I’ve shied away from writing about politics in this space; after all, a friend of mine is currently chairman of the Shelby County Commission and my doctor is on the Memphis School Board. However, I was thrilled to hear the news that the mayor of Memphis had filed papers setting up a run for Congress against Steve Cohen. Seriously, I’m thrilled.
The one constant about politics in this town is that someone is going to ratchet up the ridiculousness quotient in nearly every election. Back in the day it was Mongo. Or Joe Cooper. Even Jerry “The King” Lawler. We can’t forget the secondary members of the Ford family.
Like him or not, Hizzoner has a claim to history through his accomplishments. The first person of color to run the city schools. The first person of color to be elected mayor of the city. He can point to legitimate accomplishments in both jobs. And the mere fact that he’s been elected to the mayor’s office 5 times suggests a strong hold on many of the city’s voters (well, at least 42% of them in the last election).
I didn’t live here when Dr. Herenton was initially passed over for the superintendent of schools job, but I did research on it when he ran for mayor. The man had a tremendous amount of support that helped put him in the top school job. I was reporting on the African American convention in Memphis when Herenton was able to call on that support to make him the consensus candidate for mayor in 1991. And I understand that the change in who was in the majority among voters helped put him in the mayor’s office.
A former confidant of the mayor has spoken quite highly of him to me on a number of occasions. Long service doesn’t automatically equate to personal loyalty. It takes a lot to engender loyalty among sensible people. And it’s impressive when that loyalty remains years after the service that inspired it.
Now, having said all that, I have to also point out that to a lot of people, the mayor comes off as an arrogant braggart who has hurt the city as much as helped it. I think it’s also reasonable to say that he’s done as much to hurt the school system as help it. There are enough lists of the questionable acts he’s been involved in, so I won’t go down that road; I’d be typing all night.
The last time I saw an arrogant black man continually play the race card to deflect criticism of his performance as mayor, I was living in Atlanta. Bill Campbell had as much to initially recommend him as Herenton does. After some civil rights pioneering of his own as a child, he followed Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson into the mayor’s office.
Rumors of Bill’s bad boy behavior drawing attention from the Feds flew through town for years. They chased leads for 5 years before indicting him for racketeering, bribery and wire fraud for funny business while he was mayor. He did manage to avoid conviction on those charges… But the G-men got him on tax evasion. He finished his time in prison and a halfway house last fall.
I don’t know whether the rumored federal probe of Herenton and his activities will find anything. He may be quite innocent of any malfeasance in office. Arrogance and poor judgement? Guilty. Anyway, as I’ve said online before, I have trouble imaging that Mayor Herenton, who seems quite comfortable being the big fish who rarely seems to give in to others, would be willing or able to become one of 435. Especially when a junior congressman has nearly no power to speak of.
The first Congressman Ford was a force of nature, who also ended up with a couple of decades of seniority (although he spent a lot of time unable to take advantage of it because of his own trouble with the Feds). While I always thought the younger Congressman Ford was quite personable, it always seemed to me that he was in Congress by dint of his name; he still comes across as a guy who’d rather be on TV talking about issues, than be in Congress dealing with them. The current representative, Steve Cohen, is, to my mind, one of the hardest-working politicians the Mid-South has going for it.
He was a hard-working State Senator. Think of how many millions of dollars the lottery has raised for education. Now remember how hard Cohen worked to get the lottery legalized in Tennessee. Unlike many black politicians who play the race card to get in office, and seem to only care about themselves once in power, it seems that this white politician has gone out of his way to cater to the needs of his black constituency.
I look forward to the mayor ducking questions on questionable appointments to high-ranking positions, poor administration of important public services, lack of foresight in bringing high-quality employment to the area and personal conflicts of interest. I also look forward to him promoting himself as more qualified for Congress than someone who’s already doing the job, only because he happens to be a little darker.
Black is beautiful Mr. Mayor. It’s not a job qualification. But don’t let that stop you from making a mockery of the race for the 9th District House seat. There’s a bunch of reruns on TV and we need the entertainment.