Memphis businessman Taylor Berger was thinking about it pretty much until the last minute Tuesday, Feb. 18, when he pressed send on an email that announced his intention to run for a seat on the Shelby County Commission.
In fact, the weekend before he collected a petition this week to run as a Democrat for the District 5 seat on the commission, he took a family getaway to his parents’ lake house, partly to collect his thoughts.
His professional experience, he’s come to believe, would seem to make him well-suited to politics. Berger’s an attorney, business owner and civic activist who’s founded several nonprofits and sits on multiple boards. He founded YoLo, Memphis’ first self-service frozen yogurt shop and restaurants like Tamp & Tap and Chiwawa as well as the nonprofit Memphis Food Truck Association.
New restaurants he’s developing include Truck Stop at Central Avenue and Cooper Street as well as a restaurant, market and butcher concept called Bounty on Broad with chef Jackson Kramer of Interim.
“I get things done. I’m ready to become part of the solution,” Berger explained in a document he distributed this week outlining a kind of personal manifesto for wanting to enter the commission race.
On a related note, earlier this month Berger also launched Make Memphis, a group that’s begun identifying a crowdsourced list of community projects that all share a goal of wanting to improve different aspects of life in Memphis. It was a related step for him, because some of the reasons Berger cited for wanting to get into politics match the reasons he gave for starting Make Memphis.
“Back in December, one day I was just feeling really down about a lot of things,” Berger said as he prepared for the first Make Memphis meeting. “The pre-K initiative had been voted down, the Truck Stop restaurant project I was working on was getting some flak, so I posted a Facebook message kind of expressing my feelings. Why is it that the negative’s so loud here? I know I shouldn’t listen to it, but it does affect me and it can be really disheartening.
“I get things done. I’m ready to become part of the solution.”
“So I posted that message on Facebook, and I’ve never gotten such a strong response. I think I got more of a response to that than when I posted about my daughter being born. So I just wanted to do something with that, whatever I’d tapped into.”
That led to the creation of Make Memphis, which had its first meeting Feb. 8. Members of the public showed up and some of them pitched suggested community projects involving everything from park improvements to street lighting to adding more public art around the city.
Berger, meanwhile, mentioned the failed pre-K measure again in listing his reasons for wanting to run for the commission. He called the failure of the pre-K referendum “an incredibly sad day” and that it showed “how little trust voters have in our local government.”
He also cited a meeting with Phil Trenary, who is coordinating for the Greater Memphis Chamber a list of so-called “moon mission” projects designed to confront several major challenges in the city.
The “final straw” toward influencing Berger’s decision was the movement on a controversial bill in the Tennessee legislature that was seen as endorsing discrimination by businesses against same-sex customers.
That bill was effectively killed by a state Senate committee this week, but Berger nevertheless said, “Combined with the County Commission’s failure to pass a local non-discrimination ordinance, these instances of legislative bigotry riled me into action.”