By Clint Confehr
INGLEWOOD, TN — At-large Metro Councilman John Cooper became the city’s ninth mayor last weekend with Metro’s most diverse council, and hope for change.
“It is time to invest in Jefferson Street, and Antioch … Donelson … Bellevue … Goodlettsville and other neighborhoods that make this a great city,” Mayor Cooper said at Stratford STEM Magnet High School.
“What our fellow citizens want from us,” Cooper said, listing: “a Nashville where tourism benefits residents, not the other way around; cost effective, fiscally responsible government that is managed for everyone; and a transparent open government committed to high standards…
“In many ways the rebirth of Nashville began with the decision to save the Ryman and I believe the decision to save Fort Negley Park, will mark a second rebirth of our city,” Cooper said. “It starts with our neighborhoods and preservation.”
Former Councilman Walter Hunt has been advocating tourism benefiting residents, so he’s pleased “to see somebody is going to follow the path that we structured.” Cooper has “the capabilities to make a better city.”
Seated nearby, District Attorney General Glenn Funk said “Hopefully [Cooper] will do some
things to help us continue our work to make sure that our criminal justice system is a justice system.”
Meharry General Hospital Chaplain Omaran Lee, pastor of St. James AME Church, said “It’s important that the city comes together, regardless of who your candidate was.”
Mayor David Briley received sustained applause when recognized by Vice Mayor Jim Shulman. He told Briley, “I know how hard you work. I appreciate what you are doing.”
“Big changes bring big problems. They. require tough decisions,” Shulman said. “It’s not easy being a member of this council, or mayor.”
Cooper knows. “We’re facing fiscal challenges. Our sewer and water lines are antiquated. The city’s balance sheet is stretched thin … Well-administered, long-term capital plans will create a great city … I’ve been told I care too much about numbers. If we don’t get the money right, we can’t do anything else, because in government to care about finances is to care about people.”
“Doing right by our workforce begins with getting our finances right,” Cooper said.
People paid a livable wage — Middle Tennessee Urban League President Clifton Harris said — can solve their own housing, healthcare, transportation and daycare problems. Harris knows Cooper “well enough to have a great working relationship with him.” Workforce development is the first thing he wants from the mayor.
Premier Building Management employee Lawrence Haywood manages city buildings: “Cooper is the man to lead us in the right direction.” First, he should “give teachers a raise.”
A metro teacher for 19 years, Tom Occhipinti, recalls, “Months ago, Cooper was the only one who … instead of having an automatic reaction to an increase in property tax to pay teachers … questioned what the school board was doing with money they’d been given.”
Nashville NAACP President Keith Caldwell “was happy to hear there will be a focus on … historically marginalized communities.” Bordeaux and Jefferson Street property owners pay taxes, too.
Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Chris Jackson has “had conversation” with Cooper. “I believe he is genuine. What he’s done so far is show that he has a care and concern for Nashville.”
Councilwoman Berkley Allen said Cooper’s “goal of making a Nashville for everyone is right on target.” She noted Metro’s council has 20 women and 20 men.
Cooper said, “Some people have thought … revenues generated downtown should stay downtown. I disagree. The people of Nashville have made an investment. Now is the time to spread the benefits of growth, not just the costs to all of our neighborhoods.”
High-rise condo developer Tony Giarratana is cautiously optimistic. “Our city is poised for great things. (Cooper) has got experience to lead the city.” Giarratana focuses on downtown neighborhoods with thousands of residents. Downtown “is not just convention centers and honky-tonks. We have a real … neighborhood where people live, work and play.”
Real estate researcher Ed Branding said residents wanting restaurants and retail services “have to agree to some rezoning.” Businesses need customers. Cooper understands, Branding said.
Dexter Samuels, senior vice president for student affairs and executive director of the Center on Health Policy at Meharry, said Cooper “has been involved in discussions with Dr. (James) Hildreth on our strategic plan” and help for uninsured and underinsured people. “I know (Cooper) will be supportive.”
Rev. Enoch Fuzz said, “Today is my birthday. Mayor Cooper is one of my birthday presents.”