Mayor Is On Tv; Nashville Blushes

Posted: October 16, 1990

NASHVILLE — Her elbows resting on the appointment book at Flanary's beauty shop, hairdresser Martene Harper watched with despair yesterday as the mayor of Nashville smugly defended himself on national television.

Mayor Bill Boner, 45, was talking about his sex life - which television host Phil Donahue pointed out had already earned the mayor a new nickname.

Seven-hour Boner.

This was the mayor whose fiancee boasted to a local reporter that their passion endures seven hours - the mayor of a Bible Belt city who became engaged to nightclub singer Traci Peel, 34, while he was still married to wife No. 3.

"No kidding," Donahue told viewers in an estimated 6.2 million households across the country, "this is the mayor of Nashville, has been since 1987, (and) was once a congressman."

Boner's exploits have become the real-life soap opera that Nashville can't stop watching. People recite his misdeeds with fervor, without lapse.

Convinced the answer is Boner's resignation, a widely known Nashville car dealer has even offered to chair a committee to raise the money to pay Boner's salary for his last year in office if he will quit. The mayor already has said he will not seek re-election.

Yesterday's 9 a.m. broadcast of the Phil Donahue Show advanced the controversy to a televised national spectacle.

In Nashville, it played all over town. Cabdrivers and salesmen and lawyers stopped working to watch; people carted televisions to their offices; hundreds taped it with VCRs. Talk radio shows in the city buzzed all day with opinions. One talk-show host concluded, "The mayor's hormones have staged a coup d'etat on his brain."

But what captured the city's interest also drove its outrage.

At Flanary's beauty shop, as the Donahue program flashed across a small black-and-white screen, the 35-year-old Harper winced, then covered her face with her hands.

"It's horrible. He's an embarrassment," Harper said. Also watching the program in the beauty shop - a comfortable place with red shag carpet, a white-enamel chandelier and American flags adorning its large front window - Lori Foster was shaking her permed blond hair in disgust.

"Oh God," Foster said, "they're going to sing."

Sure enough, Boner and Peel were on the stage - Boner with a harmonica between his lips, Peel belting out a version of "Rocky Top."

This did not endear the couple to the three hairdressers and one manicurist at Flanary's.

"She needs a new song," Harper jabbed. "I never heard her sing nothing else."

"I'm wondering if she's just using him for her career," added Foster, 28.

Earlier, Boner had said he expected to be vindicated during his hourlong television appearance with Peel. He insisted he was separated when he started seeing Peel. Over and over, he blamed the media for his problems.

But Donahue was as relentless in recalling the mayor's scandals as were the residents of Nashville - Boner's liaison with a woman bodyguard while married to another wife, his hiring for city jobs the children of people connected to the music industry who might be able to promote his new wife's singing career, a trip to Florida to hear Peel sing during a key budget meeting.

For her part, Peel blamed reporters for sensationalizing the comment about the mayor's seven-hour stamina. But later in the program she said the mayor doesn't want me to rebut the quote "because he's quite proud of it."

For his part, Donahue said, he thought Boner was " . . . very close to giving the finger to your city."

Scores of people in Nashville came away with the same impression Donahue had - made particularly troubling, they said, because Nashville already is burdened by pressing problems it needs to face seriously.

"It embarrasses everybody in Nashville," said Stan Landau, 36, co-owner of Sam's Clothing & Shoes, where the television was going during the Donahue show. "You may as well go downtown to lower Broadway and put in a hooker as mayor."

"If he had something to say," reasoned Lorene Martin, a Nashville cabdriver, "then why didn't he say it in Nashville. He didn't have to go to New York to say it."

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