Facing budget challenges and the recent division over mass transit, Nashville Mayor David Briley delivered a somber “State of Metro” speech on Friday.
His words were emotional while recalling the Waffle House shooting, and aspirational when sharing anecdotes about heroes that day — and about everyday Nashvillians. They also came at the end of an unusual week, in which voters rejected the transit plan that Briley supported, and on the same day that early voting began for a crowded special election with with 13 mayoral candidates hoping to complete the term that ends next summer.
The annual address included a call for unity and Briley’s belief that “the people of Nashville are resilient and persistent. “And we’re not willing to settle for anything less than the best community we could possibly build.”
Before looking forward and making some policy promises, the mayor opened his remarks with what turned out to be an old quotation — still apt for his tenure now.
“We must not only provide for today, but we must plan for tomorrow. I do not need to remind you that some of the problems we’re trying to solve today are magnified by our own failure to act in the past.”
Briley revealed these were words from 1968 of his grandfather, Beverly Briley, the first mayor of consolidated Metro government.
City challenges colored much of Briley’s following 35 minutes, which described the first months of 2018 as “unusual and very challenging.” He made oblique reference to predecessor Megan Barry’s resignation and the need to restore trust in government.
On other subjects, he was direct. He referred to the attempted redevelopment of land next to Fort Negley as wounding race relations, while noting that the space will now be preserved as a park.
“Many of us are looking forward to seeing how they’ll honor the enslaved people who helped build the fort,” Briley said, before he went off script: “It’s time for every Southern city to do so.”
As he has done often during his short time in office, Briley also spoke to the unevenness of prosperity in boom times Nashville.
“While we celebrate our successes, we do know that many of our neighbors are struggling,” he said. “They’re held back by homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, addiction and other circumstances.”
Moments Of Hope
The speech was hardly all gloom.
The most rousing of several standing ovations came for James Shaw, Jr., the man who ended the Waffle House mass shooting by confronting the gunman who killed four on April 22.
“Nashville always comes together in a crisis,” Briley said, also thanking a long list of individuals, citizens and first responders.
He also told stories of a local construction worker who received workforce training and who commutes by MTA bus; an award-winning student filmmaker; and, briefly, the addiction recovery story of his own brother — who will serve on a new behavioral wellness council.
Briley promised a new transit plan, which he said will require collaboration, sacrifice, “a down payment on Nashville’s success” and thinking about how current residents' children and grandchildren will get around the city.
He also promised more affordable housing and has allocated more money to pre-K enrollment. He said Metro will try to be responsive to everyday neighborhood problems, like filling potholes, planting trees and adding sidewalks.
The mayor closed, like he began, with a focus on family: He thanked his mother, who raised David as a single mother after a divorce.
“I hope she knows that she has proven, like so many Nashvillians do every day,” he said, “that sacrifice does lead to success.”