SMYRNA — Max Bacon, who has served as Smyrna’s mayor for 34 years, will not seek another term — that’s the bombshell news with which Bacon ended what will be his final annual State of the City address.
“Sometimes it’s just got to come to an end, and when to pick that time is tough, but I’m good — I’m good with it,” Bacon said through tears at the close of his address. “(This choice) is for myself and the folks of Smyrna. I want them to have the best, the best leadership. ... I’m OK with it.”
Qualifying for the Nov. 5 election begins Aug. 20 and ends Aug. 22.
Bacon, who suffered multiple heart attacks in 2016, assured the packed audience at the Smyrna Community Center on Thursday that his health was not failing. But, the 70-year-old said he wanted the citizens to have a mayor who could give all of their energy to the city.
“I’m not sick,” he said, joking that the thousands of dollars already collected for a reelection campaign will be returned, “maybe.” “I’m going to be fine, and the city’s going to be fine… It’s just time to go,” he said.
Bacon was elected mayor in 1985, the same year his father, Arthur Bacon, died while serving in that office. Arthur Bacon served as mayor from 1976-77 and again from 1982-85.
Max Bacon opened his final State of the City address with tales of a childhood growing up on Bank Street, which runs just past the city’s community center downtown. He said he graduated from Campbell High School in 1966 — the same year the school integrated, before going to work as a mailman — a choice that he said his father made for him, but one that eventually led to 40 years in the postal service and retirement as the city’s postmaster in 2006.
“I had no clue what I was going to do when I got out of high school. And I was at home sleeping in and my dad came into the bedroom and said, ‘Get up.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Because you have an interview at 10 o’clock at the Smyrna Post Office,” Bacon said. “The first question they asked is ‘Why do you want to work for the post office?’ and I said, ‘You’re interviewing the wrong guy. You oughta get my dad up here.’”
Though Max Bacon said he never remembers having aspirations to be mayor, his service as a councilman while his father was mayor eventually led him to the office. He said shortly after his election, the city made plans for the rebirth of its downtown. Plans centered around a new 28,000-square-foot library to replace the former 5,000-square-foot building. A new city hall, police and fire station came later.
“I’m very proud of our library,” Max Bacon said, adding that he would not consider consolidating the library into the county or regional system. “This was how it started. … And we didn’t stop there.”
But the new infrastructure was the easy part, he said. The real challenge was bringing business to the under-development area that had been dubbed a “redneck” town in a 1987 National Geographic article.
“It took us a while to get where we’re at. … For those who moved here just a few years ago, it hasn’t always been like this. It was a struggle for all of us — not just me,” he said. “It took us a while to get this, but I think that shows the character of Smyrna.”
He touted the changes and development success the city has seen, specifically pointing to projects such as the 40-acre Belmont mixed-use development including luxury apartments, shopping and restaurants, as well as Smyrna Market Village, which opened in 2002 and offers townhome living situated over retail and restaurant space.
The mayor said he knew the choice for redevelopment, which was not given to voters, wouldn’t be popular at first. But through community input meetings, he said, the projects gained citizen support over time.
In his decades of service as the city’s mayor, Max Bacon said, Smyrna has risen from “the butt of a lot of jokes” to a “very diverse community, which I’m very proud of.”
Still fighting back tears at the end of his address, the mayor closed in true Max Bacon style — offering a “discount” on the “I heart Bacon” shirts he’d ordered for his reelection campaign.
“Don’t forget about those T-shirts now — $6,” he said.