VOL. 130 | NO. 150 | Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Wharton Opens Whitehaven Headquarters as Collins Intensifies Challenge
By Bill Dries
On the broiling parking lot of his Whitehaven campaign headquarters this weekend, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. talked about “still water” after firing up a crowd of 150 supporters in a tent next to Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. opened his Whitehaven campaign headquarters Saturday, Aug. 1, at the end of a week in which challenger and city council member Harold Collins tangled with Wharton at a Cooper-Young forum.
(Daily News/Bill Dries)
“Still water runs deep sometimes,” he said referring to his supporters in a competitive race for mayor with two Memphis City Council members and the head of the Memphis Police Association. “So they are there and they’ve got my back.”
But sometimes still waters aren’t going anywhere. When asked about that analogy, Wharton likened the criticism he’s taking, particularly from council members Harold Collins and Jim Strickland, to criticism former Mayor Willie Herenton took in the 1999 re-election campaign that Wharton headed.
“There was just a constant drubbing, drubbing, drubbing,” Wharton said. “The polls showed that in the end they got by that. They looked at what he had done and they said we are not going to gamble.”
But Herenton never campaigned on a pledge of not responding to criticism. At times he seemed to thrive on it, including what might be the only time a Memphis mayor has used the term “haterade” in a press conference when he accused his critics of “sippin’ on some Haterade.”
“Have you ever heard me speak a divisive word? Have you ever heard me pit one part of the city against another part of the city?” Wharton asked his group of Whitehaven supporters.
But some of those who spoke in advance of Wharton did talk about the competition, including Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Jr. who touted Wharton’s role in creating new jobs.
“You’ve got somebody that’s running against the mayor that voted against all of those jobs. He represents this area,” Ford said referring to but not naming fellow city council member Harold Collins.
Ford represents council District 6 which borders Collins’ District 3 along a stretch of Elvis Presley Boulevard between Raines Road and Shelby Drive except for a peninsula between Timothy and Raines Road in which Ford’s district is on both sides of the Boulevard.
The office building where Wharton has his campaign headquarters is on the Collins side of the street.
Collins is challenging Wharton specifically on the lack of better-paying white collar jobs in the city’s effort to bring more jobs as well as more young talent to Memphis.
Collins argues that the logistics and even advanced manufacturing jobs being pursued by the city do little if anything to draw the city’s recent college graduates and young professionals back to their hometown.
Collins pushed the point during the extended encounter he and Wharton had earlier in the week at a women’s forum at First Congregational Church in Cooper-Young.
“Our kids still do not want to be here,” he said. “We need to let the chamber of commerce know that our focus should not be a low paying uneducated earning community.”
“There are no $9 an hour jobs at International Paper,” Wharton countered at the forum.
Collins is heavily touting his role in a $43 million streetscape improvement along Elvis Presley Boulevard as well as economic development that has followed including a new $90 million resort hotel being built by Elvis Presley Enterprises.
And Collins was aggressive on that point and others at the forum.
“It bothers me when we say, ‘If you elect me now, we’ll fix it even though I’ve been serving you for 13 years,” Collins said referring to Wharton’s combined tenure as county and city mayors.
Collins noted that the administration has pushed back the start date for the streetscape improvements – a delay Collins has said several times he believes is politically motivated on Wharton’s part.
Wharton has been campaigning for the support of those young professionals, including a fundraiser last week at Rec Room in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
“It’s my job now to pass on to you a world much better … than the environment I came into,” Wharton said standing between a pair of pinball machines and a SkeeBall game next to a basketball throw.
A Guns N Roses pinball machine was unplugged and a patron of the basketball throw talked into delaying his game for a few minutes as Wharton pushed his point.
Wharton mounted the bleachers before a group of 50 supporters as about that many other people were at the bar or focused on the vintage video games on big screens that are the central feature of Rec Room.
He began by touting the bike lanes including those through the Broad district and noting the vocal opposition in some quarters that they’ve received.
“It was hard and I had made up my mind,” he said of the effort. “That’s the city that we’re designing not through our eyes but through your eyes.”
He also touted his economic development efforts before the young professionals following a fundraiser that same evening at the South Junction apartments in the South Main District Downtown.
“You can rent you an apartment down there, out on your own,” he told the Rec Room crowd. “You don’t have to tell Mom and Dad back home that it’s a one-room flat. They’ll never see it anyway.”