People in media often talk about slow news days. Here in Memphis, we don't have that problem. We've got a basketball team headed to the Final Four this weekend. And we've got the nation's media focused on our city for the next couple of weeks, covering the memorials to Dr. Martin Luther King on the 40th anniversary of his assassination at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum.
But that's not all. Our city mayor, Dr. Willie Herenton, is also making news that's garnering coverage in The New York Times and other national media outlets. All around Memphis, people are asking each other: "What is he up to?"
The follow-up queries are almost always: "Is he crazy?" and, secondarily, "Can he do that?"
In this issue, Jackson Baker writes at length about his recent interview with county mayor A C Wharton. It's illuminating and makes clear that Herenton has had big plans in mind for quite some time — even prior to last fall's mayoral election.
As for the question "Can he do that?" It will not be easy, as Preston Lauterbach's and Chris Davis' reporting makes clear. The school board has a search process under way, and their timetable and the mayor's do not mesh.
None of this really gets to the heart of the "why" question, however. Why would the mayor think he could unilaterally manipulate the system to gain the superindent's job and pass the mayor's office on to his CAO?
The broad answer is contained in that hoary cliche, "power corrupts." In Herenton's case, I don't mean monetary corruption. I mean the kind of corruption that leads to seeking power for power's sake, the kind of thinking that comes to men who have been in power so long that they decide it's owed to them.
It's the kind of power that generates hubris and disdain for others' abilities, the kind of power Vice President Dick Cheney has tried to create for the office of president, the kind of power that leads Soviet leader Vladimir Putin to "step aside" and put a puppet in office in his stead.
Democracy doesn't work that way. At least, it's not supposed to.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...