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VOL. 122 | NO. 17 | Tuesday, January 30, 2007

'A First-Class Lady'

Taylor tapped for Mitchell's former council seat

By Andy Meek

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Madeleine Cooper Taylor

For Madeleine Cooper Taylor and her late husband, Dr. Harold Taylor, it surely says something about their standing in the community that both were nominated on separate occasions - and under extraordinary circumstances - to fill seats on the Memphis City Council.

Dr. Taylor, who died in 2004, was regarded in his day as a man of wide-ranging accomplishment and deep intellect. He was, for example, the city's first black oral surgeon and also involved in making funeral arrangements for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after the civil rights leader was killed in Memphis in 1968.

In 1997, Taylor's name was one of several put forward after the death of a council member created a vacancy on the body. Current councilman Joe Brown ultimately got the nod for that seat.

But now - exactly 10 years after her husband was encouraged to seek a council seat - Madeleine Cooper Taylor has been nominated for the same job, which, after a unanimous vote earlier this month, she also has been chosen to fill. She'll occupy the District 3 seat that opened when TaJuan Stout Mitchell resigned in December to take a job in Mayor Willie Herenton's administration.

What a welcome mat

District 3 covers Whitehaven, Parkway Village and other parts of South Memphis. That area now will be represented until the next general election in the fall by Taylor, who will juggle it with her regular job as program coordinator for the Memphis chapter of the NAACP.

"She's just a first-class lady, in my mind. I think the council made an excellent decision in her selection, and she will bring character, integrity and good community insights to the council during what I think many people now consider to be troubled times."
- Jerome Rubin
Manager of diversity outreach for the Center City Commission Architects in Memphis

She's also stepping into the role - it's no secret - at a time when the atmosphere at City Hall has been uncommonly tense of late.

The council has been roiled in the past few weeks over a myriad of ethics concerns, including indictments of sitting members and a stream of news coverage citing conflict-of-interest issues. Yet already, its newest member - a Cornell University graduate - has brought a down-to-earth sensibility to her new role.

In one of her first interviews as a councilwoman, she acknowledged last week to WREG-TV personalities Alex Coleman and Marybeth Conley that the weight of her position had begun to sink in while she was driving on the interstate that morning.

In another interview, the newly appointed councilwoman limited a reporter to four questions. The unspoken reason appeared to be that, while she's grateful for the attention, she would rather talk about something besides herself.

"I will say I never thought I'd be in this position," Taylor said. "But when I reflect on it, I think that it has been in line with a number of activities I've done in the community, and to complete that cycle of community work, this would be just a normal extension."

Mum's the word

Madeleine Cooper Taylor
Who: New city council member representing District 3; currently a program coordinator for the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP

Why: Taylor was tapped to fill the council seat after its previous occupant, TaJuan Stout Mitchell, resigned in December to take a job in Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's administration.

For now, about all she'll offer as an assessment of her new job is that she needs a pair of roller skates to help her shuffle from point to point. One thing she apparently already has that should come in handy is a certain level of diplomacy; at the NAACP, where she's worked for about 16 years, Taylor's primary job now is to receive and review complaints.

"I hear people who come to the NAACP to file complaints, I review them and try to mediate, negotiate, resolve them or refer them to the appropriate agencies," she said.

Such facts about Taylor are important to know, because though the city council is a 13-member body, even a barely perceptible change in makeup can have major implications. All it would have taken in December was one more vote of "yes," and a resolution asking council members Edmund Ford and Rickey Peete to resign in the wake of federal bribery charges would have been approved.

Taylor isn't saying much yet about how she might have voted on previous issues or what plans she has for her council seat.

Jerome Rubin, manager of diversity outreach for the Center City Commission, is a former chairman of the Memphis City Council and also was the council member who nominated Taylor's late husband to fill the vacant seat in the late 1990s.

Among other names that had been thrown into the hat for that vacant council seat was former NAACP executive director Dr. Benjamin Hooks, who later stepped out of the running because of time demands. Rubin still has words of praise for Dr. Taylor, as well as his wife.

"She's just a first-class lady, in my mind," he said. "I think the council made an excellent decision in her selection, and she will bring character, integrity and good community insights to the council during what I think many people now consider to be troubled times."

The meaning in things

Outside of the council, Taylor will continue to be busy with the NAACP as the date draws near to the 31st annual Freedom Fund Gala on March 20 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Such work is one of the traits most commonly associated with her by those who know her best.

"She's been real strong with the NAACP - that's her baby," said Kathleen Adams, who works at First Baptist Church Lauderdale, where Taylor attends. "And she's been a great inspiration, I would say, to the young girls that have been under her as a girl scout troop leader.

"As my mom used to say, she says what she means and she means what she says."

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