By The Editorial Board
We have a new mayor! With a landslide victory, Cooper is ready to take Nashville in a new direction. He will have to put together a team on all the campaign promises he has made. With the third incoming Nashville Mayor in less than 2 years, now Nashville needs stability and consistency for the future ahead.
With the announcement of Cooper’s transition co-chairs The Nashville Voice is going to give you our take on who we believe will be in the Cooper Administration, and those who are out of City Hall under the new mayor. There are three important positions he has to fill immediately: Chief of Staff, Finance Director, and Legal Director. There are many rumors swirling about key staff appointments, but who will fill those positions? Below is our list of people that could land in a Cooper Administration.
Here is what we think:
Brenda Haywood was named as transition co-chair for Cooper. Haywood is the outgoing council member for District 3, serves as Associate Minister at St. John Missionary Baptist Church and is the founder of Royal Heirs Youth Academy. Now a retired Nashville public school teacher and administrator, she was the first African American student to walk through the doors of Stratford High School in 1963, followed by three others, integrating the school.
Ben Eagles is a public policy expert, and seen as a Metro Nashville expert. The Vanderbilt grad started as a labor organizer for Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Next, Eagles ran multiple successful campaigns to get pro-labor union amendments onto municipal ballots. He ran current TNDP Chair Mary Mancini’s unsuccessful primary against current TN Senate Minority Caucus Chair Jeff Yarbro. He also ran John Cooper’s successful 2015 At-Large Council race. After those campaigns, Eagles went to work in the Finance Department at Metro Nashville where he learned the inner workings of Metro Nashville government. He lead the Cooper team to victory for Mayor as campaign manager. He has a podcast called Nashville Sounding Board where he talks to various Nashvillians about topics of public interest.
jeff obafemi carr was Senior Advisor for Cooper after his success with the No Tax for Tracks campaign. This was a project opposing then-Mayor Megan Barry’s transit plan in the referendum vote. He is a public relations professional, minister, and actor by trade. He has experience with programs working with urban youth and other social programs from the nonprofit world.
Will not work for the Administration
Ashford Hughes is the Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for the City of Nashville. He was appointed by newly elected Mayor Megan Barry to serve in her administration as Senior Advisor to Workforce, Diversity and Inclusion through the Office of Economic and Community Development. He served as the Assistant Business Manager and Political Organizer for the Southeast Laborers’ District Council, an affiliate of LIUNA. Prior to joining the Southeast Laborers’ District Council, Ashford served as the Political Director for the state Tennessee Democratic Party. He served as the liaison between the members of the Democrat House Caucus, Senate Caucus and the State Party. Since 2005, Ashford has worked as a senior political staffer and consultant on numerous candidate, labor, and issue based campaigns in Tennessee. His main focus has been political strategy, African American political outreach, candidate development, organizational and community development. Ashford also served as a leading Executive Board Member for N.O.A.H. (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope).
Greg Hinote has decades of a long relationship with the Cooper family, including serving as Congressman Jim Cooper’s Chief of Staff. Most recently Hinote served as former Mayor Karl Dean’s Deputy Mayor. He now works in the private sector as a Consultant.
Won’t join the administration.
Freda Player is Senior Legislative Advisor for the Briley Administration. A Fiskite, she began her professional political career on the Gore Presidential Campaign in Nashville, Tennessee. Worked for the Tennessee Democratic Party and was the Political Director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 205.
Jamari Brown is the director of the current Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, leading business recruitment and expansion in Nashville. Brown has served as director of business development for the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. He has led 70 teams that announced more than 13,000 jobs and $2 billion in investments in Tennessee.
We think he will stay.
Floyd Schechter is a commercial real estate developer who donated the campaign office in Donelson for Cooper. He has previously written op-eds about “old Nashville” and “new Nashville” coexisting, and about affordable housing. He has called for mixed-income, transit-oriented development in the past. He is also on the board of Woodbine Community Organization, which builds mixed-income housing.
Will probably be a close outside advisor.
Marcus Floyd is advisor to Mayor Briley for Public Safety and Justice Policy working on policing issues, community oversight of police and the deployment of body cameras for police officers. Prior to the Briley administration, he served as an Assistant District Attorney. Floyd was a probation officer in Memphis and Nashville and a judicial law clerk for the 21st Judicial District.
Brenda Gadd is a leader in the progressive spaces of Nashville and was an advisor to the Cooper Campaign. She hails from East Tennessee and is a well-known political operative in the state. Brenda is a founding member of Emerge Tennessee, a political collaborative that encourages and supports women running for office. She worked on the Bredesen for Senate campaign in 2018 and has over two decades of campaign and lobbying experience. She currently is President of ReThink Public Strategies. She boosts Cooper’s progressive cred by joining his team. Brenda is married to Floyd Schechter, mentioned above.
Will not join the administration.
Hershell Warren is a senior advisor to Mayor Briley focused on community outreach. Serving in a part-time capacity, he worked with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement to help fulfill their mission of empowering neighborhoods and community groups. He was an incredible resource during the campaign in helping Barry to build relationships within the community. Warren also served as a senior advisor in Mayor Karl Dean’s administration from 2007 to 2013, before which he worked as the director of public policy and governmental affairs for Meharry Medical College from 2004 to 2007, and the Executive Director of the Lloyd C. Elam Mental Health Center prior to the public administration.
Mark Cate leads Stones River Group. Stones River Group is a Public Affairs firm in Nashville that represents clients at all levels of government. He served as Governor Bill Haslam’s Deputy Governor in his first term. At the Metro level, Cate led John Ingram’s effort in successfully passing legislation to build the MLS soccer stadium. Notably, then At Large Council Member John Cooper voted against the legislation.
Will be a close advisor.
Mary Falls is a trusted Cooper advisor who is leading the transition team with Brenda Haywood. She is a longtime friend of the Cooper family. She served as the campaign’s treasurer. She was previously a lawyer. She serves on boards including: Catholic Charities, Saint Mary Villa, the Visitation Hospital Foundation of Haiti, Dress for Success, Project Reflect Education Programs, and Nashville’s Table. She is currently Chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee for the Alive Hospice Board, and is also board secretary and chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee for St. Thomas Health Services.
Ashley Warrington was brought onto the Cooper campaign team after the general election to streamline the day-to-day operations. Her background is in not only campaign work but also fundraising and lobbying, and is familiar with state and local politicians from both sides of the aisle.
John Lasiter is a friend of John and Laura Cooper dating back to the 2015 Nashville election, in which Lasiter ran for Council At-Large. He previously worked producing theater events in Nashville and as head of PR for PK Pictures, was an HIV/AIDS educator at Nashville CARES, and has an unlimited rolodex of Metro politics-interested people. Along with his partner, Daryl, he is well connected in the LGBT community. Lasiter is well-known and well-loved in the Metro political community.
Katie Lentile was brought on as Press Secretary and Communications Director after having done PR for Cooper’s largest development project, The Heritage at Brentwood (a retirement community), and the movement to save Fort Negley Park. Through these two projects, as well as previously managing Weld, Lentile became a close friend of John and Laura Cooper. She owns and leads the Lentile Group, which is her advertising/marketing firm which maintains a diverse list of clients.
Kristin Canavan Wilson is proficient and experienced in business consulting and city planning. Wilson is seen as a leading candidate for a Senior position in Mayor Cooper’s office. After spending time in the private sector in organizational consulting and market planning, she served as Deputy COO of Atlanta from November 2011 to August 2018. She focused on operational efficiencies in her time there, as well as the implementation of citywide strategic initiatives. She has worked in Nashville as Head of Business Analytics at Velocity Risk Underwriters for almost a year. She fits in well with Cooper’s vision to run the city more efficiently. She is married to Whit Wilson, who is President of Cherokee Equity Corporation. He is the son of Justin P. Wilson, Comptroller of the State of Tennessee.
Finally, several prominent community leaders supported John Cooper. Former Clerk, David Smith, and Former Councilman, Frank Harrison are examples of these leaders who strongly supported the Mayor-Elect. There are others like community leaders, Kwame Leo Lillard and Eric Brown, who endorsed Cooper. Will they come into the Cooper Administration? Either way, what does this mean for the Nashville community and most importantly, the African-American community? Only time will tell.
John Cooper’s transition website is available at johncooperfornashville.com/transition and includes information for those interested in working in Cooper’s administration.