...and in Nashville, the Mayor Blows His Harmonica, Marriage and Job—All for the Love of a Country Singer

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Nashville, home of country music's cheatin' songs, could write a hit about the love tangle that entwines its own city leader. They could call it "I'm Married and Engaged at the Same Time," and dedicate it to Mayor Bill Boner, 45.

Not long after the first-term Mayor served divorce papers on his third wife, Betty, he leapt onstage at Spiffy's Restaurant and Bar with country crooner Traci Peel, 34, who was sporting a spanking new 2.2-carat diamond, and announced to the world that they would wed. He accompanied her on harmonica—but no one in Nashville was singing along. And when a reporter phoned her at home on July 12, Peel joked that he had caught the lovebirds at a "bad time," and she boasted of the Mayor's sexual stamina—a seven-hour, nonstop performance.

That did it. Like the strings on a country fiddle, the public could only be stretched so far. The Nashville Banner charged that Boner had "turned the Mayor's office into a joke" and urged him to resign. Citizens appeared in ribald T-shirts about the pair's relationship. Nashville Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey wrote, "We were cheered by the seven-hour thing ourselves, since many skeptics...doubted that Bill Boner ever worked at anything for as long as seven hours." And humorist Mike Price cracked, "If Nashville is a circus, why shouldn't the Mayor be a clown?"

A former state legislator, Boner was elected to Congress in 1978. Nine years later, though under investigation for bribery and making personal use of campaign funds and for his wife's $44.000-a-year job with a defense contractor, he successfully ran for Mayor. (Ultimately, no criminal charges were brought.) To attract publicity, one of his first acts was to don a wig and fake mustache to buy illegal drugs as part of a police undercover operation. While the flamboyant Boner was indulging a penchant for playing his harmonica on local radio, his relations with the city council went to the dogs.

Then came the slip over Peel. Despite the uproar, Boner has refused to step down, though he says he won't run again next year. "The only people who don't make mistakes are in the cemetery," he says. He and Peel plan to marry in a private ceremony in Hawaii when his divorce comes through. Says she defiantly: "I don't need any votes, and he doesn't need any votes anymore, either."

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