By Reginald Stuart
NASHVILLE, TN — Interim Mayor David Briley may have a suffered a big voter rejection earlier this week of the $5 billion dollar–plus mass transit proposal. He’ll have little time over the next few days to digest the impact of the vote, however, as his next crucial career challenge —the May 24 special election for mayor— is just ahead.
For sure, Briley the 54-year-old grandson of the late Mayor C. Beverly Briley, did not start this year with any idea of what would be thrust on his table by spring time. He says he was happy being Vice Mayor and working his full-time job as a lawyer when the city’s chapter in history made an abrupt turn just days ago. Since he became Mayor of Nashville March 6, his to-do list is longer, broader and grows everyday.
His role as a public servant has gone to assuring a rattled constituency of his values and ethics just hours after Mayor Megan Barry resigned in March in disgrace, to quickly emerging in the national media spotlight, explaining the city’s pain over the loss of four local residents killed at random at a Waffle House in Antioch by an unknown assailant.
Now, on the heels of the transit vote, one he strongly favored, Briley is before the City Council seeking its approval of a basically status quo budget for the next local government fiscal year starting July 1. When not busy trying to sell lawmakers on the new belt tightening proposed budget, he’s one of 13 people actively campaigning to fill the time left (about 18 months) in Barry’s term.
With widespread popularity among rank and file voters, a healthy campaign funds war chest and nearly 30 members of the City Council backing his bid for election, Briley is running with confidence and has his focus set on being the city’s full-time leader. If he wins the late May election with a clear 50 percent plus one vote margin, he is likely to run in August, 2019 for the full four-year term of office.
The move to Mayor from Vice Mayor has propelled a “big shift” in Briley’s once routine life, he said. He hastens to add, he welcomes the challenges, calling them “an honor and a privilege.”
Being a mayor “is one of the few places where you can make a difference for people,” Briley said, comparing the chance to lead a city to other political leadership opportunities. He says he ask himself everyday “what little bit can I do to make the city a better place and give people a chance to succeed.”
No doubt, unexpected events like the Waffle House shooting, have prompted a churn in some of his plans. Sill, before the shooting and the state supreme court late last month ruling the mayoral race must be held promptly, Mayor Briley took a break from his agenda to talk with the Tribune about his visions and thoughts about being Nashville’s Mayor.
As guest on “Trending With the Tribune,” the newspaper’s Web-tv interview program, Briley talked about his values and agenda as the city’s new chief executive, his goals and the tone he wants his hometown to sustain and exhibit as it moves forward.
Briley says he is excited that Nashville is “adding new people with great ideas and energy to the community.”
The forward motion toward another level of growth and cosmopolitan style, should not happen at the expense of the city’s rich heritage, he says, noting the redevelopment is “doing a lot to displace long rooted families.”
“We’ve got to make sure we’re not just pushing people out,” Briley said, as he talked about the need to balance growth and redevelopment with “finding ways to keep families in their homes.”
As the city grows by leaps and bounds, it’s up to him and other city leaders to “make sure everybody gets that chance to grab that gold ring and grab a piece of that new pie,” said Briley.
To help ensure “more opportunities” for minority business owners and Metro employees, Mayor Briley appointed a city Equity and Inclusion Officer” and appointed a Minority Business Advisory Council. It will meet quarterly, he said, and is charged with identifying the “challenges and opportunities” for minority business growth” and Metro employees.
While he was hoping the mass transit proposal would win voter approval, Briley said he understood opposition to the idea and called said he was hearing “totally legitimate reasons.” Still, he said, the massive proposal, which would rely on tax payer funding to get going, was key to helping the city move ahead.
Asked to identify goals he viewed as key to keeping Nashville at the top of its game, Briley said there are three broad goals : “making sure we have access to intellectual capital, financial capital and have a level playing field.”
Having intellectual capital means having a strong school system and supporting funding for college in a way that encourages young people to go to and complete college, he said. He made those comments before he proposed his fiscal budget for the next government fiscal year starting July 1. That budget basically continues funding for public schools at it current level. The school board had wanted nearly 40 percent more.
Briley said he knows there will be wins and losses in his role as Mayor.
“I quickly came to the conclusion the best thing for me to do is to leave the politics to other people,” he aid. “I’m just trying to focus on what’s important.”
As for the tone of politics today, Briley expressed disappointment in how the political landscape has turned nationally and says he fears it is “seeping” in locally in some respects.
“Compromise has become a dirty word,” Briley said. “People don’t want to compromise. It’s become associated with a lack of principle, giving up.”
“”We need to refocus on what we believe together,” Briley said, urging an end to the growing polarization he senses on the national level and dripping to local communities. “We all believe in values in our community,” he said. “We need to do a better job” in discussing what keeps the community together, even if that means “leaving lobbyists and influence purveyors out of the room for a while.”
As for the mass transit proposal, Briley said after the vote it is “back to the drawing board to find the common ground to develop a consensus on a new way forward… Our transportation problems are not going away…”