In two impressive ceremonies, held sequentially on Monday, Shelby County acquired a new mayor, and, roughly an hour later, so did Memphis.
A prime actor in both ceremonies was A C Wharton, the outgoing county mayor, who stood directly behind Shelby County Commission chair Joyce Avery as she spoke after taking the oath at 10:30 a.m. At noon, in a jam-packed Hall of Mayors in City Hall, Wharton was then be sworn in himself as mayor of Memphis.
The symbolism of continuity and the central role of Wharton were both reflected in Avery’s remarks after being sworn in.
“It is not the place of an acting mayor to offer grand new plans, propose expensive projects, change things that have worked for years, or get out in front of the TV camera,” she said. “My role is to offer continuity between Mayor Wharton’s administration and the administration of the next Mayor.
“Shelby County faces challenges from bond debt to violent crime. We are on the right track, however. Our debt is coming down and law enforcement is vigorously attacking crime. I want to make sure that we strictly adhere to the debt plan that was established during Mayor Wharton’s tenure so we can continue to reduce our debt and insure our children are not bridled with the burden of past spending.”
Besides Wharton, a phalanx of local governmental and community dignitaries stood behind Avery as she spoke.
Though in recent days Wharton had not been above a bit of crowing over his smashing electoral victory with 60 percent of the vote, his inaugural remarks, delivered before a Who’s Who of local eminences, addressed the theme of unity.
After stating that he regarded himself as having received a mandate to govern, Wharton said, “But one of the clearest and most universally shared mandates and directives I have heard and received from people across this community is the desire for me to help bring an end to the rancor and divisiveness that has too often defined our politics and clogged the engine of our forward progress.”
The new mayor returned to his campaign theme: “I’ve said it before, and I will share it again: One Memphis! ... One Memphis means you working with government and government listening to, being responsive to, and working with you.”
And Wharton concluded on a note that evoked both the spirit of cooperation and the musical history of the city he now is charged with guiding: “Today, I call on every Memphian to commit to work with us as we seek to create a melody from Memphis which strikes chords of collaboration, whose tone is civility, and whose message is filled with the hope, possibility, and the highest of aspirations.”