Friday, April 13, 2018

Weekend Review: Focus on Willie Herenton, Phil Bredesen, and Bob Corker

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge Bredesen, Corker, Herenton - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Bredesen, Corker, Herenton
Willie Herenton became an epochal cultural figure upon his election in 1991 as Memphis’ first elected African-American mayor. He went on to run the city for 18 years before retiring under pressure in 2009. He tried a comeback in 2010, with a race for the 9th District Congressional seat, but lost by a 79-to-21 percent margin to Congressman Steve Cohen in the overwhelmingly black district.

Now Herenton is embarked on a new race for mayor in 2019, announced last Thursday in the wake of the MLK50 commemorations in honor of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike and assassination in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr. Though the former mayor’s announcement engendered real excitement for many of his former supporters, some political observers see his race against Cohen — haphazard, impulsive, underfunded, and ill-prepared — as foreshadowing the likely result of the 78-year-old Herenton’s latest surprise comeback attempt.

Herenton’s declared reason for running again is to "complete the mission" of Dr. King, and the difficulty of his undertaking is amplified by Mayor Jim Strickland’s relatively good 2015 showing among black voters and by Strickland’s success in increasing black business contracts with the city and in removing Confederate war memorials.

Herenton disclosed some of his views in an interview this week with podcaster Brian Clay at Crosstown Concourse: “I had the privilege of marching with Dr. King on two occasions when he came to Memphis, 28 years ago,” said Herenton, then a Memphis city schools principal and later schools superintendent. “I stood in front of City Hall wearing an ‘I Am a Man’ sign. I always had a social conscience. I’m always addressing injustice.”

The former mayor said that “50 years later, I had to look in the mirror again.” He quoted the Socratic axiom: "The unexamined life is not worth living." Herenton added, ”We have become a very, very poor city. ... We cannot separate economics from education, history has taught me.” He spoke of “a correlation” between failing schools, failing health care, housing, and numerous other issues.

But Herenton cautioned voters to have “reasonable expectations” and said that, while he could promise to “give the very best managerial skill, vision, and boldness” he had, “no magic wand and could not by himself, cure 'generational poverty.'” He said, “I’m not going to promise you that poverty is going to go away or that people will stop killing each other.”
The former mayor faulted himself for not having prepared a proper successor during his 18 years as mayor. While making a point of not criticizing the current administration of Strickland, Herenton said he had the “energy and passion now to make some needed changes. It’s a new economy now. ... Memphis cannot be a growth city paying people starvation wages.”

In addition to earlier reports in the Flyer, here is additional information on recent appearances and statements in Memphis by former Governor Phil Bredesen and retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker:

In an interview with the Flyer last week, Bredesen, now a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, made it clear that his middle-of-the-road campaign rhetoric is no accident: “In our state, I need to capture a lot of middle-of-the-road voters — even a few of what I would call economic Republicans.” To that end, the former governor acknowledged he was "not crazy" about the Affordable Care Act, but "it's on the books, and we've got to try to make it work."

In general, said Bredesen, the Democratic Party has “narrowed too much” and adopted “too many litmus tests. ... We have to win if we want to govern again.”

Bredesen theorized about the desirability of having a close working relationship with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, if elected: “I haven’t talked to Lamar about linking, but he’s a good example of people in both parties who, if they got together, could make a comprehensive start to be a block of 10 or 12 to start to do something. I’d like to be a part of a movement like that.”

Two days later, Alexander announced his support in the Senate race for fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Referring to retiring GOP Senator Bob Corker as “a thought leader in the Senate” and a “straight shooter,” Mayor Strickland introduced Corker at a luncheon meeting of the rotary club of Memphis at Clayborn Temple last week.

Corker said he continued to have disagreements with President Trump, though he hadn’t made a point of emphasizing the fact on each occasion. But, among other things, the Senator declared that the president’s tweeting habit was “very harmful, and he expressed concern about the strong likelihood that Trump intends to abrogate U.S. adherence to the current multinational agreement withholding sanctions on Iran if that nation maintains a freeze on its development of nuclear-weapon capability.

Corker said that Iran could be “off and running” on a nuclear pathway if the agreement ceased to be, and he said a better course than renouncing the agreement would be to seek modification, in tandem with America’s European allies, of the pact’s current 10-year “sunset” provision. Otherwise, he said, it was doubtful that the Europeans would follow Trump’s lead in scrapping the agreement.

“I personally think we’d be better off keeping the agreement in place,” Corker said.
The senator also deplored Congress’ recent passage of a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill but said, “The system works better than you think. ... Believe it or not, Washington reflects the country much more fully than you think.”

And he said he’d been “terribly impressed” by the vigor and commitment of the students from Parkland High School who have launched an ongoing national campaign for anti-gun legislation.

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