Freddie O’Connell became the 10th mayor of Nashville just after 7:30 a.m. Monday morning.
With former Mayor John Cooper reportedly eager for a vacation, O’Connell was sworn in by former Nashville Mayor David Briley early Monday in a quick private ceremony. This capped off a long election season that ended with O’Connell beating out Republican candidate Alice Rolli in a runoff on Sept. 14. The past week has been anything but a break for O’Connell as he and his transition team have frantically prepared to hit the ground running on a laundry list of items left over from the Cooper administration.
O’Connell’s transition kicked off just hours after his victory, with the announcement of three transition team co-chairs: Alex Jahangir, the Vanderbilt surgeon and former Board of Health chair who led the city’s COVID-19 response for Cooper; Christy Pruitt-Haynes, a corporate human resources leader and consultant; and David Esquivel, a partner at Bass, Berry & Sims who has led the firm’s pro bono efforts.
But as quickly as O’Connell’s team may have begun the transition, fully staffing the mayor’s office will likely take weeks. Here’s what we know so far:
- Bob Mendes, the former at-large councilmember who played a large role not only in O’Connell’s campaign but as an adviser in his transition team, is being hired as senior adviser for special projects in the administration, as first reported by Axios this week. Mendes was one of the earliest and loudest voices to come out in support of O’Connell in the general election. As councilmembers, the two’s politics often aligned, with both O’Connell and Mendes solidifying themselves as two of the loudest voices in opposition to the Titans stadium deal. Mendes’ role likely means he will have a large hand in East Bank development discussions.
- Kelly Flannery, the finance director under the Cooper administration, will not stay on under the O’Connell administration.
- Benjamin Eagles, a senior adviser to Cooper who helped implement the city’s COVID response as well as helping sell the Titans stadium deal and craft other key policy initiatives, is leaving. (Editor’s note: see clarification below)
- Diana Alarcon will stay on as the director of the Nashville Department of Transportation. Alarcon is seen by many who supported O’Connell’s campaign as a transit department head fit for the transit nerd mayor. In her time as NDOT director, she has placed a big emphasis on making the city more walkable and bikeable, and many have speculated that this will increase under a mayor who is more focused on transit.
- Wally Dietz will stay on as the Metro legal director. Dietz has been having his moment over the past several months as his team spearheads the battle against state preemption. Most recently, Dietz’s team successfully argued that a law seeking to make a Fairgrounds Speedway deal easier to push through was in violation of the Tennessee Constitution’s Home Rule Amendment. His son, Scott Dietz, was a top staffer on O’Connell’s campaign.
- Kristin Wilson, the chief of operations and performance under Cooper, will stay on.
- Alex Apple, who served as O’Connell’s campaign spokesperson, will be the administration’s deputy communications director.
A public inauguration will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at Public Square Park. A host of current and former Metro officials and the new Metro Council are expected to be there. Cooper will not be in attendance.
(Editor’s note, Sept. 27: After reflection and conversation in accordance with the Banner’s policies, an earlier description of Eagles only in terms of Cooper’s failed racetrack initiative was deemed harsh and insufficiently descriptive of Eagles’ role in the administration. The Banner is committed to accuracy and happy to set the record straight.)