Two Takes 

Corker and Herenton try to get their messages across to different audiences.

Bob Corker made one thing clear at a town meeting in suburban Arlington on Tuesday — that the venue, Crave Coffee Bar and Bistro, was not yet "the time and the place" for him to express his future plans, rumors about which run from a governor's race in 2018 to a possible presidential bid two years later.

The Arlington event was set up in much the manner of a meet-and-greet, and other dignitaries present included Mayor Mike Wissman of Arlington, Shelby County Republican chair Lee Mills, and 8th District Congressman David Kustoff.

click to enlarge Senator Bob Corker at the Crave Coffee Bar - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Senator Bob Corker at the Crave Coffee Bar

It was the first step of what the senator's office billed as a "Travel Across the Volunteer State" and was to be followed by his attendance at a noon event at the Hilton Memphis, where kudos were to be administered to several worthy individuals at the 14th Annual Dunavant Public Servant Award Luncheon.

On the basis of the reception he got from a standing-room-only audience, one that was rather more a contentious town meeting in the current style, you had to wonder how much more of his current job the junior senator from Tennessee would be willing to stand for.

He was asked if he intended to run for a third Senate term in 2018, and he gave the answer cited above. The immediate result was a challenge or two from the crowd as to whether Chattanoogan Corker hadn't pledged, back in 2006, when he was first elected in a tight race with Democrat Harold Ford Jr., to quit after two terms.

He gave a soft answer, that both he and Ford had said only that they "couldn't imagine" serving more than two terms, and that seemed to turn away any further potential wrath on that matter.

But Corker had every reason to remain on edge for most of the hour-long encounter in Arlington. The questions he got were rapid-fire, mainly on issues of domestic controversy, and they were evenly mixed between the inquisitive and the downright challenging.

On some of the latter, he seemed to satisfy most of the crowd with his expression of confidence that the pending Senate inquiry into a Trump-Russian connection would go forth to good result. He had less success defending his support for charter-school enthusiast Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

Corker was also hard-pressed on issues ranging from the prospective defunding of Planned Parentood, the uncertain future of health care, and the shape of tax reform. He did his best to hit a middle distance.

At the end of it all, someone said the obvious, that he, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, had not been asked about the current crises in Korea and Syria. He shook his head slowly but gave an indulgent smile. "Unbelievable," he said.

• Mere hours later, a few miles away in Midtown, former mayor Willie Herenton was having an easier time with his audience, the Rotary Club of Memphis.

click to enlarge Herenton at Rotary - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Herenton at Rotary

The luncheon speaker was welcomed as what he was, a public dignitary from the past. That, in his time as mayor from 1991 to 2009, Herenton caught his share of flack was a fact no one mentioned, save the ex-mayor himself.

Herenton's subject was his current project, which goes by the name of New Path Campus of Restoration. "Campuses," actually, because Herenton's original concept of a single dormitory/instructional facility for troubled African-American youth in north Shelby County has grown to include the idea of three campuses — in downtown Memphis, in Frayser, and in Millington.

As Herenton has explained on earlier occasions, these facilities would be alternatives to the severe and geographically remote locations available to house youthful detainees at the moment. The centers would be financed by savings from traditional incarceration and by state funding for the detainees as students.

More about the appearances of Corker and Herenton at memphisflyer.com.


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