VOL. 130 | NO. 207 | Friday, October 23, 2015
Wharton’s Transition Reveals Lighter Mood
By Bill Dries
The incumbent’s advantage in Memphis politics often keeps playing out after all of the votes are counted – even if the winner isn’t the incumbent.
Since the Oct. 8 election, outgoing Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has been noticeably more upbeat than he was in the closing days and weeks of the campaign.
A version of that is happening now as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton serves out the rest of his term after losing a re-election bid to challenger Jim Strickland in the Oct. 8 city elections.
And Wharton is aware that as he goes about his duties in the election’s aftermath, it can all seem a bit awkward.
That was the case last week as he helped cut the ribbon at the Friday, Oct. 16, formal rededication of the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street.
“I ain’t going nowhere,” Wharton told the group of about 100 gathered outside. “What was it Martin Luther King said? ‘Free at last. Free at last.’”
Wharton does seem more upbeat and very different from the candidate who in the last full week of the campaign maintained a grim demeanor on what should have been two of the biggest events in his favor.
On one day, Wharton announced the city had secured a $30 million federal grant for the demolition of the Foote Homes public housing development – a grant essential to the city’s pursuit of the larger South City redevelopment plan.
The following day, he attended the groundbreaking for the redevelopment of the Universal Life Insurance Co. building, 480 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
The building was the symbol and seat of black business power and ambition during the era of racial segregation and into the civil rights movement. And it is to become the home of city government’s minority business efforts when its renovation is complete.
Rather than bask in both moments, Wharton hurriedly moved on to other events, staying in motion to his car. He was persistently asked about a controversial community engagement contract between his campaign manager’s marketing firm, Carter Malone Group, and the city’s supplier of police body cameras, Taser International.
It was one of several indications that Wharton knew he was headed for election day disappointment.
The post-election Wharton appears happier, although he’s still shying away from City Hall’s fifth floor on days the Memphis City Council is holding committee sessions.
City finance director Brian Collins presented the administration’s most recently fiscal update Tuesday, Oct. 20. It showed both city revenue and expenses were up, with income outpacing costs by $1.4 million.
Mayor-elect Jim Strickland was among the council members reviewing the numbers with Collins as he closes out what will be an eight-year, two-term council tenure. He takes the mayoral oath of office Jan. 1.
Strickland wasn’t among those asking questions, fellow councilman Harold Collins was. Collins, who finished third in the race for mayor, also is wrapping up eight years on the council.
He gave up his job as coordinator of community outreach programs, including mentoring programs, at the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office to run for mayor.
Collins has been getting his home office in shape over the last two weeks.
“I’m dusting off my resume to see if somebody is interested in hiring a tall, outspoken African-American man and see what happens,” Collins said. “I’ve got to go to work.”
The council isn’t likely to undertake any new city initiatives until Strickland is in the mayor’s office. Between now and Jan. 1, Strickland also is leaving decisions and mayoral pronouncements up to Wharton.
Wharton, too, isn’t taking any bold steps beyond those already well underway.
Not that there aren’t some citizens trying to move the political needle on certain initiatives.
Citizens To Preserve Overton Park is waging a social media email effort to get Wharton to ban Memphis Zoo overflow parking on the park’s greensward before he leaves office.
The emails urge Wharton to reconsider his position on the overflow parking, which went from declaring there would be no greensward parking by the end of 2014 to allowing it indefinitely as new talks continue on a permanent solution.
Strickland said during the summer campaign that if all sides in the dispute can’t come to an agreement by the end of his first two months in office, he will make a decision.