Monday, June 30, 2008

Our Mayor Moves Even More To The Margins

We’ve received several emails asking our opinion of Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton’s latest magniloquence.

Well, we might as well admit it: We didn’t read about it, we didn’t watch any television reports about it and we didn’t watch any videos of it.

At the time, it just seemed to be the wisest use of our time. At its best, it seemed that his hour-long meditation on justice, fairness, conspiracies and corporations as plantations was nothing but a distraction from issues that really matter.

At its worst, it was symptomatic of a political death spiral that was once somewhat diverting when its primary impact was on the mayor’s own political future, but now has lost any residual entertainment value since it’s fueling a tail spin that threatens the future of our city itself.

No Gawking Allowed

So, we just didn’t have it in us to watch his latest performance. It was just too much like the political equivalent of rubber-necking at the latest pile-up on the interstate. However, after the emails, we did in fact bone up on the latest drama, and at least this time, it seemed to be a one-car collision.

As is the case frequently these days, even when we agreed with him, we questioned why he felt the compulsion to make the comments in a tone and language that devalue his long-held self-image as CEO for the City of Memphis. In that role, over the years, he has chided and derided Memphis City Council for its inattention to the things that mattered and for the emotional conflict that often accompanied its deliberations.

These days, we’re in the midst of role reversal. Any hint of the mayor as CEO – hovering above the day-to-day trivialities and tempests in a teapot – is long gone. So is any suggestion that he understands the importance of the mayor as statesman in the progress of a city.

Now, it is City Council that normally advances the “big idea” – tax equalization, neighborhood revitalization, and removal of double taxation for services that non-Memphians pay once to receive - and it is Mayor Herenton who is left to react. More often than not, however, the mayor uses his bully pulpit to chase conspiracies, real and imagined, and to attack his critics, real and imagined.


Each time, he resorts to one of these displays, he does in fact erode his own power. That’s because the perception of power is always more compelling than the reality of power. When you exercise the weight of your office against someone, whether Memphis businessman Nick Clark or local lawyer Richard Field, and they remain standing, it only serves to deliver the message that your fury isn’t as withering as it was perceived to be.

In his latest volleys, however, the mayor took aim at a target that he’s powerless to touch – the FBI. If he was trying to send a message that he did not quake in the wake of the federal investigation into his business dealings, he did about as poorly as possible. In the end, he appeared to be defensive and rationalizing and worried, giving current meaning to a modernized form of the Shakespearian dialogue from Hamlet: methinks the man protests too much.

The Hamlet analogy may be even more apropos, but we leave any literary analysis comparing the erratic behavior of the tragically flawed Danish prince and the ghostly apparitions that tormented him with the current Memphis mayor to others.

Here’s the thing: there may actually be nuggets of truth in the midst of the mayor’s rambling, but we can’t hear the meaning for the seeming muddle of it all and the strikingly pricklish and desultory performance. To his point, on any given day, about a half dozen African-American mayors are being investigated, and on that same day, it’s pretty hard to think of one Caucasian mayor who’s in the same position.

Shooting Himself In The Foot

We’ve written about this frequently, so we won’t belabor it again here, but from Mayor Herenton’s perspective – which is shared by a considerable percentage of his political base – it is no coincidence that African-American mayors regularly find themselves in the investigative crosshairs.

But instead of calmly and methodically making his case, which would have been more in keeping with his academic background, he instead reduced his concerns to raw emotion and even rawer rhetoric. It’s almost as if these days he’s on a journey of self-destruction that he is powerless to stop.

The third person references to himself have almost become a parody – an affectation whose idiosyncrasy now symbolizes an eccentricity that has taken hold and shows no signs of relenting.

Question Answered

During last year’s mayoral campaign, we wrote:

“The reelection of Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton moves with an inevitability these days that belies the need that exists for a serious discussion about the future of our city. If nothing shakes up the campaign for mayor, he will take the oath of office in January for the fifth time as chief elected leader for a city whose dominant characteristic is the chasm that splits it down the middle – with one side considering him the embodiment of all that is wrong with Memphis and with the other treating him as a heroic figure fighting for them.

“As a result, the question asked frequently these days is whether his divisive rhetoric is the stuff of campaign strategy or whether it is a persona that will carry over into his fourth term. It appears more and more to be the latter.”

These days, it’s pretty clear that his behavior is not the product of some elaborate political theater, but it is in fact the persona that will test the peace in Memphis for three more years of this term.


If his hour-long, rambling critique of all things Herenton-critical wasn’t enough to raise eyebrows, the mayor followed up by suggesting to Memphis Daily News’ Andy Meek that his resignation letter was merely an early April Fool’s joke and the idea that he was trying to get the school superintendent’s job are just foolish. He was merely trying to stimulate a much-needed debate about Memphis City Schools.

Of course, there are much easier ways to spark a discussion on the future of public education in Memphis, but we guess in the alternate reality that grips City Hall, this substitutes for logic.

Despite his energetic efforts at revisionist history, no one in his circle of insiders ever doubted that he was dead serious about resigning and taking the superintendent’s job. In fact, they were so sure of it that they spoke on the record with the news media about it, and some of the most politically active ones were already casting their net across Civic Center Plaza to the presumptive front runner for the next city mayor’s election, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton.

It’s hard to know what to make out of these periodic forays into political mayhem, but the most cogent reaction to Mayor Herenton's performance came from friends who saw the Sixties through a persistent hallucinogenic haze. Paraphrasing that famous line from When Harry Met Sally, they merely said: “I’ll have whatever he’s having.”


Anonymous said...

I believe Herenton is bipolar. He'll get all fired up about a subject, sort of focus on it for a few weeks, blindside everyone including his staff with some public announcement, and then just as quickly loose focus. How many subjects has he brought up and then had just fade away.

Herenton will huff and puff, but he obviously isn't blowing any houses down (see code enforcement ;)

Three more years, oy vey!

Zippy the giver said...

What makes it funny is the truth contained within, dead on accurate.
He does seem to try to get people to "think" he is doing something without "actually" doing anything, unless he's making the city worse, except for beefing up the police which was desperately needed due to his own fault.
Banking on the "black card" was not a good bet in the long term, this from a man who's only one generation deep American and colored (me), I found it insulting and was surprised no one else did. People sem insulted now.
I guess letting crime and drugs take over, ruining public schools, leaving a very bad personal example of what a "successful black man should be like", letting chrony's keep the word quiet on corruption, and having people of color beieve he was helping them by doing all this somehow, couldn't pan out in the long run. They didn't really prosper once arrested. Eventually, all the people of color who were initially victimized by the blight and financial losses it all caused and the "local corrupt officials of color" ( the smaller
"uncle Toms"), and later the supported criminals and drug dealers themselves would all be cannabalized by the biggest sell out of them all. Long way around to create reason in the minds of the people.

Zippy the giver said...

Oh, I meant to add, that anyone doubting that Memphis TN has made no progress in the legal side of racism, that a mayor of any color who used racially divicive rhetoric to fuel votes to his campaign could be removed from office or made irrelevent with a piece of paper is testamony that progres has been made.
It won't be tolerated here from EITHER side of that equation.
That is encouraging for those who are engaged in working to bring true equal opportunity here and working to make it better for all Memphians.
Tied together on one single strand of destiny.
We have left some behind and we must do what must be done to bring them up too. Not a handout, but to bring them the distinctions "without integrity nothing works" and "living a life they love", but, first they must know the difference.
I can not be all I can be until you are all you can be. You cannot be all you can be until I am all I can be.

Anonymous said...

so fake your drug test and join the Army, zipperhead.

Zippy the giver said...

Anonymous, you could have made a point,a persuasive argument, but a juvenile remark is what you left.

Anonymous said...

I recently returned to Memphis after 12 years. To find a few things missing like Libertyland which closed in 2005, The Mall of Memphis, an empty Pyramid, (NAS) Memphis. Was all of this just Herenton ADD to just let such things slip away.

Anonymous said...

DSM Criteria for Narcissistic Personality disorder:

DSM Criteria

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance
2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique
4. requires excessive admiration
5. has a sense of entitlement
6. is interpersonally exploitative
7. lacks empathy
8. is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Zippy the giver said...

You'de think he could have found a way to communicate the idea of consolidation without alienation of the entire board, there are a couple of good players there. I guess it's never too lte, but, the double taxation is a bit too much and he needs to get on with a workable plan now or step out and get somebody in who can do that. Manipulation to accomplish the big picture is bad politics and condescending to the other side of the equation. It mechanically creates hostility.