Ending at least a year or two of carefully nurtured suspense, attorney and City Councilman Jim Strickland finally cast his die on Thursday: He will, as has long been expected, be a candidate for Memphis Mayor, running on a platform of overdue change.
At a press conference at the Falls Building on Front St. Thursday morning, Strickland stated the issue this way: “Memphis is at a critical juncture. Violent crime is up. Jobs are down. Blight is up. Basic City services are down. City government debt is up. Our tax base is shrinking.”
The upshot, as Strickland put it: “By any objective measure, the Wharton Administration is failing.”
The second-term Councilman and former chairman from District 5, who has developed a reputation over the years as a budget hawk, thereby becomes the most serious rumored opponent of Mayor A C Wharton’s reelection to make his race official.
Councilman Harold Collins, who has appointed an exploratory committee to consider a race,and the Rev. Kenneth Whalum are also widely expected to become mayoral candidates.
Former County Commission chairman James Harvey has also indicated he will run for mayor.
Citing a population loss in Memphis of some 50,000 people over the last ten-year census period, Strickland said, “My mother is from Gary, Indiana. My grandparents owned a small store there, and I visited often in the 1970’s. I saw first-hand the devastating effect that population loss had on a city. Detroit also failed because of population loss and the resulting reduction in the tax base.”
The city’s declining population base had been masked to some degree by frequent annexations of adjacent suburban areas, said Strickland, who argued that even that expedient had been rendered null and void by recent changes in state law that have made annexation a more difficult process.
Public safety and a commitment to pre-K public education were among his priorities, Strickland said.
“Reckless borrowing and spending,” along with a close-to-the-vest style of communication with the Council and a tendency to substitute P.R. for constructive action were among the drawbacks of Mayor Wharton’s administration, Strickland said at the press conference and in an interview afterward.
He promised a “back to the basics” administration instead of “programs and slogans that sound good.”
Speculation on Strickland’s chances of upsetting Wharton has so far focused on the extent to which the Councilman, whose financial sources in the business community have overlapped with Wharton’s in the past, can tap those sources as well as, or better than. the mayor.
The councilman, who has so far amassed a campaign war chest of roughly $180,000, says he expects ultimately to have a campaign budget of $500,000.,
Demographic factors, meaning the way in which racial and neighborhood factors might factor into the ultimate candidate field, have also received a fair share of attention.
Strickland, who is white and has acknowledged support in his District 5 area and along the rest of the Poplar Corridor, insists he has good name recognition and support in predominantly African-American areas as well.
Recent election results would seem to bolster his optimism to some degree. Among the winning white candidates for countywide offices in last August’s general election, several — including District Attorney General Amy Weirich, County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Juvenile Court clerk Dan Michael — drew 20 percent of the black vote or higher against African-American opponents.