The Entertainment Committee

The Choices

The girlfriend and I stopped by the Election Commission office last Saturday to early vote. Talk about timing – I was in and out long before either Steve Cohen or Willie Herenton showed up. I’m sorry about that, because I love nothing better than seeing people in competition face each other in situations where one or the other isn’t quite prepared for it. It’s nice to know that the former mayor was willing to act a little foolish with his mother along. That had to make both of them so proud.

Nice flag

Also a nice flag

Speaking of early voting, I actually wrote in a choice for county mayor. While there are actually Fords I like personally, I don’t really know Joe Ford, plus, I have a thing about actually voting for any of them. Here’s my thing about Sheriff Luttrell. Recently, people in custody of his people have had a bad habit of suddenly not being in custody. I’m not completely convinced that either he or his number two, who is running to replace him as sheriff, should be rewarded when the system they have in place to keep heinous criminals off the street doesn’t.


Vote Now!

Okay, I know I don’t blog nearly as much as I used to. I’m not “busier,” but I have been focused on other things. Still, I was kind of disappointed when I was on the Memphis Flyer site the other day. The ballot for the annual Best of Memphis is open for voting. I always enjoy seeing what places, people and events are selected, and which ones I’ve actually agreed with. I was the tiniest bit disappointed when I got to the Best Blog category and quickly saw that this blog was not listed (shocking, I know!).

It's Good Reading!

I mean, c’mon, what’s a brother gotta do? Blog every day? Write about things that interest and entertain large number of Memphians? Geez Louise – you may as well ask for blood – I’m a busy man! Okay, here’s a tease – I’m been purposely bulking up. The team at work wants to do another weight loss challenge. I barely missed winning the last one, and my doctor’s still on me about losing weight, so I’ve got the motivation to jump in with both feet again. I’ll be keeping you apprised. Oh, and if you want to write me in on the Memphis Flyer “Best Of” ballot, it won’t hurt my feelings.

Playing Host

The Kids Are Alright

I took a day off this week because my sister’s son came down for a visit. Eddie’s a pretty sharp guy, working on his master’s at Valparaiso University in Indiana. He brought a friend along. During his year on a church mission in South Africa, he met a nice young lady from Germany named Natalie Zaiss. She’s in the U.S. to visit him (women will travel the world for us Johnson men… oh, it’s true). They got into town just in time to provide an assist to my trivia team on Monday night. I ferried them around Memphis, showing them the sights on Tuesday. Most of what I showed them was around downtown, since I live there. Pyramid, Mud Island, Main St. Trolley, Chisca Hotel, Mason Temple, National Civil Rights Museum (which I didn’t know was closed on Tuesday) and Jackie Smith.

Duck! You Suckers!

I took them into the Peabody to see the ducks in the lobby fountain, and it turned out we were there just in time to see the duckmaster bring the fellas downstairs so they could go to work. Red carpet, velvet ropes, throngs of people lined up outside the middle elevator. In 11 years of living in Memphis, that was actually a first for me. After ribs for lunch, I took them by to see local raconteur Joe Larkins and his lovely wife Bethany Smith. I’m going back to work on Wednesday, but I’ve suggested the Civil Rights Museum, the Stax Museum and Graceland. Fortunately, all air conditioned facilities.


Old Enough to Know Better

After a brief flurry of activity, my blogging once again slowed to a crawl. The muse was keeping her distance, for whatever reason. But, if you wait long enough, inspiration will present itself. Often in the form of an angry, 70-year-old man.

From the Commercial Appeal

After voters pretty much slept through the non-event that the recent county primary turned out to be, former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton storms back into the collective consciousness, spouting opinions that make a lot of people scratch their heads and wonder what’s wrong.

Hizzoner has declined to appear at a debate sponsored by WREG-TV (full disclosure: I worked at Channel 3 for 8 years). Dr. Herenton believes that the regular panelists who pose the questions at 3’s debates, Norm Brewer and Otis Sanford, are in some way biased towards him. He made the point to a reporter that this bias stretches back years. It’s possible that he’s confusing detached, non-partisan coverage and commentary with bias, but I certainly don’t want to speak for him. I don’t know Sanford, except for his commentaries at the CA, which always seem well-informed. I do know Brewer, since our time at 3 overlapped. In my view, he’s a fair man.

Which One?

Perhaps the voters in the Greater Memphis area are familiar enough with the Herenton record (a dozen years as superintendent of schools, elected to 5 terms as mayor, etc.) that they wouldn’t necessarily gain anything from hearing additional discourse during his attempt to win the 9th District Congressional seat from incumbent Steve Cohen. By the way, in case you don’t remember, this piece in the Memphis Flyer should serve to remind you that he doesn’t think much of Rep. Cohen either.

When it comes to the people asking questions during debates, I think all the local stations that have aired debates have done a good job of choosing fair panelists (my ex-wife was a panelist during a gubernatorial debate on Channel 3 several years ago, and did a fine job).

The Choices

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that either of the current questioners are in fact, biased against the candidate. If that bias were to show up in the form of the questions posed, wouldn’t it be pretty obvious? And wouldn’t that also reflect positively on the candidate who recognized that? ‘See, I told you they were biased…’ And isn’t there a chance that something like that could actually engender some sympathy (and votes) for the maligned candidate? I mean, if you keep your cool under fire and calmly present the salient details of your 30 years of public service and plans for your work in Congress, would it really matter how biased the questioners were?

The former mayor didn’t deign to debate any of the other candidates in his last campaign either. Of course, if you’ve got four terms behind you and solid electoral support, it’s really quite feasible to skip a joint TV appearance with several lesser knowns. On the other hand, if you’ve been out of office (and the public eye) for months and are running against someone who has as much success at the ballot box – and is the incumbent – you’d do yourself well to showcase the differences between yourself and your opponent as publicly as possible. Depending on the good will of your traditional support without doing anything to shore up that support (anything except personal attacks), might be short-sighted.

I did think it was interesting that Dr. Herenton made the point to a television interviewer that he did not dodge tough questions, asking the reporter himself for confirmation. Of course, some of the best Memphis TV over the last decade-and-a-half has been the former mayor walking away from news cameras (which he did again during this interview after a particularly inflammatory comment).

The Trilla’ from Wasilla!

While I’m happy that we have such interesting political figures, it worries me that many of them are capable of getting voted into office.

The Governor & the Comedian

The former governor of Alaska (and vice presidential candidate) was in Illinois for a fund-raising event this week. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Sarah Palin expressing her views. Those views obviously strike a chord with many Americans, but it seems the more distance a politician puts between him or herself and the middle, the more they’re open to mocking. Tina Fey had a pretty good career going, but she should be sending regular payments to Gov. Palin.

There was another event in the Chicagoland area, timed to coincide with the governor’s appearance. Chicago’s Admiral Theatre didn’t just hold a Sarah Palin look-alike contest – the entrants were all strippers. After all, the Admiral is a “gentleman’s club.”

From the Chicago Tribune

A Brazillian woman named Eloah Rocha won the $2,500 first prize (you know a prize is a big deal when it comes on a big cardboard check). Well, maybe she’s going to use the money for college tuition (Irony or sarcasm? I’m not sure).

I just feel lucky that I’m not good-looking enough to be the target of parody.

Okay, Now What?

Off the top, a couple of minor adjustments. For longtime readers (if reading from April counts as “longtime”), you’ll remember the original title of this blog was “On the Beach,” representing my jobless status as a recently unemployed professional and the direction of topics, which dealt with unemployment and looking for work. Once I started working again, I celebrated that fact in the name of the blog, “Doug Johnson at Work.”

I’ve been back on the job long enough that I don’t want to give the suggestion that part of me being “at work” is updating my personal blog, ’cause it’s not. Since I speak to a variety of topics, “at large” might be more descriptive (although those of you who followed my recent weight loss know that I’m not personally “large” anymore). Also, new header picture (giving Chaplin a rest, replacing him with the first moving assembly line, as well as a new profile picture). And now, on with the blog!

Two more transfers of power occurred in Memphis this week. Both were quick, simple affairs, and unlike the prophecies of doom offered by the former city mayor, nothing bad happened with either.

Man on a MissionAC Wharton resigned his post as mayor of Shelby County, waited a few minutes, walked across Main Street Mall, and took the oath of office as mayor of the City of Memphis. No muss, no fuss. Myron Lowery goes back to being a member of City Council and the Earth did not fall off its axis.

On the other side of the mall, County Commissioner Joyce Avery took became acting County Mayor, a job she will hold until her fellow commissioners select a permanent replacement to complete Mr. Wharton’s term.

Punched Out?


So, the sturm und drang of the Herenton years in City Hall are finally over. That is, until the various and sundry investigations into business deals, vacation pay and whatever else the local, state or federal investigators have cooking come to a head. For a man who styles himself as the greatest mayor in the history of our city, he’s left a fairly murky wake. And I’m completely flummoxed as to how this helps him position himself as a viable candidate for Congress. Oh well, stranger things have happened. Again, I know Dr. Herenton has a lot of strong support in this community, including people who have voted for him and people who have worked for and with him. Still, the job calls for a uniter, not a divider.

All the talk of a mandate for the new mayor is interesting. Yes, he got 60% of the vote in the special election. But only a tiny portion of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls. So, an incredibly small portion of people who could select the new mayor actually did. Is that really a mandate? Either way, the mayor has a pretty big job on his hands. I’m no longer interested in how he got to the office on the 7th floor, and you probably shouldn’t be either. Now, the question turns to how he’s going to manage the city’s problems now that he’s there.

No Controversy PlannedI know a lot of people think highly of Herman Morris, the new mayor’s choice for City Attorney. The Memphis Flyer seems to be pleased with the choice. The Commercial Appeal acts like they’re okay with it too. Of course, the Flyer’s John Branston had some concerns about Mr. Morris’ openness while head of Memphis Light, Gas & Water. He told WREG today that it’s his intention to make the City Attorney’s office one of those places that does not show up in the limelight. Good. After the heat and noise generated in the last days of Elbert Jefferson, we need the office to go about the business of the city without bringing too much negative attention to its operations. It would also be nice to cut back on some of those high legal fees the city ends up paying by using all those outside legal experts.

A New Day

Thanks for the Hard Work

Thanks for the Hard Work

First, the city of Memphis owes Myron Lowery a debt of gratitude for the yeoman service he’s turned in as interim mayor. It’s a hard permanent job, so you know he was challenged by the fact that he would have 90 days or less to accomplish anything.  Once he returns to his position on city council, he’ll continue to have an opportunity to serve the people and the city of Memphis. And he was a refreshing change from the effort the former mayor was providing. It seems that Dr. Herenton had lost some interest in the position prior to his retirement.

Mayor to Mayor

Mayor to Mayor

Now it’s AC Time! The county mayor is a bright, capable man. And one that people had been encouraging to run for public office for years. It seems that was a constant drumbeat when he was public defender. The county mayor’s office doesn’t have quite the same level of responsibility as the city mayor, but many people think that Mr. Wharton acquitted himself in the position well, drawing down the county’s debt while establishing fairly good relationships with the suburban communities in Shelby County.

City or County... or one?

Plenty o' Problems

Of course, now that Mr. Wharton has the final two years of former mayor Herenton’s term to complete, what can he do to turn things around? While many parts of Memphis are thriving, many others are not. The economy, while improving, was not kind to many Memphians, who either lost jobs, homes or both. Downtown continues to be an interesting mix of eclectic residences and businesses and abandoned buildings and shady characters on top of the area’s best-known entertainment district.

There’s also the consolidation question.  Mayor (and Mayor-elect) Wharton has long supported the idea of combining the city of Memphis with Shelby County, to streamline services, save money and create efficiencies. That will remain a hard (if not impossible) sell to the other cities inside the county. They are willing to enjoy some level of benefit by being close to Memphis (jobs, transportation, shopping, entertainment, etc.), they do not want to be put in a position of providing additional support to a city they don’t want to be a part of (except for the benefits that already exist).

Once the election is certified, Mr. Wharton can take the oath and get to work. That means that we’ll have to go through a similar process of having an interim county mayor and commission will have to select replacement to finish his term on the other side of the plaza.

Next Up!

Next Up!

And if that’s not enough, we’ve still got the Herenton vs. Cohen race coming up. While some people might not appreciate the point of view expressed by the former mayor and his campaign manager Mr. Chism, the 9th Congressional District of Tennessee kinda was designed to provide a representative who “looked like us.” I don’t know that that’s necessary in this day and age. And Representative Cohen has been doing a fine job, earning the African-American voting support he’s seen so far.

Swan Song?

Swan Song?

If anything, I’m a little disappointed not to have Herenton in the mayor’s office anymore. I think AC Wharton will be way too competent for me to roll out the Mayor McCheese pic anymore. (sigh)

If that’s the case, I’ll guess we’ll just have to bid the big burger farewell and see what the Wharton era brings.

I won’t vote for you, but I like the marmoset on your head…

Main Event?

Main Event?

You’d think with a mayoral election coming up, there’d be a little more action on the streets of Memphis.  Ah well, maybe they’re saving it up for the next two political debates. I just hope the formats are a little clearer than the first one (although I hope Mongo’s got some good follow up comments to his “flush ’em away” remark).

2nd from the lef

2nd from the left

Of course, there was the piece in Sunday’s NY Times on the 9th District race between Herenton and Cohen.  “Racial Overtones” indeed. Nothing like the Old Gray Lady for understatement.

And hey, Joan Carr (one-time WREG producer) got her picture in the NYT with the story — go Joan!

This is only a drill...

This is only a drill...

I did catch “Mondays with Myron” on Drake and Zeke this week. I admire the mayor pro-tem’s earnest approach to constituent services. But, since there’s nothing particularly zany going on, I guess I’ll turn my gaze outward. After spending some time on the periphery of the CNN Political Unit during my time at the news network, they’re my go-to for most of my national political coverage (especially since they’re giving my old producer, Paul Steinhauser, so much air time). Now, for coverage of breaking Coast Guard news, that’s another story. I had a news director tell me 21 years ago ‘don’t report scanner traffic without confirmation.’ That may be a lesson for the folks at CNN’s DC bureau.

It's the hair, isn't it?

It's the hair, isn't it?

Anyway, I was heartened by the headline on CNN’s Political Ticker that former Congressman Jim Traficant might be interested in making another run for public office.  Mr. T was expelled from Congress back in 2002 after his conviction on several felonies, including racketeering, tax evasion and bribery. Before he was elected to Congress, Jim had been the sheriff of Mahoning County, Ohio (the Youngstown area, NE part of the state, near Pennsylvania). The Feds came after him in the early 80s, saying he took bribes.  He represented himself in court and became the first person doing that to beat a RICO charge.

I think I'll call you "Arthur"

What do you call that haircut? "Arthur."

Oh, but it’s not his sometimes combative nature that draws your attention, is it? No, we know that you’re looking at that head. Maybe closer to the point, you’re looking at whatever that is that crawled on top of his head to roost.

He used to claim that he cut his hair with a weed-wacker, but it came out during the trial that yes, it’s a toupee. What, you say, that’s not real?! Apparently not.

Back on the Street!

Back on the Street!

Anyway, JT is out of federal prison after serving 7 years.  He told the anchor on CNN’s “American Morning” that he wasn’t sure whether he was going to run for Congress again.  He did say that “both parties would not want to see me in Washington, believe me…”  Considering all the craziness that attended your trial and expulsion from Congress, I do believe you. Maybe, if Traficant decides to run and is elected, he can hang out with current South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, the guy who decided that the House of Representatives was a good a place to heckle someone as the House of Giggles on open mic night.

"You Lie!" t-shirts available in the House lobby

"You Lie!" t-shirts available in the House lobby

Democrats in the House want to give Wilson a tickle on the wrist by considering a resolution of “disapproval” for his outburst. C’mon guys, just look across the aisle and say “nah, nah, boo, boo” in unison. It’ll have the same impact.

Let’s get Joe, Kanye West and Serena Williams, Pete Wilson (California Congressman who doesn’t want to waste urine) and Traficant (if he says anything crazy in the next couple of days) and send them to a remote island with Jeff Probst from “Survivor.” We could tell them it’s a reality show called “The Rest of the World Wants Us to Just Go Away!” It’d take them a while to notice there weren’t any TV cameras, but Jeff could tell them they’d have to learn some social graces before we let them come back.