Speaking to an overflow breakfast meeting of the Whitehaven
Kiwanis Club Tuesday, Mayor Willie Herenton defended his record, appealed
to his base constituency, and took out after "people who have the audacity to
say, 'What has he done?'"
Herenton made his disdain for such critics clear: "When they even raise the question, that means they're hating on me. Those of you who know that street lingo, you know what I'm talking about. It's envy, it's jealousy.
Acknowledging that much of the criticism has come from his fellow African Americans, Herenton peered out over his audience and went on: "I see a few haters in here right now. That's all right. You were on the train riding with me in '91, and when I couldn't do all you wanted me to do, you got off the train. That's all right."
Herenton then enumerated some questions he said he might pose to the Chamber of Commerce:" Under what mayor did this city experience the greatest economic growth in its history. That's not subjective. Under which mayor, did median income exceed the national average?"
He boasted of International Paper's relocation here and Nike's expansion and, concerning what he and others have called "the downtown renaissance," claimed, "It's the envy of every city in America."
Continuing to cite his achievements and turning to a former statement that his adversaries have reproached him for, Herenton said, "People in Mississippi are paying more taxes than we are. All those people who are fleeing, going to DeSoto County! I remember when I said, 'If you aren't on the same page with me, if you don't care about making Memphis grow, 'Bye, Bye.' They said I invited people to leave Memphis. I didn't invite people to leave. I merely said, 'If you don't have the passion, if you don't want to roll your sleeves up, help this community to grow, and you want to be negative about it, 'Bye Bye.' Now what's wrong with that?"
Calling himself a "growth mayor," the mayor said his
policies had regenerated previously distressed neighborhoods like the former sites
of Lamar Terrace, Dixie Homes, and LeMoyne Gardens - all renovated or undergoing
renovation - and invited his critics and mayoral opponents to join with him in
combating issues of poverty, crime, and blight.
But he would go on to scoff at unnamed "politicians" for claiming they could resolve those problems. "Some of y'all may be stupid enough to listen to that," Herenton said. "People don't want to deal with the truth. Nobody's gong to solve the crime problem." As for poverty, "The Bible tells us, 'the poor will always be with us.'"
Instead, Herenton proposed a strategy "through education, through opportunities, [to] help people to acknowledge that there can be a better life."
Professing to "love Whitehaven," Herenton recalled a time when, as school superintendent, he, former congressman Harold Ford Sr. and other prominent blacks lived in an integrated neighborhood in the area. "What happened was that everybody started moving."
Chastising those who chose to "run behind people that don't want to live with you," the mayor, who would go on to develop the Banneker Estates area off Horn Lake Rd., said, "I decided that I didn't want to do that. I decided that whenever I built a house, it was going to be right in this area with people who wanted to live with me. And I never bought a house that anybody else had lived in. I never had 'em running."
All in all, the mayor professed "optimism about the future of this great city" and expressed hope - apropos his focus on residential issues -- that Memphis could avoid the problems of a metropolis to the southeast. "If we're not careful, we will be a little Atlanta," he said - a city surrounded by a myriad of "satellite communities."
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