VOL. 130 | NO. 155 | Tuesday, August 11, 2015
First Mayoral TV Debate Features Aggressive Contenders
By Bill Dries
The first televised debate of the 2015 race of Memphis Mayor Monday, Aug. 10, saw incumbent Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and city council member Jim Strickland clash repeatedly while fellow council member and mayoral challenger Harold Collins said Strickland and Wharton were “acting like Tom and Jerry.”
The debate at the National Civil Rights Museum that was televised on Action News 5 featured five of the 10 candidates for mayor on the Oct. 8 ballot.
Wharton, Strickland and Collins were joined by former Memphis City Schools board member Sharon Webb and Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams in the 90-minute forum.
Wharton went on the offensive, accusing Strickland of being for eliminating blight but opposing a registry of vacant property and being for more police officers but opposing increased police funding.
“I think candidate Strickland ought to be introduced to councilman Strickland because they are two different people,” Wharton said. “We’ve got two different people standing over here. He was Dr. No.”
Strickland drew a distinction between opposing a larger police budget and opposing more police officers. Strickland said he favored more cops but didn’t think Wharton’s budget proposal increased the number of cops.
And he accused Wharton of deliberately cutting the police complement.
“He never denied that his budgets reduced the numbers of police officers,” Strickland said.
He also said he voted against the registry because there was already one. And Strickland used the opportunity to again bash Wharton for replacing Chief Administrative Officer George Little with Jack Sammons and then retaining Little in another City Hall job at the same salary.
“I know he likes two registries. I know he likes two CAOs,” Strickland said. “He’s like Noah.”
After the first extended clash between Wharton and Strickland, Collins was asked how he was different from the other contenders.
“You just saw it right there,” he said. “These guys are acting like Tom and Jerry. … I apologize for them. This is the high road.”
Collins vowed to use a goal of 38 percent in awarding city contracts to minority vendors as well as to hire a “competent” director of the Memphis animal shelter if elected.
He also renewed his call for better paying jobs for college-educated young professionals that pay more than distribution, logistics and manufacturing jobs touted by Wharton.
Collins too was critical of Wharton.
“If this mayor and this administration can’t do it for 13 years … what makes you think he can do it for another four years,” he said, referring to Wharton’s combined 13-year tenure as county mayor as well as city mayor. “He’s had his chance.”
Williams was critical of all three for the length of time they have been in elected office.
“Some of these people have a 10-15 year plan already in place for this city,” he said. “But it doesn’t include a lot of us.”
Williams also emphasized that while he has been critical of tax incentives for economic development, he is not opposed to their use to attract businesses and jobs to the city.
“I think we have to do it smartly,” he said. “I think we are issuing too many PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes).”
Williams also said he would favor restoring city benefits for police and fire department employees whose health insurance and pension benefits were cut recently by the city along with those of other city employees.
Wharton described Memphis as “city on the move” with population growth of more than 6,000 people.
Strickland said that came from the recent annexations of south Cordova and the Wyndike and Southwind areas by the city of Memphis.
Wharton said he inherited a city in poor financial condition when he took office after winning the special election in 2009 following the resignation of Mayor Willie Herenton. Strickland and Collins were part of a group of nine new council members who took office in 2008.
“It’s so funny that the folks who drove the truck in the ditch are now complaining,” Wharton said, referring to Strickland and Collins.
“The mayor drove that truck into the ditch himself,” Strickland countered. “He borrowed recklessly and refinanced the debt … to the tune of $25 million to $40 million a year. The Wharton debt is what put the truck in the ditch.”
Webb touted her status as the only woman in the race for mayor.
“It’s time for a woman to take over,” she said. “It’s no longer right for women to be second-class citizens.”
Webb also answered differently than she did earlier this month when asked about solutions to domestic violence and violence against women in general.
She said there is a need for more shelter for women trying to escape such violence.
At a Cooper-Young forum earlier this month, she said that women need to be quiet and avoid “stirring up” men.