NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — This top story in Tennessee this year was former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s affair with her bodyguard, a stunning admission that captured national attention and resulted in her pleading guilty to a related felony theft count and resigning, according to an annual Associated Press survey of reporters, editors and broadcasters.
Barry, who was a rising star in the Democratic ranks, stood on stage alone during a January news conference and confessed to the extramarital relationship with the former head of her security detail, ex-police Sgt. Robert Forrest.
At the time, Barry apologized, denied breaking the law and rebuffed calls for her resignation.
In late February, an affidavit surfaced showing that authorities found two nude or partially nude photos of a woman that were taken by Forrest’s phone while he was on duty, without saying who the woman was. The photos were shot last May and October, on days when Barry’s travel schedule shows she was on trips to Washington, and Barry said that if the photos were of her, they were taken without her knowledge.
Then in March, Barry and Forrest showed up in court and separately pleaded guilty to felony theft. Barry’s resignation was part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. She and Forrest were sentenced to three years’ probation. Barry was required to pay back $11,000 for Forrest’s travel expenses while he was on personal time, the district attorney said, and Forrest had to return $45,000.
In a news conference announcing her resignation shortly afterward, Barry read a statement about her “unwavering love and sincere affection for this wonderful city and its great people will never come to an end.” She did not take questions and largely stayed out of the spotlight for months.
Barry has re-emerged as a public figure recently — first with social media posts; then in a TEDxWomen talk last month. She has said her worst day wasn’t when she had to plead guilty. It was when her 22-year-old son, Max, died of a drug overdose in July 2017.
“You get to pick yourself up and you get to keep on living your life,” she told WPLN after the TEDxWomen talk. “We’re human and we make mistakes. So let your mistakes define who you are going forward, not make you go and hide.”
Barry’s affair was picked above the contentious 2018 statewide elections, the deadly Waffle House shooting in Nashville, Amazon’s selection of Nashville for a new 5,000-job operations hub, Tennessee resuming executions for the first time since 2009 and other story lines.
“When we look back at 2018 decades from now, I think people will mark the year by recalling that the mayor of Nashville resigned after admitting to a felony, triggering a waterfall of policy implications,” said Blake Farmer of WPLN-FM.
This year’s top stories survey was conducted after Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced this month that he would not seek re-election in 2020.
The second-ranked story was the Waffle House shooting in April, when four people were fatally shot and four others were wounded. Travis Reinking was charged in connection with the shooting. James Shaw Jr. was heralded as a life-saving hero for wrestling the gun away from the shooter and remains a nationally known activist because of it.
Coming in third place were the November 2018 elections, when Republicans kept a stranglehold on politics in the state, despite the best slate of hopefuls put up by Democrats in years.
Former GOP U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn beat ex-Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in a nationally watched open U.S. Senate race, while Republican businessman Bill Lee defeated former Democratic Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in the open contest for governor.
“Growing political polarization in Washington is trickling down to the state and local levels, as made clear by this midterm election cycle,” Shelby Farmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press said. “A very popular, moderate former governor was beaten handily by the staunch Trump supporter (who also happened to be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee). Campaigns that had record-breaking spending were bolstered by multiple presidential visits across the state. And a political outsider was ultimately elected governor over ‘establishment’ Republicans after a packed primary race, continuing a trend of the Trump era.”