The Beat Goes On 

Ambitious political folks last week seemed interested in changing places with somebody else or, in the case of some, with staying put.

Mayor A C Wharton at “coffee and chat” at the Midtown IHOP on Union.

Jackson Baker

Mayor A C Wharton at “coffee and chat” at the Midtown IHOP on Union.

As the Election Commission's April 17th date for making candidate petitions available approaches, the 2015 city election season becomes ever more clearly a case of the old making way for the new. Within the past few weeks, such core pillars of the city council as Chairman Myron Lowery and Councilmen Shea Flinn and Harold Collins have announced they will not be candidates for reelection. Flinn's future plans remain unknown, although they are rumored to involve some sort of relationship with the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. Another key councilman, Jim Strickland, announced back in January that he would not run for reelection and would opt instead for a mayoral race, which is now fully underway. Collins' announcement of non-council candidacy was widely regarded as confirmation of his long-indicated plans to join the widening cast of characters in the contest for mayor. So far the dramatis personae in that race are Strickland, county commission Chairman Justin Ford, Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams, and former University of Memphis basketballer Detrick Golden.

Meanwhile, the incumbent, Mayor A C Wharton, kept himself front and center over the Easter weekend with a "coffee and chat" on Saturday morning at the Midtown IHOP on Union Avenue, followed by a number of appearances at events held in conjunction with the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination.

After the IHOP event, sponsored by Shelby County Commissioners Melvin Burgess Jr. and Reginald Milton, Wharton was asked if the proliferation of opponents in the mayoral field would help or hinder his chances of reelection. "You can't worry about that," he answered. "I just have to keep my attention on what I'm doing."

The mayor shed some light on a bit of verbal zig-zagging he had indulged in earlier this year on the prospect of the city's gaining a Cheesecake Factory, confirmed last week as coming to Wolfchase Galleria. On the occasion of his State of the City address in January, Wharton had alerted his listeners to the likelihood of the popular restaurant franchise coming to Memphis.

But shortly thereafter, at a well-attended address at Lafayette's Music Hall, the mayor made an effort to pass off his earlier forecast as having been merely a thinking-out-loud recollection of his daughter's telling him she'd like to see such a happy event come to pass.

Now that the Cheesecake Factory was definitely on track, had the mayor's rhetorical fluctuations been something of a screen for the to-and-fro of negotiations, he was asked on Saturday. "You're very discerning," was his answer, accompanied by a self-effacing chuckle.

Council Chairman Lowery had long ago dropped hints that he might not be a candidate, and that his son Mickell Lowery, a sales representative at FedEx, might be on the ballot instead as a successor for the Position 3 seat in Super-District 8.

Councilman Lowery had served consecutively since his first election in 1992, with a brief intermission during his three-month service as interim mayor in 2009, following the retirement of longtime Mayor Willie Herenton. And, like the practiced politician that he is, he contrived to get the maximum amount of public notice for his departure and his son's prospective advent.

First came a press conference in Lowery's City Hall office last week in which the chairman gave his own bon voyage to the attendant media, expressed gratitude for having been able to serve for so long, and predicted that there would be a spirited race to succeed him, no doubt including many candidates. Wife Mary was on hand for the occasion, and so, conspicuously, were son Mickell Lowery, his wife Chanisa, and young Milan Lowery, the councilman's granddaughter. Asked his own intentions after the press conference, the younger Lowery indicated only that he would have "something to say" soon. When, he was asked. "It won't be too long," was the reply.

Indeed it wasn't. Mickell announced his own candidacy for the seat on Monday, from the steps of LeMoyne-Owen College, his alma mater, as well as his dad's. The choice of venue, said the aspiring councilman, was symbolic in that the school represented "advancement in our community," a quality he saw as consistent with his campaign theme, "New Leadership for a Better Memphis." 

Candidate Lowery added that he wanted "to make sure that the priorities of City Hall match the priorities of the community." He named crime reduction as one of his priorities, and may have intended to cite some more. 

But just then a chip off his block — his toddler daughter Milan, who nestled in granddad's arms — made a bit of a noise, and Daddy Mickell demonstrated his quickness on the uptake with what seemed a relevant segue: "I intend to be talking with students as early as elementary school," he said.

Asked about his advantages in what might still become a competitive and well-populated race, Mickell stressed what he said were years of "hard work" for the community as a neighborhood football coach and "on various boards." By way of further emphasizing his community work, he added, "That's why I didn't try to run 10 years ago, simply off my last name."

Even so, his beaming father was on hand again on this second announcement occasion, as well as Mickell's wife and child and a decent-looking collection of friends and family.

• As had been widely predicted, Flinn's long-expected announcement of non-candidacy for his Position 2, Super-District 9 seat, opened up the possibility that candidates already announced for Strickland's District 5 seat might effect a shift of venue into the at-large race.

It may or not signal a trend, but one of the previous District 5 hopefuls has already made the passage over. That would be Joe Cooper, the ever-persistent pol who may ultimately eclipse all existing records for the maximum number of candidacies launched during a lifetime.

In the truest sense, Cooper's campaign strategies have been out-of-the-box, and so have many of his proposals, such as his advocacy, during a race for county commissioner some years back, that the resident bison at Shelby Farms be moved out to make room for possible development on the rim of the park property. That idea backfired, drawing the wrath of every environmentalist within geographical reach.

Cooper's latest proposal is equally idiosyncratic. This week, he floated the idea of turning the Coliseum building and its parking lot over to the proprietors of the Wiseacre brewery for the creation of a "tourist attraction" that would simultaneously allow visitors to observe the beer-making process and alternately to spend time with a museum featuring the grunt-and-groaners who once rassled at the Coliseum.

Oh, and the two airplanes owned by the late Elvis Presley and now scheduled for eviction by the new gods of Graceland could find a resting place in the parking lot.

Another frequent political candidate, former County Commissioner George Flinn, has thrown his name in the hat as a would-be successor to state Republican Chairman Chris DeVaney of Chattanooga, who made a surprise announcement recently that he would be departing the position to head up a hometown nonprofit.

Flinn said he would seek, as chairman, to promote unity among the state's Republicans and to promote "inclusiveness" in party membership.

His most recent electoral run was as the GOP's 2014 candidate for the state Senate seat vacated by now Chancellor Jim Kyle and won ultimately by Kyle's wife Sara Kyle, the Democratic nominee.

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