There isn’t a place to park within a block of Megan Barry’s Belmont-area home during happy hour on Friday evening.
The at-large Metro councilwoman, who would be the city’s first Madam Mayor, is hosting a cocktail party / fundraiser for Women for Tennessee’s Future, or WTF, the political action committee that gave $3,000 to her fledgling 2015 mayoral campaign last quarter. And it’s a full house.
When Pith arrives, Barry is addressing the crowd of (mostly) women which fills her living room and spills into several others. She is reciting what would turn out to be one of the main talking points of the evening: All five at-large seats on the Metro Council will be up for grabs in 2015, and the group wants to see women running for them.
Following Barry is the PAC’s treasurer, Bonnie Dow, who recalls how the group started in the fall of 2012. The idea was born, she says, after a group of politically-minded women repeatedly found themselves thinking — and here, many in the crowd join in — “WTF?” Realizing that they often spent $25 a piece on drinks to fuel political discussions at some local establishment, the group decided to start having happy hours at home, and asking for $25 a head to put toward the cause of promoting progressive women in politics.
Their goal is to be able to make the maximum contribution, of $7,400, to as many as 10 candidates in upcoming elections.
“We thought, good grief, we could buy the bottle for $10 and do it in our house and invite 20 friends, and put some real money behind candidates and women’s issues,” Carolyn Schott, a Nashville attorney and co-chair of WTF, tells Pith later.
Scanning the crowd from the kitchen, it seems the idea worked. Among the 150-plus women, most corners of Nashville politics are represented.
From the Metro school board, one body where women are the majority, Elissa Kim and Anna Shepherd are in attendance — the latter of whom is up for reelection next year. Metro Council members Sandra Moore, Burkley Allen and Karen Bennett (a conservative mingling among the largely Democratic crowd) are here as is Davidson County General Sessions judge Rachel Bell. (Pith pulls Barry aside to ask about other guests. Among them, she says, Stephanie Silverman, executive director of The Belcourt, and Karen Hayes, co-owner of Parnassus Books, were here too.)
Among a group outside on the deck is Davidson County Clerk Brenda Wynn, a former aide to Congressman Jim Cooper who became the first African-American woman in the county’s history to win election to a constitutional office last year.
“I’m so excited that women in Nashville are ready to engage at this level,” she says. “When women run, women win.”
And there’s Lisa Quigley, Cooper’s chief of staff and a former candidate herself. She says it’s important to have women running for office at all levels, and like Barry, she focuses on those at-large seats.
“Right now there’s one [woman] at-large member on the Metro Council and I think there should be five [women] at-large members on Metro Council,” she says.
The timing for such a push works out quite nicely, Pith suggests, with Barry stepping up as the first woman to run for mayor in Nashville in more than 20 years.
“I think people came here today with a dual mission,” Quigley says. “To make sure that Megan is supported in her efforts running for mayor, but also that we not be satisfied that that’s the only race where we’re going to play. I think that, again, having a goal of getting at-large members on the council that are women — multiple, there doesn’t have to be one token woman that is at-large — is something that is the next stage of this.”
Later on, the PAC’s co-chair, Schott, agrees.
“We need parity,” she says, as a smile appears, “or maybe takeover.”
Only two men — plus your humble correspondent — swing through all night. The first is John McManus, a legislative liaison and public information officer for the state’s Department of Human resources. He says he’s here to support women’s “equal say in politics.” Later, state Senate candidate Jeff Yarbro makes an appearance “because this is a group of the most talented leaders in the city.” (While Yarbro’s opponent, Councilman Jason Holleman, was not in attendance, we’re told Holleman’s wife came by. Alas, we missed her.)
Politicians are required to work the room anyway, and the duty is doubled when you’re the host. Barry buzzes around her home chatting up the guests, and as she talks to a Scene reporter she introduces everyone who walks by with a quick bio. Like the PAC’s leaders, she insists her candidacy is not the group’s sole focus.
“This is about getting women to run for office,” she says.
“I think it shows that women really want to be part of the political conversation. And the fact that we had 160 people show up, and at least another 100 wanted to come tonight but it wasn’t a convenient night, tells you that women in Nashville want to be engaged in politics in a meaningful way.”
When Pith follows up later on, Barry passes on the night’s results. The fundraiser brought in $5,700, with more still coming in from those who couldn’t attend.
“Pretty good for a 25 dollar ask!” she says.
(Full Disclosure: Megan Barry's husband, Bruce Barry, is a longtime Scene contributor and posts on his blog, BruceBarry.net, appear occasionally on Pith in the Wind.)