Such uncertainty as still existed concerning the reality of a congressional race by Willie Herenton seemed to go out the window for good Saturday, The former Memphis mayor kicked off his candidacy for the 9th district Democratic nomination before a sizeable — and almost entirely African-American — crowd at the University of Memphis-area Holiday Inn on Central Avenue.
In keeping with the composition of his audience — and with the reality of a contest that requires him to unseat a sitting incumbent, U.S. Representative Steve Cohen, whom he once supported — Herenton pitched his remarks squarely on the theme of “proportional representation” for blacks in the 9th District.
Noting at one point that there were eleven congressional seats from Tennessee — two in the Senate and nine in the House — Herenton said, “We just want one!” — the “we” being identified as “people who look like me.”
The event was in many ways a throwback to his first race for mayor back in 1991, when Herenton was regarded as an underdog in his challenge to incumbent mayor Dick Hackett and relied out of necessity on grass-roots blacks like those who predominated in the ballroom crowd on Saturday.
The ex-mayor reminded his listeners of that come-from-behind triumph in that first of his five victorious mayoral races and ended up telling them, “We will win this election!,” and like some terminator returned to “retrieve what we lost in representation.,” assured them, “I am back!”
Along the way he spelled out some of his mayoral achievements — $89 million in the city’s financial reserve when he left office as against $3 million when he was sworn in; the conversion of a “desolate and barren” downtown into a “flourishing” one; the “dramatic transformation” of dilapidated housing projects into vibrant new developments.
But the gist of his remarks dramatized his personal situation in ways he related to the history of blacks in America. “When Herenton arrived, black folks arrived in high places,” the first elected black mayor said. But:” I’ve been the target of people who want to dismantle what we’ve built...all because I’m a man, all because I served the people and broke barriers and have been independent.”
Herenton cited the lengthy legal jeopardy he had endured because of his role in a “private investment” involving the sale of Greyhound Bus property and the local terminal’s relocation, contrasting it with his well-publicized charges that erstwhile Beale Street entrepreneur John Elkington had misappropriated funds and with weekend news about the indictment of three former Animal Shelter employees.
“The FBI spent millions of dollars trying to send me to jail…but there are $6 million unaccounted for…and they’re trying to lock three black folks up about some dogs.” Herenton also referenced what he charged had been a blackmail plot by political enemies — one, however, that had not resulted in formal indictments. “I thought ‘criminal intent’ was a crime. It is for black folks, but it ain’t for white folks,” the ex-mayor said bitterly.
(Two members of Herenton’s audience Saturday were African-American entrepreneur Elvin Moon of Los Angeles, whose involvement with Herenton in the Greyhound transaction had put him, too, under investigation, and Marty Grusin, one of Herenton’s legal advisers. Both said they said been assured that Herenton’s legal jeopardy was at an end, though no explicit announcement to that effect has been made by Department of Justice authorities.)
At one point in his speech, Herenton gestured toward a group of children who stood behind him on stage, holding red-and-white “Herenton/Congress” campaign signs, The former mayor and would-be congressman said, “They ought to have opportunities in America. Every opportunity that African Americans have got to serve as leader, we’ve got to go after….They need to see people that look like them in positions of leadership.”
Herenton did not refer directly to Cohen but indulged in several dismissive statements meant to belittle the professed achievements of the congressman, who sponsored a congressional resolution apologizing for the former institution of slavery and who has actively sought to rename various public properties for eminent local African Americans.
After mentioning slavery, segregation, and discrimination, Herenton said, “The residual of those shames is still with us. I’m not going to ‘apologize.’…I’ll try to make conditions better.” Instead of naming buildings, he would “help black folks to own some buildings.” Instead of naming highways, he would get African American firms involved in the construction of them.
Herenton included in his speech an appeal to “fair-minded” whites to “understand us and join us” and made a point of saying that his mayoral administrations had been “inclusive” without regard to race and gender.
But in most regards Saturday’s kick-off event evoked the political atmosphere of 1991 when black and white voters were starkly divided along racial lines. One difference between then and now, as both Herenton and his longtime political ally, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, somewhat scornfully acknowledged, was that considerable numbers of blacks had aligned themselves with Cohen, who won reelection handily in 2008 with overwhelming majority support in black precincts.
(One of Chism's milder passages, when he took the stage to convene the kick-off, went like this: "We’ve even got some of our preachers saying, 'Well, he could be polka-dot, he could be anything.' Look at your church and see what they look like!...…What is disheartening to me is people who look like me who tell me it don’t make no difference.")
The look and sound of things Saturday was clear indication that Herenton intends to re-gather the 9th District’s black vote into his camp, as monolithically as possible. His success or failure in doing so will largely determine the outcome of his current race.
Other than via the presence of a few candidates seeking election or reelection this year — something characteristic of any large-scale political event — there was no noticeable turnout Saturday of well-known politicians or public officials, black or white, and no public endorsement of Herenton save the obvious ones of Chism and attorney Ricky Wilkins, who shared the stage with the ex-mayor.
Willie Herenton clearly has his work cut out for him, but it has to be remembered that he is still unbeaten in political races. A defeat in 2010 would be his first.
Herenton on His Legal Predicament::
Herenton Predicts Victory
Nashville businessman Cammack said he had been afforded ample opportunity to examine Kyle during the many occasions when he, Kyle, and other candidates for the Democratic nomination had intersected on the campaign trail. “That really gives you an opportunity to see who’s managing a campaign well,” said Cammack of the Democrats’ leader in the state Senate.
For his part, Kyle said he was “thrilled” to have Cammack’s support, and both Democrats said they expected to be doing much campaigning together in advance of the August Democratic primary.
Cammack said that Kyle’s position on the economy, health care, and the environment were some of the factors that “won me over” and said that, on numerous issues of importance to the state, “Jim stepped up” as Senate Democratic leader.
Other Democrats running in the Democratic primary are Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and former state House majority leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville. Republicans running for governor are District Attorney General Bill Gibbons of Memhis, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, and Lt. Governor Romsey of Blountville.
Financial disclosures last week indicated that the Republicans as a group had raised more money than the Democrats, but Kyle said, "This is still a very close state, D and R. It still comes down to issues and ability."
Former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., now apparently an official New Yorker, came close to home Thursday night, appearing in a debate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. Ford was there in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Conference. The two agreed that more dialogue should be occurring between the two major parties in Congress.
Among other things, Ford defended TARP, called for health care legislation that included both a public option and tort reform, and pronounced himself solidly pro-choice on abortion, although, in making an assertion on this point, Ford spliced it onto the same statement of religious background that he employed in 2006 when seeming to embrace the pro-life viewpoint. (See video.) The audience seemed divided fairly equally between Republicans and Democrats, but Ford appeared to get the lion's share of the cheers. He got his biggest hand when he mentioned the fact that he was considering a run for the Senate in New York.
All the usual suspects have shown up. The Beckers, the Birthers, the Dittoheads, and their like minded posses of racists, xenophobes, homophobes, and other sundry phobic gangs in Winger World. And then there are the pro-lifers—who advocate for “justifiable” murder because it “saves innocent life which begins at the moment of fertilization.” Go figure.
According to recent reporting by the New York Times, and other media, there is trouble brewing in Tea Bagger Paradise. It seems as though the organizers who are charging $550 a pop to attend right wing fantasy weekend have chapped a few butts and raised more than a few eyebrows. Tension has mounted in the last couple of weeks, and while the rest of us are deciding between the Colts and the Saints, the Tea Baggers have been feuding like the Hatfields and the McCoys.
And it’s not just over money. Splintering and splitting is occurring over political identity. Libertarian factions who want a smaller government that stays out of personal life choices are sparring with religious groups who want a big government that uses its power to discriminate against people they don’t like.
Last week, Representatives Michele Bachman of Minnesota and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee both canceled appearances. No one in their camps are really explaining their sudden and last minute decisions as no-shows, although Blackburn reportedly felt that Tea Party brass had put guest speakers in an awkward position by extending an invitation to a for-profit convention.
Last minute switcheroos have also been made by several organizations who were expected to attend. Most notably canceling was a nativist group known as FAIR (for the Federation for American Immigration Reform). FAIR withdrew suddenly this week over concerns about the for-profit status of the convention organizers and the possibility of convention money flowing into unknown campaign coffers. The nativist slot is meanwhile being filled by a group known as NumbersUSA, founded by John Tanton, a retired Michigan eye doctor who’s written that to maintain American culture “a European-American majority” is required. The current head of NumbersUSA, Roy Beck, has made speaking appearances at the national conference of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens.
But alas, there is that certain someone who will stop the bickering, however momentarily, and turn those sour grapes into red-state communion wine. She is the real reason most showing up have made their pilgrimage. They have come to honor their Madonna —The Lady of Perpetual Paranoia—-Saint Sarah of Alaska. She will reportedly receive $100,000 for her appearance and clearly, some in TPN are annoyed and have questioned the steep price tag. However, when Sarah shows up, merrily pouring verbal gasoline and lighting her book of matches by declaring that those in attendance are just like her—- misunderstood and disrespected Put-Upons who are picked on by a country full of “socialist” elites who don’t know what it’s like to live in the “real America”, she will wink her way right into their hearts. And their wallets.
Of course, horrified as we were by our parents' stuffiness and judgementalism, we all aspired not ever to be as uptight as they were about music, and so it was with a great deal of dismay that I recall my revulsion to rap and hip-hop as being an epiphany that, at least in that way, I had become my parents. I guess it's the same feeling we have when we realize that, in spite of our best efforts, we've adopted some of the less attractive aspects of our parents' methods of child rearing.
Of course, they were wrong about Elvis and the Beatles. As I watched the Grammy Awards the other night (mostly for the visual rather than the auditory experience), I was, once again, struck by how vastly superior my generation's music was to what passes for music these days. I asked myself whether Beyonce, Kanye West or The Black Eyed Peas are likely to have their music played thirty or more years from now, the way The Rolling Stones', Bob Dylan's or Paul Simon's still is. Will we remember, fondly, U2, the way we remember the Supremes or the Temptations? Will there be rap retrospectives as fund-raising vehicles on public TV decades from now the way doo-wop is? Will there be pilgrimages to hear Green Day the way there have been for the Grateful Dead? Forgive my skepticism in asking those essentially rhetorical questions, but what passes for music today is, as I saw one commenter on the Grammy say, frozen TV dinners trying to pass as real food.
So, is it fair to judge a musical genre by its ability to stand the test of time, or should we just accept whatever the latest thing in music is as a barometer of current taste? Whatever happened to New Wave and Punk Rock, anyway? Where are the Talking Heads and Devo, now that we need them (not)? Or, for that matter, disco? Were they just a tribute to our musical fickleness? I believe longevity is an absolutely appropriate criterion for quality. If that weren't so, symphonic music audiences, regardless of their sophistication, would prefer hearing Phillip Glass or Charles Ives to Beethoven or Mozart, which they overwhelmingly don't.
I'm no musicologist, but what is it about music that gives it a lasting quality? Take a look, or better yet, listen, to the music of the 50's and 60's and what you'll find is that the common thread is tonality. Harmony and ensemble were still important in that era—-not so much, anymore. Many of the singers of my day had something called a voice. The players also had something called musicianship. The singers understood nuance and modulation. Sure, we had some screamers even back then (e.g., Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis), but fewer of them saw the need to compensate for a lack of voice talent by cranking up the volume, as seems to be so prevalent today.
So, are rap and hip-hop the new rock 'n roll? I doubt it. Music must be, above all, musical, and it takes more than decibel levels, pulsating rhythms and rhyming verse to make music. Yeah, I know; our parents thought (hoped, really) that rock 'n roll was a passing fancy, just the way some of us feel about today's music. But, they were wrong, and we're right.
The issue was that of federal funds disbursed to the State of Tennessee for uncompensated care administered at The Med to indigent patients. Traditionally, the lion’s share of these funds has been distributed at gubernatorial discretion throughout the state’s medical-care system, with only a remnant returning to The Med itself. Of $84 million generated by Med activity in the last fiscal cycle, only $34 million was routed back to the Memphis hospital.
The institution is now in financial crisis. The commission last week approved emergency add-on funding of $10 million, but additional funding is needed to keep The Med operating at full capacity — or even, as Commissioner Mike Ritz, a longtime supporter of fuller funding for The Med, has suggested, to keep it open. During discussion of Flinn’s resolution Wednesday in the commission’s Legislative Committee, Ritz warned that TennCare cuts indicated in Governor Phil Bredesen’s State-of-the-State address Monday night might force The Med’s closure.
“Tennessee makes money out of our uncompensated care, and they put it in TennCare,” Ritz said. “Interestingly enough, if The Med closes, TennCare’s in trouble.”
Despite personal pleas in Nashville last week by Ritz, interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford, and other county officials, the governor included no additional funds for The Med in his budget.
“We beg the governor to send us money,” Flinn said. “Right now, at this moment in history, we have a chance to say to the gubernatorial candidates how to allocate that money. After the election we don’t have a chance to influence the vote.” Although Flinn is a Republican and will be running for Congress in the GOP primary, he said that the intent of his resolution was to reward or penalize candidates for governor regardless of party label — depending on how they responded.
Commissioner Joyce Avery was of like mind, suggesting that letters go out to candidates on April 1, with answers expected back on May 1. “I want to know who I’m going to work for as governor. If they wont’ support the Med, I won’t support them.” When Ritz pointed out that April 1 was the filing deadline for state and federal elections, the resolution was amended to mandate the send-out date to April 1, with candidates’ responses expected on April 15.
Further discussion resulted in strengthening the language of the resolution to specify, at Flinn’s request, that all uncompensated-care funds generated by treatment at The Med be returned to the institution itself.
Before the final unanimous vote, two commissioners had expressed tentative reservations about the Flinn resolution. James Harvey wondered if the resolution wasn’t a “cart before the horse” matter that might injure relationships with elected officials. And Henri Brooks appeared to minimize the effect of the resolutions, calling it “a little pledge” and “a good little thing to do” but suggesting a visit to Washington to discuss the issue with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, head of a Homeland Security subcommittee, might be more fruitful.
“I do not appreciate this being seen as a little pledge — or a little anything,” Flinn responded heatedly, prompting Brooks to say she had not meant to “diminish or marginalize the content of the pledge.”
Wednesday’s committee vote will come before the commission’s full public meeting on Monday for final derermnation.
Bartlett banker Harold Byrd’s withdrawal from consideration last week presented a transformed electoral landscape, and it is onto that landscape that Luttrell, a proven vote-getter across party lines, will tread.
Presented with the news on Tuesday, blogger/activist Tom Guleff, who had announced for county mayor as a Republican candidate last week, would say, “The GOP is really excited with Mark and his entrance into the mayor's race. Back to being Joe Citizen.”
Local GOP chairman Lang Wiseman heralded Luttrell's decision with this press release:
A Major Announcement: Leadership you can trust: Mark Luttrell
Our County faces tremendous challenges -- billions of dollars in debt, an under-educated workforce, lack of trust in public officials, and a sense that our best days are behind us.
Turning all of that around requires solid, trustworthy leadership. It requires someone who can heal our divides, bring honor to our government institutions, govern with fiscally conservative principles, and bring out the best in all of us.
For months now we have been searching for such a candidate, and today he stepped forward to stand in the gap.
Sheriff Mark Luttrell.
Mark has demonstrated unfailing integrity and an ability to earn the trust of a large majority of voters across partisan, racial, and geographic divides. He has kept his promises, including taking a county jail on the cusp of federal takeover and transforming it into a model institution. He was even recognized by his peers as THE best Sheriff in America.
If such a man can accomplish all of those things from the Sheriff's office, just imagine what Mark can accomplish as Mayor in these trying times.
This task won't be easy, and it will require all hands on deck. If you want real change, you will have to stand up and fight for it. So be ready. In the coming months, we will be asking you to organize your precinct, become a dues-paying member, join or start a Republican club, and contact voters to remind them about the election.
This is our moment – our opportunity to move this community forward – and we couldn't have asked for a better standard-bearer than Mark Luttrell to get the job the done.
UPDATE: In a conversation at a Tuesday afternoon “wine-tasting” reception/fund-raiser for him at Delta Wholesale Liquors, the sheriff explained that “no one factor, but several” inclined him toward running after many months of expressing reluctance.
The first two factors he mentioned were “my skill set” and “my poll numbers.” The latter was a reference to a fresh poll showed him this week by Republican boosters. Apparently taken in the wake of withdrawal of Democrat Harold Byrd (“for whom I have great regard”) from consideration as a mayoral candidate, the reassuring numbers and “looking at the candidates out there” convinced him that he a good chance to win.Acknowledging that fellow Republicans’ non-stop efforts to talk him into running ”was a consideration,” Luttrell insisted, “A major part of my success is that I am not a partisan person,” and that he had worked across racial and partisan lines as sheriff and would do so again as county mayor. The job “doesn’t have the same scope that the city mayor does,” Luttrell said, but it still offered him sufficient additional challenges.
“Eight years ago, the sheriff’s department was a mess,” he said. “The sheriff’s department is no longer a mess.” He indicated that he relished the opportunity to tackle large problems like “poverty, education, public safety, the county debt, and school funding.” Asked if he thought that being mayor offered him a chance to redefine himself after a career largely devoted to incarceration and law enforcement, he answered, “In a sense,” and went on to say, “I’m looking forward to a new test.”