The desire of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to work together hand-in-glove was already sufficiently well known, but, in his remarks at City Councilman Myron Lowery’s annual New Year’s prayer breakfast on Tuesday, Luttrell did his best to make that explicit.
Referring to “my partner, Mayor Wharton,” Luttrell told the sizeable audience at the Airport Hotel, “We have what I call a good marriage…. You give a little bit and take a little bit. You work with each other for the common good…A marriage is where you get together and work out your differences."?
Following a little more elaboration on the point, the county mayor turned to his seated city counterpart and reaffirmed the nuptial metaphor: “Mayor Wharton, I want to thank you for a good marriage.”
After touting his administration’s efforts to pay down the county’s debts and its success in upholding the county’s bond rating, Luttrell shifted into another gear with the line, “A government that just maintains is not necessarily a progressive government.”
From that point on, in stressing his determination to be a bridge between urban and suburban realms on school matters, in associating himself with the critical U.S. Department of Justice report which found problems within Juvenile Court, and in addressing issues of mental health, poverty, and homelessness, Luttrell hewed to lines that, in the secular sense, were broadly ecumenical.
On only one issue did he state a position that could be taken as somewhat distinct from his city counterpart. That was in relation to the recent tragedy in Newtown and what it meant for the rest of society. Luttrell advised his listeners not to “limit our concern to the issue of guns” and cited mental health needs and more general problems relating to “the culture of violence,” such as video games with over-the-top themes.
When it came his time to address the issue of violence, Mayor Wharton, who spoke next, emphasized much more directly the prospect of weapon control — promising in unspecified ways to work with the state legislature and District Attorney General Amy Weirich` ”on some really aggressive measures to get the guns out of the hands of criminals on our streets.”
Referring to his upscale South Parkway residence as located in “western Orange Mound,” Wharton lamented, “In my neighborhood there’s just terrible gunfire at midnight,” and spoke of receiving disturbing information about the shootings of two minor children the night before as he and his wife attended a showing of Django Unchained.
By contrast, the mayor alluded to a pattern of gun control and an alternate way of settling disputes in Australia, which he’d recently visited. “They have horrible barroom fights. You see a lot of ugly men, but they’re not dead.”
Referring to the recent closing of a troubled Beale Street club Crave, Wharton said, “If you’re killing folks in a club in this town, we’re just going to shut you down. There’s no color lines. There’s no ‘black life,’ no ‘white life.’ God made all life precious.”
As Luttrell had done, Wharton toted up some pluses — ranging from his successful effort in getting city library cards legitimized as IDs for voting to the institution of a 311 phone-dial system for accessing a variety of city services to the fact that, as a result of school merger, “we will not be funding schools this year,” and can allocate more spending on public safety issues and personnel.
“We are a good strong city,” Wharton concluded.
The scheduled keynote speaker for the event had been 9th district congressman Steve Cohen, who had been called back to Washington to vote on an eleventh-hour plan to resolve the pending “fiscal-cliff” crisis.
Though unavoidably absent, Cohen, too, benefited from the spirit of general kumbaya at the breakfast. He was referred to by Wharton as “the conscience of Congress” and was similarly lauded by Lowery, who established a cell-phone hookup to Washington and held his phone (actually, Cohen aide Randy Wade's) up to a mike, allowing Cohen to make brief remarks to the assembled crowd.
Cohen spoke of the successes that he, working with Mayors Luttrell and Wharton, had enjoyed in securing high-dollar program to benefit the Memphis area. Like Wharton, he bore down on the guns issue and expressed support for an assault-weapons ban.
The congressman said he was hopeful of setting up a “model program” to deal with Juvenile Court issues, and he pledged his vote to the fiscal-cliff compromise arranged between President Obama and congressional leaders. There were “some things I don’t like, but I will support it,” the congressman said. (The House would follow the Senate in approving the plan later on Tuesday.)
In conferring praise on those who took part in Tuesday’s breakfast, Lowery did not omit himself. “I trust me,” he said, attesting to the likelihood of running for another Council term in 2015. “I know I’m going to make a good decision."
There were an ample number of light moments at the breakfast. Kent Ritchey of Landers Ford, a major sponsor of the event, went through a list of modest Ford Motor Company cars Mayor Wharton might have purchased to avoid the criticism he unleashed in some quarters recently when the city arranged to lease a new Cadillac for the mayor’s use.
And there had been an embarrassing moment for Luttrell when, during his remarks, he brought up an old rhetorical chestnut. “We have a lot of men and women of faith here, so I need witnesses,” the county mayor said. “What is the chapter and book of the Bible that talks about, ‘you give a man a fish and feed him for a day, you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime’?”
There was a period of awkward silence, followed by someone in the crowd saying, “It’s not in the Bible!”
Amid some good-natured general laughter, Luttrell said, “It’s not a scripture? Well, it is a story, isn’t it?”
He was assured that it was.