Memphis is facing a watershed year. The looming mayoral election hasn't begun to heat up yet, but the summer promises plenty of political maneuvering and fireworks as candidates jockey for position.
It's now looking more and more likely that several candidates — each supported by varying constituencies — will be vying to unseat Mayor Willie Herenton. This is no doubt the way Herenton hopes it will play out. The more candidates there are, the more likely it is that the mayor will return for another term.
I have nothing against any of the announced candidates, but I don't think any of them has thus far shown themselves capable of addressing the current citywide ennui. There is no one yet running who, in the immortal words of George Bush the Elder, has "the vision thing."
Most candidates are trying to tap into the anger of the electorate, but there is nobody — black or white, Republican or Democrat — who would seem to have the ability to inspire hope and provide a coalescing leadership.
We need someone who can unify us and make us proud to be Memphians again. Our self-esteem as a city is at rock-bottom. Our corrupt and inept politicians have made us a statewide joke. Our crime problem eats at our core like a cancer. But crime isn't made from whole cloth. It's woven from the dark threads of poor education, one-parent homes, illegal guns, drugs, poverty, and hopelessness.
A candidate with vision sees the big picture, articulates the problems and their causes — and lays out a way forward. Herenton hasn't done this, at least not recently. And even if he began to do so today, he's burned too many bridges, alienated too many of his constituents. After three terms, his relationship with the City Council — and with at least half of the city's residents — is probably broken beyond repair.
Another four years of "staying the course" with the political status quo could prove disastrous. At this point, change of any kind would be welcome, but real change will require a vision — and a visionary. Applicants welcomed.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. — William Shakespeare
Is there such a thing as "bad activism"? I'm asking because I'm seeing a lot of criticism of the folks who are protesting the Memphis Zoo's encroachment onto the Greensward at Overton Park.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."