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Visiting gubernatorial candidates give Memphis the Sally Field treatment


Memphis, which famously nurses a "black-sheep-of-the-family" complex about itself in relation to the rest of Tennessee — or, better, has an identity somewhere between Cinderella and one of the bad sisters — is getting some serious election-year wooing from candidates for governor.

All of the GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, in particular, are in hot pursuit. In a visit to Shelby County last month, Ron Ramsey, who has made a special point of courting Memphis' outlying suburbs, especially Germantown and Collierville, noted that "the largest block of Republican primary voters resides in Shelby County"; that "one out of six people in Tennessee lives in Shelby County."

And, last week, both Zach Wamp and Bill Haslam made fervent pitches for the Memphis-Shelby vote. On an extended visit to town, Chattanooga congressman Wamp had his pitch distilled into a slogan, "Memphis matters," and called for a "Memphis renaissance" equivalent to what he likes to boast as the "Chattanooga renaissance" that he claims a major part in.

He promised that, if nominated, the first place he would come would be Memphis. Ditto with his initial destination as soon as he got inaugurated as governor. And he vowed, too, that, once installed as governor, he would devote "most of my time" to the concerns of Shelby County.

"As Memphis goes, so goes Tennessee," Wamp said.

And he may even believe that as Memphis goes, so goes Wamp. He made a special point of appearing at a joint press conference with District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, the former Republican primary opponent whose active support Wamp is overtly courting.

Asked if an endorsement by Gibbons might be in the cards, Wamp said, "There's 96 days to go [until the gubernatorial primary], plenty of time for that. I hope that that's the case later on. It's for him to consider. I didn't ask for that yet."

Meanwhile, he praised Gibbons' now folded campaign as something that had made him "a better candidate" and promised to support Gibbons' goals. He said he considered the Shelby County crime-fighting program, Operation Safe Community, to be a model. "I'll continue to try to win General Gibbons' support," he said.

Haslam, who spent a couple of days in Memphis himself later in the week appearing at several places across the city's urban expanse, swore his own fealty to the Bluff City. Prominent at each stop was Haslam's wife Krissie, a native of Memphis. Haslam addressed the rhetorical point of why a Knoxville mayor should care all that much about Memphis concerns by referring to his wife, "who is from here, as all her family is, and she'd kill me if I didn't."

Further: "If Tennessee is your business, then Memphis is your biggest branch. It's the place of biggest opportunity and the largest population center." Ignoring Memphis? "If you do and you're governor, you're crazy."

All the GOP candidates — plus Democrat Mike McWherter — have promised to do what they can to aid Memphis' ailing Med facility, although both Wamp and Haslam carefully noted that, while they are predisposed in its favor, they had not yet seen the text of a letter from the Shelby County Commission addressed to all the gubernatorial candidates.

That letter asked each candidate to commit to routing all federal revenues derived from indigent patient care at the Med back to the Med — something no governor has done since the implementation of the TennCare network.

• One of the most significant acts of interim county mayor Joe Ford's tenure may have occurred last week on an occasion when he wasn't even present.

This was a forum for local environmental leaders. Ford himself was ailing on the day it occurred in the mayor's conference room, but his assistant Pamela Marshall presided in his stead, along with representatives of various county divisions.

After nearly two and a half hours of animated discussion, the environmentalists present had discussed numerous worthy projects, but their crowning achievement was the epiphany that there should be a county environmental department as such, one concerned with pragmatic planning for a green revolution in Shelby County, step by step.

Maybe something comes of the initiative right away and maybe not, but at the very least an idea was born that, at some point later on, may, like last week's summit meeting itself, come to seem historic.

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