A onetime symbol of integrity, Megan Barry made history as the Music City’s first female mayor in 2015. Barry sought to tackle the scarcity of public transportation options and affordable housing, and helped score a professional soccer franchise.
She was popular and energetic, a regular presence at music venues and Nashville Predators hockey games.
The mayor’s willingness to talk about her only son’s fatal drug overdose last summer engendered sympathy from residents. Those warm feelings largely continued even after the mayor, 54, publicly apologized for having an affair with her bodyguard.
It all ended Tuesday with Barry stepping down after admitting to a felony theft charge related to the affair.
“While my time today as your mayor concludes, my unwavering love and sincere affection for this wonderful city and its great people will never come to an end,” Barry told reporters in a three-minute appearance.
The guilty plea to felony theft of property over $10,000 represented a remarkable fall for the politician: Barry once enjoyed approval ratings of more than 70%.
The political honeymoon
Barry moved to Nashville in 1991 to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt University, where she earned an MBA in 1993. She worked as an ethics and compliance officer in private business.
Barry, a Democrat and two-term Metro Council member, was elected mayor in September 2015 in a runoff.
“Tonight, we start a new chapter in Nashville of the Nashville story,” she said on election night, CNN affiliate WKRN reported. “And that story is the saga that is written every day by the people in this room and those of you who are watching at home.”
Barry distinguished herself as a pro-business, socially progressive politician, Joey Garrison, a metro politics reporter for The Tennessean, told CNN.
Barry was “one of the highest-profile Democrats in Tennessee. She’s known for her accessibility and remarkable visibility,” Garrison said last month.
Cranes are plentiful around the city where new homes are springing up. Barry’s agenda included an ambitious $5.2 billion mass transit proposal for 26 miles of light rail, bus routes and an underground tunnel through downtown Nashville, CNN affiliate WKRN reported.
The plan will go before voters in May.
In December, the city was awarded a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.
The loss of her son
Last July, Barry lost her son to an accidental drug overdose in a Colorado suburb. Max Barry’s death was complicated in part by morbid obesity, according to an autopsy.
The opioid crisis came to Barry’s doorstep, and the public way in which she coped with the tragedy moved many residents.
“She’s a Nashvillian. She feels that when she hurts, we hurt … we’re a family,” resident Wesley Martin said.
Barry spoke openly about her son’s struggles with drugs, hoping her own experience and transparency could help others confront similar problems.
“I cannot tell you how many people have come to me and shared their own grief stories about a loved one who died where they never talked about it before,” Barry told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview in August.
On her first day back to work after the death of her son, Barry took time to greet children commencing the school year, according to CNN affiliate WKRN. She handed out supplies and backpacks.
“The first day of school in our household was always a joyous occasion. Max loved school and our ritual was that we would always take a picture every day of the first day of school,” she said.
Barry grew emotional, her eyes misting with tears. She talked about a “new normal” of never talking to her son again.
“The normal is Max is not going to text me back. The work of our city goes on. Every day, I’ll get up and do what needs to be done,” she said.