Thursday, August 6, 2009

Six-Ticket Ride

The next 10 weeks will be eventful, to put it mildly.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Likening the next two and a half months in Memphis to an outdoor carnival — and why not? — Beale Street club owner Bud Chittom said, "It's going to be a six-ticket ride."

The last interim mayor of Memphis had the job for a couple of weeks. Myron Lowery has it for nearly three months. He does not intend to sit quietly in his room.

And why should he? Suppose somebody handed you the keys to a car you wanted to drive all your adult life but told you to keep it in the garage. Wouldn't you look under the hood, start it up, and take it out on the road to see what it can do?

So will Lowery, despite the attempts by the car's previous driver to disable some of the parts and tamp down the horsepower. The six-ticket ride through the Memphis summer of 2009 includes:

Mayor Myron. Calming voice, procedural expert, media savvy, with nearly 18 years experience in Memphis politics. Hard-minded in the crunch and sets the facts straight in interviews like the one he did Monday on Drake and Zeke's radio show. Herenton gave him the keys and Lowery intends to keep them.

A C Wharton. He has the campaign money, but Lowery has the job until mid-October and the free publicity money can't buy. Lowery and freshly appointed CAO Jack Sammons will co-star in a black-white buddy movie that will cut into Wharton's support among white voters in East Memphis.

Sammons, a Herenton enemy and former councilman, will be counted on to find out where the bodies are buried and exhume them, communicate with the council, and wrest a key vote or two. Which won't be easy with a council divided six whites and six blacks and every member a potential tie-breaking vote.

The mayoral wannabes. Councilwoman Wanda Halbert beat the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Robert Spence in a school board election and would like to be the first female mayor. Whalum got more than 83,000 votes in the 2006 school board race. Former Councilwoman Carol Chumney got 35 percent of the vote and finished second in the 2007 mayoral election and would also like to be the first female mayor. Campaign strategist Charles Carpenter, now candidate Carpenter, carries the Herenton flame. Jerry Lawler, who got 12 percent of the vote in 1999, can play the outsider.

The city attorney sideshow. City attorney Elbert Jefferson must not have gotten the memo. He resigned, but Herenton didn't accept it, knowing full well the value of having a pawn in the legal department. Now he's whining about being mistreated. Jefferson signed off on the lucrative deals for Spence and Ricky Wilkins, turning the office into their ATM card. If Jefferson insists on playing hardball, Lowery could suspend him or assign him to count the seats in the Liberty Bowl or some other drudge task. Lowery's choice for the job is Veronica Coleman Davis, a former United States attorney has the toughness and integrity to end the shenanigans but needs council approval.

The Mid-South Fairgrounds. Prospective developer Henry Turley is still backed up near his own endzone after failing to connect on a long one to Herenton. Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb could take the field as quarterback, in partnership with former Councilman Tom Marshall, and run a play similar to Turley's but without a big-box store and with the city acting as developer.

Beale Street. Chittom and club owner Preston Lamm are scheduled to meet with Lowery this week. An 11th-hour effort to finalize the removal of John Elkington as manager of the historic district failed, even though Herenton signed off on it. Among the sticking points are Handy Park advertising revenue, payments to the city under long-term agreement, a protracted trial starting as early as next week, and the role of Wilkins and Lipscomb. Barring a trial, attorney Marty Regan could take over for Wilkins in a post-Elkington Beale, with merchants doing the marketing and the city providing sanitation and security.

"Keeping It Real." Herenton's campaign and T-shirt slogan for his 2010 congressional race, which Wilkins will manage. The Urban Dictionary offers several definitions ranging from "staying true to yourself" to "more or less a black-on-black racist expression." Let's assume it doesn't mean playing patty-cake with Steve Cohen.

All this plus the normal fight against crime and red ink and a new school year that starts next week. A six-ticket ride for sure.

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