Spirits were nearly as high as the heat on Saturday as a few hundred people gathered in Public Square Park for the inauguration of Mayor Freddie O’Connell, Vice Mayor Angie Henderson and 40 Metro Councilmembers.
The 42 officials sat on stage with yellow roses pinned to their lapels under the shade of a large white tent. O’Connell looked comfortable on stage next to his partner and two daughters, his legs crossed and a smile on his face as the proceedings took place around him.
Following an all-faith prayer service at 9 a.m., Nashvillians were encouraged to take advantage of the city’s transit options to make their way to the park — fitting for a mayor who centered his campaign around transit. WeGo bus fares were free, B-Cycle had promos for e-bike usage and councilmembers took the opportunity to post selfies shouting out their favorite bus lines. Henderson even mentioned in her speech that she rode the bus with O’Connell’s parents on their way to the inauguration.
Surrounding the park’s lawn, employees from dozens of different Metro departments took shelter from the sun under tents donned with their respective logos. Attendees were met with smiling faces ready to teach them about what HubNashville, WeGo, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Nashville Public Library and more have to offer.
Among the crowd in attendance were a who’s who of Nashville public figures and politicos: O’Connell opponents Alice Rolli, Stephanie Johnson, Matt Wiltshire, Jeff Yarbro and Jim Gingrich, along with former mayors Bill Purcell and Karl Dean as well as state Sen.Charlane Oliver.
“Today is a new day in Nashville,” O’Connell said to the crowd after taking the oath of office from Judge Marcus Floyd. “Today is the day on which Angie Henderson, as a woman vice mayor, will preside over a Metro Council where she will see all five at-large seats held by women.”
Throughout his speech, O’Connell hammered home the significance of having a majority-women Metro Council, gesturing to his daughters behind him.
“We’ve got two young women in our family watching and learning, and I would say, the yellow roses worked,” said O’Connell.
O’Connell’s speech painted the picture of safer streets, better transit, resident-focused services, and affordable housing he hopes to bring during his tenure. Throughout his speech, he touched on almost every one of the 15 fixes he leaned on throughout his campaign — items O’Connell said he would begin to enact on his first day in office. He pointed to the East Bank, not as a singular project to be done well, but as a way to set the tone for what the whole of Nashville could be.
“Today is the day we began building the transit system this city has needed for a long time,” said O’Connell. “We have big, bold plans and we might have to ask ourselves the question of whether we have the courage to pursue them.”
He returned to the possibility of a transit referendum, saying the city might need its citizens’ “explicit permission” in order to get transit done right.
The East Bank is expected to be a big focus of the next four years, and transit will be a large part of it. Last week, former councilmember at-large Bob Mendes joined the O’Connell administration as the chief development officer. Mendes has not only long been a transit and biking advocate, but he also joined O’Connell as a loud voice against the new Titans stadium, which could make his leading of the surrounding area’s development interesting. O’Connell told the Nashville Scene that Deputy Mayor Sam Wilcox, one of the few top advisors to stay on from John Cooper’s administration, would also play a big role in projects like the East Bank.
Although O’Connell’s inauguration was just on Saturday, it’s already been a busy two weeks since the election for the Mayor as he’s rapidly worked through the transition. Aside from Mendes and Wilcox, so far finance director Kelly Flannery is out, Kristin Wilson, the chief of operations under Cooper will stay, and legal director Wally Dietz will continue along with a few other changes. It will likely still be weeks before O’Connell’s staff is fully in place.
O’Connell is taking office at a challenging time. Housing prices in Nashville are skyrocketing, children are falling behind in reading proficiency and Nashvillians are resoundingly unhappy with the condition of roads, sidewalks and transit. To cap it all off, O’Connell must reset the city’s relationship with the state while a series of high-profile lawsuits against new state laws will determine the fate of several boards and the size of the Metro Council. O’Connell acknowledged each of these things in his speech and encouraged those in attendance.
“Our biggest challenge is to make it possible for as many of us to stay as possibly can,” said O’Connell.