Mayor Megan Barry’s role-reversal sex scandal

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Nashville Mayor Megan Barry

Nashville’s mayor Megan Barry is experienced at breaking new ground: she is Nashville’s first woman mayor, she appointed Nashville’s first Chief Diversity Officer, and while a city councillor she performed Nashville’s first same-sex marriage in 2015. Now, in a clear reversal of age-old political archetypes, she is in trouble for a different type of girl-power: having an extra-marital affair with a male subordinate member of her staff.

The detail from Megan Barry’s detail

On Wednesday Megan Barry publicly admitted she scandal Senior politicians have been having and extra-marital affair with with Nashville Police Sergeant Robert Forrest Jr who was in charge of her security detail.

The affair began in the Spring of 2016, but Barry declined to say when it had ended. Forrest was said to have left his role the day of the announcement. Both Barry and Forrest are married, and the relationship came to light during discussions between their respective spouses. Barry was plainly embarrassed and ashamed by her behaviour:

In a statement she said, “Today I acknowledged publicly that I have engaged in an extramarital affair with the former head of my security detail. I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his. I am so sorry to my husband Bruce, who has stood by me in my darkest moments and remains committed to our marriage, just as I am committed to repairing the damage I have done. We had an affair, and it was wrong, and we shouldn’t have done it.”

Not pretty, but is this a serious scandal? After all, the current Oval Office occupant is facing accusations of paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep the news of his extra-marital affair with her quiet and appears to be simply shrugging them off. In this context, surely Mayor Megan Barry’s position is safe?

Abuse of power, or just being human?

Barry clearly attempted to portray her shortcomings as the sort of human weakness everyone suffers from time to time. She said, “People that we admire can also be flawed humans, and I’m flawed…people make mistakes, and you move on from those.”

Local columnist Brad Schmidt, writing in the Tenesseean, expressed sympathy for this approach. Speaking of his profound frustration that such a promising political career might come unstuck he said, “When my disappointment subsides, I’m left looking at a situation where two human beings acted, well, human…Haven’t we all done something to disappoint others? Haven’t we all done something that brings us shame?”

But there are several problems with simply looking the other way when it comes to Megan Barry’s condescension, however much her supporters may want to.

One is that traditional companion of sex and power: money. Thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent paying for Forrest’s travel as he accompanied Barry on official city business. Nine of these trips were taken just by the Forrest and Barry, and one of these was a trip abroad to Greece.

The perception that the city was paying for the mayor and her lover to take a romantic getaway to sunny Greece is not an easy one for Barry to shake.

Forrest also earned $50,000 in overtime in 2017, in addition to his $84,500 annual salary. The overtime would have been earned protecting, and spending time, with Barry. Was city money not only funding the couple’s illicit affair, but earning Forrest overtime in the process?

Role reversal

There are lots of reasons for being sympathetic to Mayor Barry. She is a popular, charismatic mayor and she lost her 22 year old son to an overdose in July. Two anonymous billboards even appeared yesterday on Interstate 24 saying simply, “We love our mayor.” Coverage continues and there may be more revelations to come, but it is certainly possible Megan Barry will manage to cling on to her post.

Would this be the case if the genders in this story were swapped? What if a charismatic male mayor had an eighteen month extra-marital affair with a female subordinate, took her on taxpayer-paid overseas trips, and arranged for her to have $50,000 in overtime? Would this hypothetical mayor survive even a day after these allegations came to light?

Perhaps – perhaps not, and besides Barry remains far from being in the clear.  As one of the first high-profile sex scandals for a female politician to become embroiled in, the nation will have to wait and see if there is a double standard when it comes to a lack of standards.

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