This is Part Two of a three-part series. Part One is available here.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper is feuding in court with Nashville’s bar and restaurant owners on Lower Broadway.
And for that reason, Cooper wouldn’t hesitate to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to incapacitate those businesses.
This, according to an attorney who represents, among others, Nashville businessman Steve Smith, who owns Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse.
As The Tennessee Star reported in Part One of our three-part series, that attorney, Kirk Clements, alleged Cooper and his senior advisor, Ben Eagles, misled the public. The two men never intended to reveal the actual number — a low one — of confirmed COVID-19 cases that Davidson County officials traced back to bars on Nashville’s Lower Broadway, Clements said.
As reported, Cooper ordered those bars and restaurants closed on July 2 after he said they posed a health threat because of allegedly too many COVID-19 cases. Metro Davidson County Health Department officials just two days earlier — on June 30 — said they had traced only 19 cases of COVID-19 to bars in the city. In contrast, at the time they had traced 1,159 cases to long-term care facilities and, as reported, 251 cases to the construction industry.
Cooper spokesman Chris Song has declined The Star’s repeated requests for comment on this matter.
Clements portraying Cooper as a vengeful and unsympathetic mayor seems implausible.
After all, as we asked, why would Cooper — the mayor — deliberately damage Nashville’s economy, an act that would reflect poorly on him?
Clements said he had “a very simple answer.”
“Number One, yes, is he [Cooper] vindictive? Yes, no question. I have been suing and dealing with government officials now for about 20 years, and they are some of the most vindictive people that you will ever deal with. This is my general theory. It is because they believe that they hold the authority, and they become infuriated when people question their authority and what they are doing. Cooper is no different. He is the same exact way. I have talked to people who have talked to him and he’s arrogant. He is thin-skinned, and he is vindictive,” Clements said.
“Number Two. There are only 163 bars in Nashville and 35 or more probably are on this block and Second Avenue and the surrounding area, maybe more. So let’s say there are probably about a fourth of all bars in and about Broadway. Broadway is a real problem for the mayor because COVID numbers will always go up as they increase the testing as people get out. The COVID numbers are going to go up. There is nothing that anybody can do about it unless everybody stays at home and doesn’t go out. Well, that’s not going to happen.”
Will Witnesses Testify That Cooper is Vindictive?
The Star asked Clements who told him that Cooper is vindictive and dislikes the bars on Lower Broadway — and whether one or more of those people will testify in a federal lawsuit against Cooper? Clements did not name names. He said one of those people might testify, but he did not say definitively.
As reported in June, Smith said in this federal lawsuit that city officials impose hardships on his business because of COVID-19 — but they look the other way when it comes to social justice protests. Smith joined The Local Spot owner Geoffrey Reid in the lawsuit.
Clements went on to say late last week that Cooper “doesn’t want publicity of what is going on at Lower Broadway while COVID numbers are going up.”
“His answer is ‘I’ve got to shut down Broadway.’ And he’s all but done it. He’s actually shut down all of the bars up until recently. But even when the bars were shut down that left four places open on Broadway, four restaurants. He had 30 to 40 police officers on Broadway Friday and Saturday patrolling the streets. Over four restaurants. There are 4,000 restaurants in Nashville, but he had 30 to 40 police officers focus on Broadway, so much so that even council members were in the paper complaining that there’s more focus on Broadway,” Clements said.
“The mayor is vindictive, and he can’t afford to have Broadway bustling during this [time of] COVID. It’s a very easy decision for him. ‘OK, you want to mess with me? I’m going to do something that not only retaliates against you but also helps me politically. I am going to shut down Broadway.’ And that is what he’s done. The timing you can’t get away from.”
Clements said the mayor now tells business owners exactly how many people they can have in their establishments.
“He’s saying bars can only have 50 people in their restaurant or bar. Some of these places are 30,000 square feet. That’s like each person getting 600 square feet. It doesn’t make any sense,” Clements said.
“I think some of the public has a misunderstanding of what some of these government officials are capable of. Unfortunately, we have seen it play out to where the mayor has decimated an entire industry for political purposes.”
Cooper this month said that the White House and Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force prompted him to close bars. But Clements said he can prove that Cooper lied about that. In Part Three of our three-part series, Clements will present his evidence.
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “John Cooper” by nashville.gov. Background Photo “Nashville Downtown Lower Broadway” by Celeste Lindell. CC BY 2.0.