Can Would-Be Mayor Morris Paint Himself Out of His Corner? 

by JACKSON BAKER

After opening his mayoral campaign Wednesday afternoon at The Peabody with a formal announcement event that had its ups and downs, former MLGW head Herman Morris regrouped with a sizeable group of supporrters later in the evening at the Botanic Gardens.

The gathering had a well-heeled look to it. Good wine, elegant canapés, and hors d'oeuvres were to be had, and the room teemed with a crowd that was clearly well above the median, income-wise.

That was ironic, given Morris' use of the term "Tale of Two Cities" earlier in the day to describe a city riven between the prosperous and the poor. Though clearly upscale, his crowd was racially diverse, however, in keeping with the candidate's emphasis at his opening on being a bridge between the races.

In his remarks at the evening event, Morris was fluent and obviously comfortable with his audience, and his resonant bring-us-together rhetoric, coupled with his aura (and stated promise) of professionalism, was just what the crowd was looking for.

In a few scant hours, Morris had manifestly improved as a speaker and seemed already to have grasped that practice would make him, if not perfect, then at least good enough to compete. If he had a failing on this first night of campaigning, it was a difficulty in finding the right way to close. Sooner or later, of course, all rookie politicians come to realize that only Tchaikovsky could get away with five finales to the same set-piece. In the event, what Morris did was spin from one exhortatory coda to another until his wife more or less concluded for him, with a pitch to supporters to buy prints of one of his oil paintings, which were on display in an exhibit room just around the corner

The candidate's paintings - well crafted and traditionally done -- were, as they say, worth the price of admission, and several of the big spenders gladly sprung for the selected print, a ploughing scene involving a man and a mule and called, curiously enough, "Self Portrait."

Should it come to pass that Morris does indeed get elected mayor, the evidence of his oils was that he could probably do his own bona fide self portrait to hang in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall. And there was a spirit to the affair Wednesday night that anything might be possible.

But that could be illusory. Councilwoman Carol Chumney is in the field, after all - and is sure to remain there, come what may. Morris and his supporters all acknowledge that. And it would seem obvious that the two challengers - Chumney with her following of disestablishmentarians and barnburners, Morris with his bi-racial elite corps - would end up splitting the same anti-Herenton vote. John Willingham will get some votes, too - though the former county commissioner has by now taken on the aura of a perennial candidate and seems destined to bring up the rear.

But at least Herman Morris, after all the prior talk and anticipation, was finally hitched up to his plough. It's up to him now to sow as he will and reap what he can.

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