VOL. 130 | NO. 82 | Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Five Mayoral Contenders Draw Contrasts in First Forum of Season
By Bill Dries
Five contenders in the mayor’s race offered contrasting views of the city’s direction Monday, April 27, in a forum at the Tennessee Brewery sponsored by The Commercial Appeal.
Incumbent Mayor A C Wharton Jr., city council members Harold Collins and Jim Strickland, Shelby County Commission chairman Justin Ford and Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams drew a crowd of about 150 with supporters of each candidate making up a good portion of the crowd.
“We need to drastically clean up this city. We have great amenities,” Strickland said. “But people are not moving out of the city because we lack amenities. They are moving out because we are more blighted, we are more littered and we’re more violent than we were three years ago.”
Wharton offered the sharpest contrast with Strickland of any of the four challengers.
“Some focus on those who are leaving. I focus on those who are arriving here,” he said. “I ask myself every day what can I do as opposed to looking back at who left – what can I do to keep those who have moved here.”
Wharton also touted this week’s opening of Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.
“Bass Pro will open on time, on budget, 600 jobs. Tell me that’s not a good city in which to live,” Wharton said.
The adaptation of the Pyramid had an original opening date of late 2011 and the city’s project involvement expanded dramatically to include seismic provisions.
Like Strickland, Collins focused on the city’s losses in population and then specifically on the loss of young college-educated professionals who are native Memphians.
“We recognize the struggle that each and every native Memphian feels in this city,” he began. “The difference is leadership. … I’m happy that Bass Pro will open on time… But they do not pay a living wage for the people that we need to bring into our city to make Memphis the city it can be.”
Williams said city government should return to “quality core services” and said the merger of the county’s two public school systems amounted to the city giving up “a $1.2 billion business.”
He also vowed to re-examine all payments in lieu of taxes – the tax abatements used by the city and county governments as incentives for economic development.
“There is nothing wrong with economic development,” Williams said. “I’m not against big business. But I am not against businesses showing a vested interest in the city that they’re making a fortune off of. I am wanting to bring big business to the table to help us to grow.”
Ford billed himself as “someone who will listen to your issues.”
“My vision is clear – it’s to listen to the problems of the people, listen attentively and try to go about finding solutions to the problem,” he said.