amos, for an entry-level job that
Ms. Amos later landed in the city law department.
Sean Braisted, the mayor’s spokesman, acknowledged that Ms. Barry
recommended Ms. Amos to the city law director sometime after she took
office. But Mr. Braisted insisted that the recommendation, and Ms.
Amos’s first day of work, all predated the affair, which he said
started sometime in the spring of 2016.
“Ms. Amos was recommended by many people inside and outside of Metro
Government,” Mr. Braisted said in a prepared statement. “She began the
interview process with the Department of Law in December of 2014. She
was offered a position in 2015 by Metro Law Director Jon Cooper and
began her job in 2016.”
The scandal has dealt an unexpected jolt to a political narrative here
of a mayor well-matched with her city’s burgeoning self-conception as a
sophisticated but down-home place, where honky-tonks, high-rises and,
increasingly, a pronounced streak of social liberalism all coexist.
As a City Council member, Ms. Barry had been an outspoken champion of
abortion rights and same-sex marriage. In a September 2015 runoff
election, she defeated David Fox, a former hedge-fund manager. Mr. Fox
tacked to Ms. Barry’s right, but his strategy seemed to show that the
culture-war dog did not hunt in the new Nashville. Voters shrugged off
his campaign’s assertion, in radio advertisements, that Ms. Barry and
her husband, Bruce Barry, an American Civil Liberties Union member, had
opposed prayer before high school football games.
In interviews this week, a number of liberals and conservatives said
they did not wish to judge Ms. Barry’s decisions in her private life.
But many of them said the questions about the money and the trips
“With two consenting adults, I understand that those things happen,”
said James R. Dickson III, 51, an insurance broker and Republican who
was having a drink at Sperry’s Restaurant, a clubby, old-school haunt
in the well-heeled Belle Meade area. “My issue is the financial piece