Give him this. Lawler is trying to come off the canvas with some late moves. This past week he’s opened headquarters offices in Frayser and Whitehaven, landed radio interviews, and presided over wrestling exhibitions where he’s had an opportunity to talk up his campaign with the crowds.
And now the wrestling impresario is trying to bring another kind of show to Memphis — this one a tag-team affair involving Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It’s called the National Education Reform Tour, and it has the imprimatur of President Barack Obama.
In the words of a Department of Education press release, the tour was designed to “include school visits, stakeholder meetings and media briefings: Further: “The goal of the tour is to stimulate discussion and community engagement around issues of education reform.
The tour, which began in Philadelphia on Sept. 29, is so far set to include New Orleans on November 3 and Baltimore on November 13, but, as the DOE release notes, “More stops, including a rural site, will be added as the tour progresses.”
Two weeks ago on one of his regular Monday night broadcasting gigs, Lawler was in Albany, New York, where he encountered Sharpton and pitched him to bring the tour to Memphis. “We have a situation with our schools in Memphis that could really use some guidance,” Lawler tells Sharpton in a DVD the two put together.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Sharpton responds, saying that he’ll talk it over with the other principals and “try to look you up in Memphis.”
Discussing the possibility this week, Lawler offered it as an antidote to what he said was a “divisive” action involving frontrunning mayoral candidate A C Wharton, who has announced a Friday press conference at his campaign headquarters at which the Afro-American Police Association was scheduled to join the Memphis Police Association in endorsing the Shelby County mayor.
“Why should we be encouraging separate racial organizations?” Lawler said. “Why do we even need an ‘Afro-American” organization
Of all the mayoral debates and forums that have been held so far this campaign season, perhaps the most bizarre was the one sponsored Tuesday night at the University of Memphis’ Rose Theatre by the NAACP. Three of the 12 candidates on stage were textbooks definitions of the weird and eccentric.
One of those candidates was Leo Awgowhat, who explained that he had a multiple personality disorder and was living off government “crazy checks.” (At birth he was known as Jason Wells.) If his chosen — and now apparently legal — last name sounds like part of a familiar knock-knock joke with a profane punchline, it’s because it is. The T-shirt he wore Tuesday night (next to a somewhat grossed-out and ultra-serious ‘Randy Cagle) all but spelled out most of the punchline: “Go —-k Yo-rself.”
I don’t know what I would do if I’m elected mayor of Memphis. [unintelligible] If I do get elected mayor of Memphis, well, there are some things I will do. I will go decriminalize marijuana and focus on the hard drugs, the real drugs, the junkies, keep them out of Memphis, and it’ll be a better place to live. And I would use The Pyramid. It’s not being used for anything. Well, let’s let Memphis take it for [unintelligible] — Let’s be known for something in the world. Let’s be known for having the best pot. It sounds like a good idea to me.
A second candidate was the somewhat over-familiar full-time zany Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges.
Well, the thing that you need to do the most is to go look in the mirror tonight and see what a fool you’ve been for electing the thieves that you’ve continued to elect to run this city year after year. Count the ones you’ve got in prison today, or tonight. I think you’ve got seven. And that starts in the Senate and works its way down. So you have been in bed with the most corruption of anybody in the world in politics. So I think you need to vote for me, and you’ll straighten it all out, because I’m not one to be bought and sold.
And then there was Ernie Lunati, who has had several brushes with the law, including a conviction for “attempting to procure females for prostitution.” He sat — or slouched — next to a visibly uncomfortable Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery during the forum. (His pronunciation here is spelled phonetically, as it sounded.)
Black people and white people have asked me: Mr. Lunati, what are you going to do for mayor. Well, I’ll tell you what I’m on do. I’m on take the inspection station down. You won’t have to take your car through inspection. They don’t do it in Bartlett, Germantown, Millington. Everything’s going great there. That costs you up to $300 a year. I’m on lower your sales taxes to 3 ½ percent. I’m on lower your property taxes 75 percent. I’m on cut down government waste. That TDOT company, I’m on shut ‘em down completely. They’ve been erecting cameras at every stoplight. They’ll send you a ticket in the mail, it’s gone be $160, and he — [gestures toward Lowery] — had ‘em to put it in there, so I’m gone [unintelligible because of crowd noise ] it’s costing you taxpayers $2 million a year [unintelligible\ because of laughter. laughter].
Haslam, who has made repeated visits to Memphis in his own quest for traction in next year’s gubernatorial race, was here again last week, going door-to-door in a Bartlett neighborhood. “Obviously you can’t visit every household in the state, but we’re doing this three times a week, alternating west and middle and east. Then we start the cycle all over again,” Halsam said.
The Knoxville mayor made the rounds in Memphis, meeting with key supporters, addressing the East Memphis Rotary Club and stopping by the Church Health Center, among other stops..That he still has some miles to go in his quest to get known was indicated when he knocked on one door in Bartlett and was greeted by a woman who said, “Who are you? A state senator?” (Her question may have beenn prompted by the fact that her neighbor across the street is Jim Coley, a GOP state House member.
Haslam, whose family owns the Pilot Oil empire and who is the fundraising leader among all candidates (with some $3.5 million in receipts thus far), dismissed a recent straw poll among Republicans in Wilson County that showed Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp well ahead and himself a weak third..
“If you look at straw polls historically,” Haslam said, “They haven’t been of much significance in determining elections.” He noted that eventual U.S.; Senate winner Bob Corker did dismally in the same poll before the 2006 election, “finishing behind somebody who wasn’t even in the race.” The bottom line: “We’re personally not worrying about straw polls now.”
(Of straw votes in general, Democrat Jim Kyle,the Shelby County Democrats' favorite son among gubernatorial candidates, chose to put it this way while appearing at a party picnic in Memphis last weekend: “The Wilson County poll was won by Democrats. Only 141 people voted. The week before, in a comparably-sized county, Rutherford County, 320 people voted in the Democratic straw poll.” )
On the issue of gun legislation, Haslam, a professed “strong” supporter of the 2nd Amendment, defended his support of a recent local-option proposal in Knoxville assessing a modest fine on violators of injunctions which the city council has continued against carrying guns in restaurants and on parkgrounds.