Monday, August 03, 2009

Herenton Era Ends But Harmony Yet To Emerge

By the time the final hours of the record-setting terms of Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton ticked to an end last week, there was no one left to beg him to stay.

For perhaps the only time in recent years, former Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton produced consensus. Simply put, everyone agreed it was time for him to go.

There was no friend or foe, advocate or adversary, who didn’t seem ready for his dominating – some say, domineering – influence over our city to end, despite the obligatory – if not ironic – tributes delivered at the City Hall reception marking his farewell.

In its way, the end came not with a bang but a whimper, despite frequent attempts by the City Council majority and media reporters to goad him into one last blast. In the end, the best we could get was his labeling of some critics as racists and perverts, and it produced more laughs than gasps.

But for those who cared about him most, he needed to leave for his own good and his own health. The one-dimensional image of him that was so frequently conveyed by the media was more and more becoming the reality – under siege, suspicious, volatile and stressed-out.

Sizing It Up Early

But if there was Herenton fatigue – the civic version of post-traumatic stress syndrome – it was matched by exhaustion from the media’s relentless attempts to translate everything into personalities and conflict. As a result, for many of us, July 31 was to be the dawning of a new day as Mayor Pro Tempore Myron Lowery took the oath of office for his 90-day stint in the mayor’s City Hall penthouse.

Mr. Lowery has already put his name into the election lottery for October 27 and he’s looking to use his three months as his opportunity to prove that he can end the bickering, controversy and conflict that have come to be synonymous with City Hall decision-making.

Memphis Mayor Pro Tempore Lowery and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton are favorites to be elected to kick off the new era in city government that will begin after the 90 days, but there are about a dozen others placing their own bets on a race. Many of them apparently are basing their hopes on garnering 15% of the vote and counting on the array of candidates to slice up the total vote in a way that gives them a chance.

Polls in the past two weeks reportedly show Mayor Wharton with a healthy lead regardless of the cast of characters in the race, but Mayor Pro Tempore Lowery is hoping to change all that by proving that he also can put together a coalition of black and white voters impressed by his steady, results-oriented leadership in the mayor’s office (although Mayor Wharton will be doing the same in his current office).

It Feels Familiar

If the public is hungry for anything right now, they are calmness and harmony in city government after years of controversy and racial division. That’s why the spectacle of City Attorney Elbert Jefferson being escorted out of City Hall like a thief was so disconcerting.

Voters are anxious for signs that a new day has dawned. They want a reason to be hopeful again. The Jefferson controversy and the tepid justifications by some Council members seem to tell voters that nothing has changed. That’s not fair to the new interim mayor, but it has nevertheless disrupted what should have been his honeymoon period.

Chief among the proof that this is a new day and that there is new leadership unwilling to put his or her own political advantage ahead of the city’s best interests would be the end of the impulse to see everything through the lens of race.

That too is likely to be undercut when the Memphis City Council votes tomorrow on Mayor Pro Tempore Lowery’s request to dismiss Mr. Jefferson. It’s difficult to see how this won’t be yet another racially charged vote with the white Councilmen supporting the interim mayor and the African-American Council members siding with Mr. Jefferson. Not only does Mayor Pro Tempore Lowery not want a racially divided vote, but his alliance with the white Councilmen isn’t going to help him much on the campaign trail.

City Of Choice

It’s a shaky way to usher in the new day that Memphians have anticipated for so long.

That said, the campaign for Memphis mayor promises to be a street fight, so things are likely to get much worse before they get better. But you can say this for the two men presently occupying the city and county mayors’ offices – they have begun the campaign with a pledge of civility and honest, reasoned discussion that we can only hope the other candidates will endorse.

Little more than two weeks ago, both Mayors Wharton and Lowery – along with Robert Lipscomb, director of Memphis Housing and Community Development and executive director of Memphis Housing Authority - attended a meeting at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where their efforts to strategically invest the stimulus money here won praise.

In particular, Brookings Institution said they were impressed by the unique context being used in Memphis to develop a plan launched by Mr. Lipscomb: “Memphis: City of Choice.”

Hopeful Signs

In particular, Brookings Institution was interested in the way that the “City of Choice” process was all about identifying “game changers” for Memphis and about tying stimulus money to achievement of a broad vision rather than single shot projects.

We mention this because the chance to herald the Washington exposure should have been tempting for potential candidates, but both Mayor Lowery and Mayor Wharton told the Brookings gathering that they will do nothing to politicize the “city of choice” work, because it’s too important for Memphis’ future.

That alone is enough to be hopeful about this campaign. There will undoubtedly be some bomb throwers – although they are far outnumbered in this race – but in this post-Herenton era, voters aren’t likely to reward such tactics.

We suffer from rhetorical overload. Week after week, Mayor Herenton’s verbal blasts forced all of us to take sides, most regularly along the racial themes and fault lines in this city. In the end, that was the problem. There are many reasons that we need to be addressing race in Memphis – economic segregation, income divide, college attainment rate differences, minority business development and the failure to capitalize on our niche as a hub of African-American talent.

The Wrong Conversation

But we rarely got to talk about the really important, tough issues that deserved all of our attention, because that serious discussion was derailed by the wasted energy and focus that were put into the faux racial controversy du jour. The devastating results are dramatically reflected in the deepening of the conditions that typify too many African-American lives in Memphis, despite a mayor who continually suggested that he was fighting for the forgotten Memphians of South Memphis and North Memphis.

There was so much that Mayor Herenton could have done. Despite the general disapproval of what the former mayor called the “downtown crowd,” he continues to have an unshakable core of support. It is on that core that he is counting in his race for U.S. Congress.

Urged by political consultants to put a year between the Congressional election and his time as mayor, he decided to step down this year. As the Congressional campaign heats up, Mayor Herenton will inevitably rely heavily on the racial angle.

In that race, his entry could be taken as a warning shot for incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen to influence the selection of a sympathetic prosecutor to wrap up the endless investigation into the former Memphis mayor. Even if indicted, he will make the accusation on the campaign trail that his investigation was motivated by his refusal to cave to white power brokers and if he is finally indicted, he will charge that the indictment was returned because he opposed a white Congressman.

Turn Down The Volume

Hopefully, by then, the city mayor’s race will have had the effect of turning down the volume on the racial invective so that the reemergence of the Herenton rhetoric will seem more of an aberration. Yes, we know, hope springs eternal.

It would surprise many Memphians that Mayor Herenton is one of the smartest, most polite and gracious elected officials in private, and while there was a clear sense of this in his first two terms, it rarely emerged in the past eight years as his political survival summoned up racial blasts and shoot-from-the-hip attacks.

If life is about anything, it is about timing, but that goes double for political life. If Mayor Herenton had left the mayor’s office after his first eight years, he would have gone down in history as one of the city’s great mayors – the one who transitioned the city from a white to a black political power structure, who returned financial health to city government and who protected his city’s future by fighting and winning the tiny towns battle.

But he didn’t leave at that point, and the downhill descent that began about 18 months later never eased up, bringing with it not only different political climate but a different mayor.


Anonymous said...

The only candidate I see that can create the era of harmony, that can bring diverse groups to work together is A C Wharton. People say he is a nice guy who hasn't done much as County Mayor. I think part of that impression is in contrast to Herenton who brought us constant drama.

Memphians aren't quite sure how to take quiet, steady progress. A C took over the weak mayor's job after 12 years of Jim Rout who gave the county to the Developers, borrowed money to pay for the infrastructure for them, and was a disaster. A C has spent a lot of his time cleaning up Rout's mess and has done so admirably.

Anonymous said...

I thought AC also gave the county to developers with the development of Arlington high school and Southwind High School which soon will be handed over for the city to manage. Those schools locations were picked by developers who also designed the unsustainable neighborhoods.

Shelby County is in worse financial shape than the eight years before. AC might be quiet but job growth and education in Shelby County is non-existent therefore his tenure as Mayor should be deemed unseccessful.

Zippy the giver said...

All the voters I've spoken to want reform waaaaay more than calmness, in fact, i haven't heard one ever say they wanted calmness, so, this spin is nothing more than an invented reality to them.
Anyone banking on calmness (gee I don't wonder who the shill is for) is in for a RUDE AWAKENING.
Calmness is not substance, it' BS.

It's not about race and it never has been. You're doing as much shilling for racism as anything else. It's crap. Lowery is no racist, he's done ACTUAL battle against it and won. The ONLY reason anyone other than Lowery and Wharton are in the race is that they want to divide the vote to small bits, racially charge the atmosphere as you are attempting to do now , and then Wharton wins with a minority vote, less than 50% of the voting people
It's straight up Herenton II.
Eldrick's resignation ruse under Herenton was only so Wharton could keep him on. What a joke of a ploy.
It won't be a street-fight, it will be one adult and one adult acting like a little kid with a lot of people shilling for him doing the same.
THEY are the racists. the reason you keep electing them is because you don't recognize one when you see one so you get hoodwinked by them. OVER AND OVER AND OVER. It's disgusting.
Race does need to be addressed, but not by the vapid media, it needs to be addressed on the field of play, where it is exercised most and needs to be exorcized.
If ANY ONE of the candidates or city council members begins actively engaging in racist talk, racist moves or racist votes, I will look very hard into bringing them to federal court on charges of racism and possibly a class action suit against them for destroying the city.
Memphis' losses are in the billions before the economy tanked and can definitely be quantified!

Smart City Consulting said...


There is no conflict between substance and calm, as many cities prove every day. We have to move past the conflict, and as mayors across the U.S. have proven, you can have reform and still avoid the conflict. That's the first agenda item for anyone interested in running for office, and according to polls, it's what the public wants.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 11:52:

We've made some direct comments about the bed shared by county government and developers, but as for the budget of county government, we received a report the other day that showed that bond payments went down for the first time in 15 years and will continue to go down.

Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, your opening statements about everyone agreeing that it was time for Herenton to go are simply not true.

Whether the mainstream media and local political pundits like it or not, Herenton still has a relatively large base of avid supporters. (Many of whom were definitely not ready for him to step down as mayor.)

Only time will tell if Herenton's base of avid supporters is large enough to help him unseat Steve Cohen. But I definitely wouldn't bet against that happening. And because a very sizeable chunk of the Memphis electorate is still prone to support combative, race-baiting politicians like Herenton, it's difficult for me to feel optimistic about the city's prospects, at least in the short term.

Tom Guleff said...

I almost fell out of my chair when I heard Memphis: The City of Choice coming from city government. You've got to be kidding me. Is there any sense of reality ?

BTW - What's wrong with the City of Good Abode?

I would like to see the metrics (crime, income, education level, etc) of the city for the last 50 years.

Smart City Consulting said...


City of Good Abode sounds like something from Victorian England. :)

City of Choice is about a different way of evaluating projects and investments for the future. It sounds like it's the direct result from the sense of urgency that comes from looking at the trend lines.

If Memphis is to succeed, it has to be a city of choice (in our opinion) for middle class families, for young families, for talent, etc. The metrics for the city increasingly got worse as it became less and less a city where people with choices chose to live.

Zippy the giver said...
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Zippy the giver said...

In a NORMAL city,
you could have calm and reform because in a NORMAL city, corruption is not as thick, entrenched, and as we can see now, recalcitrant.

In Memphis, you can not have that yet. Like weaklings you demonstrate that you are unwilling to fight for your future, instead you fight to lose it because it's easier to be in denial than to confront your own weakness.

"According to polls"?
WHAT polls?
Exactly what polls are you talking about? You don't see any scientific polls because Memphis leadership doesn't want anyone to see the ultimate reality of "what the consensus actually wants" just like the election commission.
People WISH they could have calm, but they want reform more than calm and your horse is not going to reform Memphis. You can bet money on that, he's already too familiar with people like Michael Hooks. Seen any, ANY stats on the three R's program yet?
Stop all this whitewashing and get into investigative mode.
Aiming at second banana in the "interest of the nameless polls that no one took for the BOOBY PRIZE of calmness" is a great way to excuse failure later, not much else.
There is a darn good reason to get rid of people entrenched in office by WWH.

What was that resignation he tendered to WWH, a joke?

Why aren't you mentioning that?

Why is he suddenly trying to hang on like a tick?
Why is this suddenly so important for him and not surprisingly but very conspicuously also Barbara Ware to keep this clown in office instead of someone who will work with the one guy who WILL reform Memphis government and make a better start for whoever becomes mayor next?
If they "like" him he can stay, because this is a "friendliness competition". How should he display friendliness in Memphis political office? By taking money, cronyism, letting developers run over city plans, ignoring consultants, using old data, hiding, ignoring and fudging stats, etc. Wait, I know, lets have the "fake election" commission move up the election without consulting anyone and try to keep him from reforming them so there can NEVER BE AN ACTUAL ELECTION HERE. Dead people and all.
Funny the could pull that off but can't seem to get the names of dead people off the eligible voter rolls!


I guess it's because they are all desperate to keep the corruption under their wraps and the money flowing till WWH gets his seat bought.
This stinks badly.
Herenton cronyism out-Wharton cronyism in does not equal peace, calmness, or reform.
Put your money down.

Zippy the giver said...

You been gettin what "you like" or "what you can be with" for a long time and your city has gone down the toilet for it,
yet, you're ready to vote for more of the same.

Maybe you need someone in office you "don't like" and "can't be with" who will kick ass in action everyday.
Maybe this shouldn't ever be a "likability" contest.

Anonymous said...

"You been gettin what "you like" or "what you can be with" for a long time and your city has gone down the toilet for it . . "

I don't know about you Zippy but I've been getting who I don't like and what I don't want to be with for a long time now.

18 years of an inflexible egotist who gives us the race card and constant drama.

Before that, a moralistic egotist (Hackett) who had the image of a competent administrator but managed to lose Holiday Inn and almost lost St. Jude.

Before that, a drunk and whoremonging racist who was a joke (Chandler).

Before that an inflexible egotist who gives us the race card and constant drama. What? Was Willie in office in the 60's? No, I'm talking about the latter day WWH, Henry Loeb.

So as far as I'm concerned, I am ready for someone who gets along with people and can get things done without constant drama and controversy.

Zippy the giver said...

Exactly and if we can't get Lowery through to reform the election commission and rewrite the rules to tighten up the loopholes technology can, we got no shot at a REAL election.
You'll have to sit through at least one term of reform or lose everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, including your house.
It's sad, I know, but, that's what we let happen.

Anonymous said...

Oh please - City of Choice! Coming from Robert Lipscomb's mouth we might as well label it another "drive for show, putt for dough"
My sides are still hurting from laughing. He must have really duped the Brookings Institute. Let's see what he delivers.

A C Wharton is so solidly in the pockets of the monied folks that it is a joke. He definitely puts up a good front and talks the talk.

You are correct about WWH and his tenure as Mayor, in all your points. The school board was remiss in not bringing him back. He still wants that more than anything. If it was offered, he would get out of the Congressional race today.

Zippy the giver said...

And it would be a mistake too. We'd lose the future altogether.
"Re-connect with the kids"?
When did he ever connect in the first place?
This is nuts to even consider, he's been driven mad and needs to retire.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 7:25:

If we don't become a City of Choice, we are in serious trouble. We've been writing about this for five years, so we're thrilled that it's finally got a champion, especially since it includes the leaders of both city and county. Hope you actually took the time to read the Brookings paper. They said that it represents one of the most innovative approaches for cities in the U.S., and God knows, we need some innovation.

Zippy the giver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zippy the giver said...

Even a simple business plan has a break even analysis.

Zippy the giver said...

OK, I read it and the accompanying docs.
My question:
#1. Do the re-entering inmates that they are asking for help employing get a Psychological evaluation before entering and after the program graduation?
#2. Why are they only shooting at a 30% reduction number? That isn't very good when programs exist that have rates reduced 80%
#3. I don't see the neighborhood stabilization program working, but, maybe that's just a lack of data.
#4. Weatherization will be a marginal victory. Better you should attack power generation by alternative means, manufacture and deployment of systems. Why? Because it creates a new industry here that doesn't exist.
#5. Where is the Sharp or Kyocera solar cell manufacturing and deployment? Why are there none on city bldgs?
#6. Minority owned business will be great, make sure to provide quality training and coaching access ongoingly.
#7. The accountability list includes no data or benchmarks that would constitute a goal, a benchmark for failure, a benchmark for success, the ever moving blurry line of Memphis accountability needs to get the hell out or failure is what you'll get no matter how far you move the line to make it look like success on paper. What is posted is 4 YEARS OLD. Not good enough.
#8. Memphis Fast Forward should move "Monitor Report and Hold Accountable" to the top of the list, not the bottom.

But, what goal, stat, and all important time limit are they held accountable too?

#9. The ed program looks good but for accountability to be a reality there must be quantifyable goals, backed in stats and they must be known and public or you don't get trust or integrity.
#10. Operation Safe Community must have a Diagnosis component. MANY criminals are victims of masked mental health issues needing treatment. Diagnose, Treat, then Retrain.
#11. Efficiency has no provision for ancillary power generation for their electric requirements.

#12. You need to go far beyond "best practices" based in the past, to ACTUALLY be INNOVATIVE.

You have to generate some NEW best practices.

It all LOOKS like a good start but not enough accountability in regards to time limits for performance increases/goals to be attained by or exactlt how much to actually start, the actual there are no clear goals and I mean NUMBERS that constitute success or failure.
That isn't a big deal "if you put them in" and make them public.

People of Memphis have a right to know whether you are succeeding or failing.

Right now those numbers are NOT THERE.
If this is in earnest and this is real, get them.

Zippy the giver said...

GET an antibiotic, the buggar is back, yikes.

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