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VOL. 130 | NO. 170 | Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Memphis Mayoral Debate Participants Announced

By Bill Dries

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The field is set for an upcoming televised Memphis mayoral debate scheduled for the eve of early voting.

(From left) Incumbent Mayor A C Wharton, Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams, and City Council members Harold Collins and Jim Strickland are the four contenders in the Sept. 17 Memphis mayoral forum sponsored by The Daily News and Urban Land Institute Memphis.

The four mayoral contenders who will participate in the Sept. 17 debate, sponsored by The Daily News and Urban Land Institute Memphis, are incumbent Mayor A C Wharton, city council members Harold Collins and Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams.

“ULI Memphis and The Daily News considered a variety of criteria in determining which four candidates were invited,” said Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, who will moderate the debate. “This included an online poll, an assessment of the level of each candidate’s campaign activity, evidence that candidates were making tangible efforts to contact voters, and the establishment of a campaign headquarters or office.”

Every candidate also met the Shelby County Election Commission’s qualifications and requirements for inclusion on the 2015 ballot, Barnes added.

The forum – which takes place the day before early voting in the Oct. 8 Memphis election opens – will air live on WKNO-TV at 8 p.m. Panelists asking questions will include ULI members Darrell Cobbins and Anna Cardona, as well this reporter and another journalist.

“This would seem to be officially the last chance for voters to see the top candidates debate the issue prior to voting beginning,” Barnes said.

The debate will span a range of specific topics related to the local economy, the condition of our neighborhoods and business districts, crime rate and public safety, and government efficiency and effectiveness, Barnes said.

Land-use discussion – an issue of great concern to ULI Memphis members – has highlighted recent debates, and some of the recent exchanges demonstrate that land-use matters reflect broader issues about the city’s future.

Williams, at the Aug. 27 Diversity Memphis debate, questioned the need for rapid development and growth. He’s pledged to “freeze economic development” and specifically halt the issuance of tax abatements and similar incentives to come up with a better policy.

“This is a concerted effort to actually kill communities,” he said, pointing to school closings and long-term blight in certain areas.

Collins cited the presence of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law as demonstrating the need for affordable, multifamily Downtown housing.

“But more importantly, what we need to do is entice our homebuilders to build in communities where they are declining,” he said.

To Collins, the divide between poor and prosperous communities is a color line.

“The racial divide is economics,” he said in urging better schools that offer more Advanced Placement courses and other resources.

Williams pointed to the presence of an African-American mayor and a black majority on the Memphis City Council.

“If there’s a problem, we inflicted it on ourselves,” he said in response to Collins.

At the Aug. 21 debate before the Evergreen Neighborhood Association at Central High School, Wharton responded to a question about the Overton Park greensward by saying he doesn’t support permanent or long-term Memphis Zoo overflow parking on the lawn.

“We do not have the money to build a garage at this time,” he said. “One of the things we are working on is to reconfigure the existing parking lot so we will pick up about 300 parking spaces.”

It’s the same scenario Wharton outlined earlier this year, along with on-street parking on North Parkway. Wharton indicated at the Evergreen forum that the on-street parking has been delayed because of the lack of sidewalks on the south side of North Parkway.

Wharton also said his long-term goal is to “build up the revenue to build a garage to solve the entire challenge.”

Strickland said he would give the Overton Park Conservancy, the Memphis Zoo and other parties a matter of months to get cars off the greensward.

“Within six months of my administration we will get an agreement between the parties, or I will make the decision myself,” he said. “It won’t take four years. We’re going to do it in six months.”

All four campaigns continue to balance some joint appearances while making individual appeals to voters.

At times the joint appearances mean a candidate leaves early to make other events. And it’s not unusual for the rival campaign workers to encounter each other.

At one point Saturday in Cooper-Young, the door-to-door teams of the Strickland and Wharton campaigns were within a block of each other, seeking sign-less yard owners and gently trying to persuade those with signs for the other guy to perhaps convert or possibly coexist.

In Whitehaven for weeks, a similar door-to-door effort has been underway between the Collins and Wharton street teams.

Williams’ supporters also were on the streets in Whitehaven during the weekend with what Williams has termed his “boots to suits” street corner campaigning.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159