Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Old Order Changeth

Herenton isn't the only one who needs to change his record.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2009 at 4:00 AM

It's gotten where you can't read an article online about politics, sports, the local economy, schools, termites, or hangnails without somebody blaming Mayor Herenton in the comments.

His departure might be a good time for the rest of Memphis to clam up and do some soul searching. We've got at least three months until the next election. Football season doesn't start for more than a month. John Calipari is gone. Dean Jernigan was ousted from the Memphis Redbirds. Newspapers are shrinking or going away. Foreclosures are piling up. The old order changeth.

This troubled city isn't suddenly going to get better, no matter who is the next mayor. If it does turn around, it will be because of small, steady, unremarkable changes that tens of thousands of people make in their everyday lives.

On that note, I plan to do my part while we're in this summer hiatus. This newspaper space is valuable real estate, and I'm not giving it up yet, but I will gladly begin the moratorium on WWH stories in August, assuming he follows through on his promise.

I wish I could have done it years ago, but a mayor is a mayor. Jackson Baker and I did one of the first interviews with the new mayor in 1992, and we both felt compelled to stay the course. It's the office, not the person holding it, that commands attention — a fact that sometimes seemed to elude Herenton as he toyed with the media pack nipping at his heels. News conferences, New Year's Day prayer breakfasts, Rotary and Kiwanis lunches, big announcements that came to nothing — hey, it wasn't good for us either. We were all going through the motions for years.

One of the things I plan to report and write more about is participant sports. Our sports keep us healthy, sane, and part of a community. I want to explore the line where people get hooked, how and why, and what they do about it. I know more than a few people who go to sleep fantasizing about perfect drives, backhands, strides, and laps more often than some other things commonly associated with dreams and beds.

I couldn't care less about the Grizzlies or Tigers, but I'll play a sport or watch a friend or family member play one any day. I have a hunch that more people are intensely interested in their 5K time, vertical leap, handicap, or tennis rating than another nickel on the property tax rate or the second reading of an ordinance passed by the Memphis City Council or Shelby County Commission. I recently learned there is something called competitive yoga and hot yoga. I plan to check it out.

Good politics and good journalism are about connecting with people. If you're not doing that you've got a problem. Some of us have not exactly been geniuses when it comes to figuring that one out. What the next generation of Memphis leaders needs right now is not headlines and cameras but time and some breathing room.

When Richard Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential race, he said, "You won't have Nixon to kick around." Actually, we did, because he came back eight years later and stayed for six more. City Hall is soon going to be someone else's problem. Maybe some day someone will get elected to an important office in this town who's not eligible for AARP membership.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go play a game and watch someone else play their game while things settle down.

As the two-billionth person to start a blog, I've learned you don't hide your light under a bushel basket. The blog is called Get Memphis Moving. It will appear in the paper a couple times a month and on the Memphis Flyer website a couple times a week.

Times change, and we have to play it where it lays. We hope blogs will drive some traffic to our site and keep us in business for another season or two of sports and politics and the other things we write about.

Right now, it's awkward as hell, sort of like learning to dance and a whole lot like jumping in the lake and telling the guy in the boat it's okay to leave because you can swim to shore.

Then you'd better start paddling.

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