When Barack Obama needs to kneecap the opposition in Congress, he calls his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. When Nashville Mayor Karl Dean needs to bend the Metro council to his political will, he calls deputy mayor Greg Hinote.
Hinote bristles at the comparison to his former boss Emanuel, or at least the job description. "I don't like to think of myself as the enforcer," he says. But he does allow that he and the mayor "divide up responsibilities well." It's just that the mayor's half can be adequately described as "good cop."
Hinote's physical toughness matches his political acumen. An avid cyclist, Hinote was riding through the Nashville greenway last spring when he hit a wet patch on a curve. He was thrown from the bike, shattering his ribs and hip. He then got back on the bike, pedaled out to the parking lot and called his wife to come pick him up.
"I have two 13-inch titanium rods, a plate and four screws," Hinote says, describing his new hardware. "One of the rods is like a shock absorber. Holds my right side together; holds my leg onto my skeleton. But I'm back on the bike."
That tenacity also serves Mayor Dean's legislative priorities, chief among them education. "From the city's perspective, education, if it's not the issue, it's at least one of the top two or three most important things for our city," Hinote says. Himself a product of Tennessee public schools, Hinote says that he's always been motivated, even defined, by the processes of learning and teaching.
"My mom and dad were both teachers," Hinote says. "I spent some time in my career working from a private-sector perspective on school issues. I started a company in the mid- '90s that built and developed school buildings. I did K-12 schools, housing on university campuses. It's just something I've cared about my entire life."
That life has been shaped by experiences all across the globe. As a child, Hinote's father worked for the U.N. on education projects. Hinote lived in Vienna for years and traveled often with his family.
"I was in Berlin when the wall came down," he recalls. "I didn't sleep for three days." He still keeps two chunks of concrete from the Berlin Wall in a frame above his desk. A former aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Hinote visited with U.S. soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan back in 2003.
Now, Hinote's energies are committed to the area within the Davidson County limits—with one exception. He's long had an eye toward connecting the greenways between Davidson and Rutherford counties. Both Nashville and Murfreesboro have popular winding walkways, biking trails and greenspace, Hinote says, and "the next natural step is to begin to connect those greenways."
That plan, Hinote hopes, will change the way Nashvillians interact with their city.
"I was on the Richland Creek greenway on my bike last weekend," he says. "I was on my way home from bike riding, and it was fabulous because for the first time on a greenway I saw two different people carrying grocery bags. They had walked to the grocery store on the greenway. It's a really great asset for our city. It's a real priority."
Despite these priorities—and his reputation among politicos as an enforcer—Hinote has a healthy respect for the difficult process of governing Metro.
"People think I can just wave my magic wand and make anything happen," he says. "The world, and Metro government, doesn't work that way."
Photographed at City Hall by Eric England
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