Almost despite himself, Mayor Herenton has occasioned some useful discourse about the matter of civic priorities. We say "despite himself" because we're not sure the latest Big Idea floated by the mayor -- a new football stadium to be financed by a $60 million bond issue -- was ever meant to be taken seriously. It is characteristic of Hizzoner to advance sweeping proposals, let them simmer for a while on the front burner, then allow both them and his own appetite for pursuing them to cool off while the same-old same-old civic problems -- urban blight, crime, neighborhood redevelopment -- and some worsening new ones -- corruption in local government prominent among them -- continue to languish with inattention.
The stadium proposal, announced by Herenton on the occasion of his annual New Year's Day prayer breakfast, already seems like a leftover item from last year, or the year before that, another in a long list of forgotten or neglected issues, like the mayor's perennial call for city/county consolidation, a long-shot issue that gets ever longer as real needs go unaddressed and public confidence wanes among those both inside and outside the city line.
Herenton is no fool, to be sure. He was canny enough to go beyond a mere welcoming address at last weekend's National Conference for Media Reform and to align a blast or two at his local critics with the issue of media bias, one of the forum's dominant concerns. For his pains, he was accorded the status of an unfairly maligned executive by one of the event's organizers, who went so far as to suggest that, but for the aforesaid bias, Herenton might have become a perfectly legitimate presidential contender. (No, we're not making this up.)
Well, good for him. We've always respected Mayor Herenton for the large and even inspiring figure he cuts when he chooses to -- just as we've always discounted his disingenuous claim that he is "not a politician." The last time we looked, successful politicians are the ones who know how to get the numbers at election time, and that category certainly includes Willie Herenton.
As we stand on the precipice of yet another city election, one that will evidently see Herenton's attempt at winning a fifth four-year mayoral term, we indulge the hope that, this time around, the mayor is challenged to go beyond bromides, bait-and-switch proposals, and election-year rhetoric. One more-than-likely opponent is City Council member Carol Chumney, who if nothing else knows how to find the sore that's festering and pick it. There are plenty sores around on our urban and governmental landscape for her to choose from. Another possible entrant is former MLGW president Herman Morris, a longtime insider who is no doubt capable of great revelations concerning possible back-burner (and back-room) issues.
We look forward to a real and meaningful contest this year between Herenton, Chumney, Morris, and whomever else, and whoever wins may well get our own nomination for president if they go on to do something about the real problems and -- who knows? -- maybe even fix them.