The man, Tony Tenpenny, died over the weekend after more than five weeks in the hospital fighting the virus that has sickened more than 6.8 million people in the U.S. and killed at least 200,000 others, Nashville Vice Mayor Jim Shulman said.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who wears a mask in his Twitter profile picture, said in a statement: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former councilman Tony Tenpenny. I send my condolences to his wife, Robbie, their son Ira and the rest of the Tenpenny family.”
Tenpenny, 57, was a member of the Metropolitan Council, which governs the city of Nashville and Davidson County. He represented District 16, neighborhoods south of downtown Nashville, for one term before losing his bid for re-election in 2015.
Over the past several months, Tenpenny had been very active on social media voicing his support for President Donald Trump and his opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and expressing extreme skepticism about the coronavirus.
On May 30, Tenpenny posted a statement on Facebook falsely attributed to former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., putting forward conspiracy theories that the virus is nothing more than a political trick to derail Trump’s re-election bid.
Gowdy did not make such a statement, and Facebook labeled Tenpenny’s reposting as “false information.”
Then, on June 29, Tenpenny posted a meme that equated wearing a mask to being “manipulated to live in irrational fear” and willing “to be controlled by a socialist agenda.”
And on July 7, he wrote that “the CDC and the WHO are pure lying (expletive)” and that public health officials are “not telling you the truth.”
Tenpenny made more than a dozen posts stating or sharing Covid-19 disinformation, including video from a Texas doctor who peddled dangerous theories about the virus, linking its cause to demons. Facebook flagged the July 29 posing by Tenpenny as “Partly False Information.”
Tenpenny ran again for the District 16 seat again last year and lost by 4 percentage points to council member Ginny Welsch.
“The message to me is that Covid is no joke, it knows no boundary, and no matter what you might believe, it doesn’t care,” Welsch said in a statement Monday. “Anyone can be felled by it. Not taking the precautions we know work to slow the spread is like playing Russian roulette. You are risking your life and the lives of those around you.”
Shulman, the vice mayor, said that he and Tenpenny rarely agreed on issues but that he believed Tenpenny made sincere efforts to “try to get along with as many people as possible.”
Jareen Imam contributed.