NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — John Cooper was sworn in as the ninth mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Saturday morning at Stratford STEM Magnet High School.
"Today, we begin the work of making Nashville a city that works for everyone," Cooper said.
Cooper defeated incumbent David Briley in a runoff election in September. Briley, who was in the crowd for Cooper inauguration, was given a standing ovation when thanked for his service by Vice Mayor Jim Shulman.
While acknowledging that 11 students at Stratford had received full scholarships to Belmont University as part of Belmont's "Bridges to Belmont" program, Cooper addressed the topic of teacher pay, which was brought up numerous times by both candidates ahead of the the mayoral election. "Teachers struggle to carry middle-class lives, Cooper said. "That has to change, and we have to do better."
Cooper also addressed the diversity on the Metro Council, which is made of 50 percent women and a Muslim-American for the first time. "This Metro Council and this city has become a gorgeous mosaic," Cooper said.
In addition, Cooper also discussed the distribution of the city's revenue from tourism. "Some people think the revenues generated downtown should stay downtown," Cooper said. "I disagree. The people of Nashville made an investment. Now is the time to spread the benefits of growth — not just the costs — to all our neighborhoods. It is time to invest in Jefferson Street, in Antioch, in Donelson, in Bellevue, in Goodlettsville, and the other neighborhoods that make this a great city."
You can watch Cooper's full 15-minute speech in the video player above. The full text of his speech is available below:
Thank you to everyone for coming to Stratford High School this morning. This is special place. Fifty-six years ago — less than a week after Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a Dream” speech — my campaign co-chair — and my friend — Brenda Haywood — walked through these doors and integrated Stratford High. Today, Brenda joins me in my administration as deputy mayor for community engagement.
Brenda, can you please stand? I am so honored by your trust and your support.
Today we gather together to celebrate a very special moment — the commissioning of a new government for our city. A co-missioning — a coming together. This is a celebration of collective action to make our community stronger. Today, we begin the work of making Nashville a city that works for everyone. Of ensuring that Nashville is a livable, nourishing city. Of making our city better. And we will do it together.
That’s another reason we are here at Stratford STEM Magnet School. This is a school where TSU, Vanderbilt, and Nissan have come together to support the work being done here. This past year, 11 students from Stratford got full scholarships to Belmont University as part of Belmont’s Bridges to Belmont program. That’s a wonderful accomplishment. But Stratford — like many of our schools — also faces challenges. It started the year without a chemistry or Spanish teacher. We are struggling to recruit and retain teachers. Teachers struggle to lead middle-class lives. That has to change. We have to do better.
Supporting our schools — and making sure that teaching is a valued profession — must be our common purpose.
I want to acknowledge my partners on the new Metro Council. There’s no steadier or kinder hand than Vice-Mayor Jim Shulman, and I am grateful for his friendship. I am delighted to see my friend Bob Mendes take my old chair. Burkley and Steve — Sharon — I look forward to continuing to work closely with each of you in this new role. There are 19 new members on this council, including our host today, Emily Benedict.
They include new at-large council member Zulfat Suara, our first Muslim council member and a certified public accountant — I certainly appreciate that.
Sandra Sepulveda is the first Latina on Council. For the first time, the Council is half women. I’m honored to serve with our LGBTQ members, and we should all take a moment to acknowledge the leadership they are bringing to the council and the historic role of leadership that the minority caucus has had in Nashville. This Metro council — and this city — has become a gorgeous mosaic. Our diversity makes us stronger. Anyone who doubts that has only to look at the veterans here today.
Captain Jerry Neal, who led the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of this program, is now 98. He’s one of the 441 Tennesseans who took part in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Corpsman Jack Tyson — who is 86 — was a field medic during the Korean War. Staff Sergeant Kingdon served in special forces parades during the Vietnam War. David Van Klief served for 30 years as a Coast Guard chief warrant officer, including during the first Gulf War. Sergeant Teresa Carter — US Marine Corps — maintained F-18 Hornets. She’s now at MTSU, studying to become a psychiatrist.
Would you please stand up?
The risks you have taken for us — the sacrifices you have made — humbles all of us. Your spirit and presence honors us. You are our inspiration here today. Thank you.
I’d also like to recognize the former mayors who are in the audience today. Bill Purcell, Karl Dean, David Briley — thank you for your service to our city. David, your presence here today — and your graciousness — shows how American democracy is supposed to work.
Today we start the work of building a Nashville that works for everyone.
Today we begin the work of serving our people — of choosing our future — with confidence. What our fellow citizens want from us is VERY clear — a focus on neighborhoods, a Nashville where tourism benefits residents, not the other way around. Cost-effective, fiscally responsible government that is managed for everyone. A transparent, open government committed to high standards.
In many ways, the rebirth of downtown Nashville began with the decision to save the Ryman. I believe that the decision to protect Fort Negley Park will mark a second rebirth of our city. It starts with our neighborhoods and preservation.
Some people seem to think revenues generated downtown should stay downtown. I disagree. The people of Nashville made an investment. Now is the time to spread the benefits of growth — not just the costs — to all our neighborhoods. It is time to invest in Jefferson Street, in Antioch, in Donelson, in Bellevue, in Goodlettsville, and the other neighborhoods that make this a great city.
Downtown has been, of course, the heart of our economy. We must ensure that it circulates the benefits of growth to all our neighborhoods. We need to invest in sidewalks. In protecting and expanding our tree canopy. In becoming a sustainable, resilient city, a city of parks and greenways. Our creeks and our rivers outline what should become one of America’s greatest urban park systems. Atlanta’s BeltLine we can find in our river-line. Together, we can build a beautiful, livable, sustainable city.
In a great city, incomes and wages go up — for everyone — without the costs of growth forcing our neighbors to leave. It’s easy to have an environment where that doesn’t happen — where the benefits of growth don’t go to everyone, where people lose track of wage growth for everyone. That is why we have to invest in our people. Our job is make to make sure that our residents are ready for the great jobs that our city is now attracting.
This is our common purpose.
To the thousands of hard-working Metro employees who serve the public every day, thank you. I value your knowledge and your commitment to public service. In the months and years to come, I will be relying on your professionalism and expertise. You are my most important partners in the task ahead. It is my job to support you. Finding the money to take care of the people who take care of us must be a top priority for all of us.
At the beginning of this speech, I talked about the amazing group of veterans who honor us with their presence here today. Metro also has some very special people. Like our veterans, our first responders go out every day and protect and care for us. Would all first responders please stand up?
Let us all give them a round of applause.
While we are at it, would everyone who is working with our students to secure great futures for them —would you please stand up and give them a round of applause?
Doing right by our workforce begins with getting our finances right. We are facing fiscal challenges. Our sewers and water lines are antiquated. The city’s balance sheet is stretched thin. We have to address these problems in the Council term ahead. Well administered, long-term capital plans will create a great city. That is our challenge to this Council and to me as Mayor.
I’ve been told that I care too much about the numbers. But if we don’t get the money right, we can’t get anything else right. Because in government, to care about finances is to care about people. That is how you make our dreams real.
We face challenges, yes. But, working together, we can meet them. We are the envy of cities in America. We aren’t saddled with aging industries. Health, education, hospitality, entertainment, and logistics — anchor our economy. Our tax base is increasing. We all know people want to move here. We got the growth. And now we have to manage it to make our lives better and not worse. Now is the time to decide — with confidence — how we want to succeed as a city.
We decide how we live and what our city should be. That is the task of this commissioning of me as Mayor and the Council. We are in charge of our future. The decisions we make together will set the course of our city for generations to come.
Thank you for joining me. It is the honor of my life to serve you.