Thursday, December 27, 2001

Parting Shots

What made Memphis more interesting in 2001.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 27, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Political chic. There have been women in Memphis who threw big parties in public spaces, like Pat Kerr Tigrett. And women politicians like Pat VanderSchaaf, Mary Rose McCormick, and Carol Chumney, who had visions of power. And women who came up through the ranks to run departments of state government, like Jane Walters. But nobody made a bigger splash or went straight to the top faster than Kristi Jernigan, Gayle Rose, and Barbara Hyde.

Many Memphians, it seems safe to say, felt fairly helpless and irrelevant after September 11th. What to do to show you care? Guardsmark CEO Ira Lipman hung a huge American flag across the front of his building on Second Street. The question now: When does it come down? And what will it signify when it does?

Throw out the racial stereotypes. The most integrated place in town is a gathering of county mayoral candidates. White Republicans are supporting black Democrat A C Wharton. Black Democrats and bastions of the NAACP are supporting white suburban businessman Harold Byrd. In Memphis this is progress.

What do military tribunals look like? Probably something like the temporary removal of federal judge Jon McCalla. In this episode of Men Behaving Badly, the no-nonsense judge got in trouble for a temper that some lawyers said made it impossible for them to do their jobs. Guarded by U.S. marshals, a panel of judges and witnesses slipped into the federal building to secretly censure him, until McCalla, according to secondhand accounts, copped the equivalent of a nolo contendere plea and dispensed several personal apologies. The inquisitors and witnesses stole away as quietly as they came and that was the end of that. Next case.

The Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association first distinguished itself with a comprehensive rating survey of local judges that nailed several slackers. Then the organization and its members showed that cops aren't the only ones who can honor a code of silence by uttering not a word of protest about the secrecy of the McCalla ouster.

More than $2 billion has been invested downtown in the last 20 years, but they can't get some things right. The trolley, for instance. The fare is an impossible 60 cents, not 50 cents, not an even buck. And it hasn't occurred to anyone to have somebody collect it outside the vehicle on the 62 nights a year when there are crowds going to professional or college basketball at The Pyramid. Like ghost ships, trolleys run empty during the morning rush hour, causing lines of cars to stop along Riverside Drive while the crossing gates come down.

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong cutting implement. Ali Al-Maqtari, from Yemen, was stopped at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where his wife was going into the army. He had a box-cutter and a story about being a French teacher visiting the U.S. After September 11th, he became the best-known detainee in Memphis, where he was finally freed in immigration court after more than a month in custody.

Non-stories. Logan Young was not indicted, unless you count the Internet and The Commercial Appeal. Roy Adams, aka "TennStud," was not sued for libel by Young. Albert Means was not all-world or even all-conference and certainly not worth a $200,000 payoff. The Pyramid was not sponsored.

They said it couldn't be done. The city engineers said Union Avenue couldn't work without changing lane directions during rush hour. They were wrong. The mother of roads now runs unvexed, more or less, to the Father of Waters.

Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey was the public official of the year. Not because he was necessarily right or wrong, but because he was a public naysayer at a time and place when it was unpopular to be one. While almost everyone else was climbing aboard the NBA bandwagon, Bailey civilly demanded answers and asked hard questions. In short, he did his job.

Robert Lipscomb was the bureaucrat of the year. Under his leadership at Memphis Housing Authority, the downtown housing projects have been renovated, rebuilt, or closed. If they were still as threatening as they once were, there would be more misery in Memphis, more crime. And developments like the St. Jude expansion, Uptown, and the arena proposal wouldn't have happened. If Lipscomb were a corporate CEO he would get a big raise and some stock options.

Two people who will earn their money next year will be those responsible for filling the 375-unit Echelon at the Ballpark apartments next to AutoZone Park and downtown's new luxury hotel, the Madison.

The former main library at Peabody and McLean will be torn down less than a year after it stopped serving thousands of people, seven days a week, year-round. The Sears building still stands 20 years after it closed. The Mid-South Coliseum is a protected historic landmark. Just as a city can build anything if the right people push the right buttons, so can it tear anything down or keep it from being torn down.

If you didn't hear Carol Coletta's Smart City on WKNO Sunday mornings, you missed the most thought-provoking hour on radio in 2001, a weekly program that manages to be of local interest without being local. If you didn't read Tim Sampson's We Recommend in the Flyer you missed the funniest thing in the Memphis print media.

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