"I Need You to Help Me," a Restrained Herenton Tells Chamber Audience 

In a conspicuously low-key but resolute appearance before a Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce audience at the Memphis Marriot East Thursday morning, a newly reelected Mayor Willie Herenton proclaimed a broad agenda for his fifth term and declared, "The next four years I'm hitting the ground. I'm hitting it hard. I'm going to let it all hang out."

Appearing subdued and almost somber at times, the mayor laid before the packed audience at the Chamber's "Breakfast Forum 280907" a wish list of key objectives -- prominently including city/county consolidation; Fairgrounds and riverfront development; and resolution of issues involving Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum.

"We need to consolidate. We've been singing that song, and we're going to open that hymnbook again," Herenton vowed. He went on to note wryly, "I'm not without bold ideas. I just don't have the support."

Acquiring such support on this and other issues would be a major objective, he said, clearly striving to avoid a confrontational tone, "I can't do it by myself. I need you to help me," he acknowledged, going so far as to strike an accustomed note of modesty. "I'm just an average person," declared the man who on other occasions has seemed to profess divine sanction for his actions.

Continuing in the conciliatory vein, he mayor said somewhat pointedly, "I don't want to be accused of bashing the media." Nor did he, though he ran through a laundry list of public concerns vented by the media (among them Iraq, global warming, demographic shifts locally) and lamented, "We function on negatives rather than positives."

Though his remarks were largely cast in generalities, the mayor seemed to take sides in the currently percolating controversy over community-versus-corporate control of the Civil Rights Museum. "Without private philanthropy and support, there is no museum," he said emphatically. That, he said without elaboration, was "more important" than feuds or the wishes of individuals.

In introducing Herenton, Chamber president and CEO John Moore had been at pains to credit the mayor with numerous positive achievements, mostly in the sphere of economic development. This was a seeming response to campaign rhetoric in which Herenton had frequently challenged the Chamber to own up to his accomplishments.

In his own summing up Thursday, the mayor ticked off some of the city's blessings. Memphis possessed affordable housing and an inviting tax base. It was "the largest air-cargo destination center in the world...the largest mail-processing center in the United States... the second-largest manufacturer of orthopedic-device medical devices in the United States."

And, he said, Memphis was the smallest city to have both a major airline hub (Northwest) and a National Basketball Association franchise.

"This city's best days are ahead of us," Herenton concluded. "Let us embrace change and diversity. Let us be one city. I want to be a part of that."

In a brief Q-and-A session with reporters afterward, the mayor attempted to minimize the brewing argument between himself and the city council over who gets to appoint council staff. "I never have selected anybody," he said, stressing that his mayoral prerogative to make such appointments was largely a formality - but one he was prepared to litigate in order to preserve.


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