The Thin Gray Line 

A warning went along with the happy talk at mayor-council luncheon.

Though the grins were plentiful as Mayor Willie Herenton and members of his council-to-be in 2008 got together for lunch at the Rendezvous last Wednesday, the smiles may have tightened up a little when His Honor climaxed the get-acquainted event with a speech that warned of a "gray line" and of "certain areas where either branch decided to get into the other branch's domain."

A shot across the bow it seemed, a recap of sorts of the mayor's troubles with past councils — most recently on council staff appointments — on matters where, as Herenton indicated, the legislative and executive branches of city government may have had conflicting ambitions.

But that was as contentious as things got Wednesday as former councilman and Rendezvous owner John Vergos, along with another former council member, the Rev. James Netters, co-hosted the luncheon in which nine newly elected members came together for the first time with the four holdover council members.

Oh, Joe Brown made special mention of "divisiveness," and Netters referred to even worse times of the past, like the late 1960s, when he and other members of the city's first elected council had to deal with "riots, violence, and murder" in the context of a prolonged sanitation strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

But mostly talk was of the upbeat sort, beginning with Vergos' mention of a Rhodes College brochure touting Memphis' virtues and continuing with mutual pledges all around of cooperation in the new year.

Afterward, the mayor, who announced he would not hold the annual New Year's Day prayer breakfast on which, customarily in recent years, he would issue policy thunderbolts, gave reporters a list of objectives which included such familiar (but unachieved) standbys as metro government and bringing the city school system into municipal government as such.

Herenton also pledged to resolve financial and jurisdictional disputes in the operation of the Beale Street tourist quarter. He deferred to the council on the matter of whether it should pass its own version of a County Commission ordinance on topless clubs, but it is taken for granted he wants a more lenient ordinance than the county version, which bans beer sales in such establishments and requires pasties on dancers.

Ironically enough, a wall of the basement room in which council members, staffers, and the mayor met contained a rendering of a reclining nude, sans pasties.

The entire complement of the 2008 council membership was on hand, with the exception of new member Reid Hedgepeth. Mayoral and council aides also attended.

Continuing in its get-ready mode, members of the council will be holding an all-day retreat next week.

• Local Republican chairman Bill Giannini became the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the 2006 county election by filing last week for the office of Shelby County assessor. Other potential GOP primary candidates are John Bogan, Betty Boyette, and Randy Lawson. Cheyenne Johnson intends to run as a Democrat, as might Jimmy White.

• One of the bona fide movers and shakers in the local political world (and the civic and financial worlds) is Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd, who reports that he expects to make a "full recovery" from a recent operation for colon cancer.

Byrd, a former state legislator and candidate for Congress and county mayor, has legions of friends from all points on the political spectrum and has been well-wished by most of them of late.

Just now, Byrd is trying to organize a charter flight for the University of Memphis Tigers' appearance at the New Orleans Bowl on December 21st. Given that the basketball Tigers are playing a big game against Georgetown at the FedExForum on the 22nd, that's no cinch, but, as Byrd points out, taking the flight, which goes and returns on the same day, is a surefire way of taking in both events.

From a Standing Start, former Republican governor Winfield Dunn's political memoir, drew a good crowd for a recent book-signing at Bookstar on Poplar.

Among other things, the book contains some amusing anecdotes at the expense of Dunn's vanquished Democratic foe in 1970, John Jay Hooker.

But there is an aura of good will in the book, as there was at the signing. When someone mentioned the Hooker reference to Harry Wellford, who managed Dunn's 1970 efforts, the former judge nodded and said, "But they're good friends now," then smiled and added: "And that's as it should be."

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