Wharton Has Big Crowd for Opening of Second Headquarters on Poplar

Turnout and performance both top Mayor's HQ rally in Whitehaven last week.

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The Mayor was feeling his oats on Saturfday. - JB
  • JB
  • The Mayor was feeling his oats on Saturfday.


What a difference a week makes!

Mayor A C Wharton’s opening of a campaign headquarters in Whitehaven last week was a presentable enough affair, and a necessary one, given that one of his two major opponents, Councilman Harold Collins, has an unmistakable presence there.

Btut the Mayor’s opening on Saturday of another headquarters on Poplar Avenue a week later was both quantitatively and qualitatively more ambitious and was beyond doubt a more resounding affair for the Mayor. For one thing, he was more forceful than he had been a week earlier, exuding a great deal of apparently unfeigned confidence.

Buoyed by crowd

This was important, given that the Mayor’s race might well be decided right there, in the Poplar Corridor, where Wharton’s other major opponent, well-funded Councilman Jim Strickland, has already demonstrated real strength.

Buoyed by a big, responsive crowd containing no few influential members, Wharton eschewed the kind of defensiveness that led him, at Whitehaven, to volunteer an unforced denial that his campaign was “ toxic’ to office-holders (thereby putting the idea in heads that may not have previously harbored it).

Too, the logistics on Saturday were far more favorable. As at Whitehaven, the Mayor’s rally was arranged outside, with rows of seating under a tent-roof for some, while others had to stand. But on Poplar there were more chairs, while spreading trees provided ample shade for those standing, and large fans on either side of the assembly kept a strong but gentle breeze circulating.

The rally area on Poplar, moreover, was reachable by just a step or two out the back door of an interior headquarters space that was multi-roomed and cavernous. So the large crowd had no trouble shifting back and forth, more or less compactly, and without discomfort.

How large was the crowd? In the hundreds, easily. The rally group outside numbered at least 200, pushing higher, and extrapolating from the fact that there had to be significant numbers who remained inside, a claim of between 300 and 400 could at least be entertained.

And Saturday’s crowd could fairly be described as racially diverse, much more so than the predominantly African-American one at Whitehaven had been (though Wharton described them both as if they had been veritable UN assemblies).

Different logistics

An article in this space regarding the Whitehaven rally originally estimated the crowd at that rally in and around the tent [italics mine] to be between 50 and 75. To put it mildly, that figure was objected to, both immediately thereafter and on Saturday at the Poplar headquarters rally, where this reporter encountered an organized tag-team volley of complainants.

(High-ranking ones, too, including, on Saturday, the city’s First Lady, Ruby Wharton, from whom, however, I was actually able to extract a generous-sized smile. Fair trade, that.)

And, though I had indulged the good folks at Whartonville South by amending my account to include their own (carefully attributed) claim of 150-200, I continue to believe my original estimate was correct. (Look again at those italics overhead.)

There may have been a lot of coming and going at Whitehaven that was hard to encompass visually and difficult to enumerate, but the interior headquarters space there appeared to be about the size of a small studio apartment, and at no point did it contain what could be described as a throng.

And the distance from the front door of that modest office space in Whitehaven to the tented area where the rally itself was held was a bare asphalt area that, on HQ day, with temperatures approaching 100, came off as about as vast and unsheltered as Death Valley, California

It was hot on Saturday on Poplar Avenue, too, but not only were the logistics more inviting, so was the format of the rally. There was no elongated waiting-around period, as there had been at Whitehaven, and instead of the ten or so speakers preceding the Mayor’s advent at last week’s opening, there were only three or four on Saturday, most of them concise and well-spoken. (Among them was the ever-gracious co-chair Lois Stockton, inadvertently overlooked at a previous year’s Wharton opening, but a solid plus on Saturday.)

The number of elected officials lending support for the Mayor on Saturday was somewhat larger than it had been a week earlier, and as easy to list, inasmuch as, at one point or another, they were all acknowledged by emcee Bobby White (or “Roberto Blanco,” as he was re-dubbed for the occasion by Councilman Edmund Ford Jr, one of Saturday’s speakers.)

Hot rhetoric

Things got started on Saturday with something of a stem-winder by Mike Carpenter; County Commissioner Reginald Milton had a passably good speech, too, concluding, “We don’t need a new mayor. We got a mayor!”.

On hand were: Municipal Judge Tarik Sugarmon, Council members Wanda Halbert and Ford, state Representatives Barbara Cooper and G.A. Hardaway; County Commissioners Milton, Van Turner, and Willie Brooks; and Probate Judge Kathleen Gomes.

Especially considering that Mayor Wharton had just been through a somewhat devastating week, the key point of which was having to deal with the shooting death and funeral of MPD officer Sean Bolton, he summoned up a collection of exhortations that were no less spirited for being disjointed.

A sampling:

“I know it’s hot out there…[but]we are going to turn op the A C!,,,,[With] people just melting in the sweltering heat of joblessness and hopelessness, why would you turn off the A C?....I think that’s the time your turn it up, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do on October 8!”

The Mayor distinguished between his opponents as “thermomerter people, who tell you what the temperature is” and himself, a “thermostat” who knew how to calibrate things back into balance. The choice, he said, was between “those who crow about problems and talk about a future of doom” and a Mayor who had brought 10,000 new jobs and could “get off his butt” and go get seed money for the city without raising taxes.

“What’s wrong with going to Bloomberg and getting $5 million? What’s wrong with getting on a plane and bringing the money back here?...What’s wrong with saying, ‘Governor, you’ve got $6 million that you cannot spend’” and talking
Bill Haslam into funneling that much to Memphis?

Wharton boasted of recent pieces in The Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune that called Memphis a “city of promise,” and he concluded with his patented rainbow note: “We can’t work as black folks, we can’t work as white folks, we can’t work as brown folks, we’ve got to work together” toward “the Destiny of One Memphis!”

To repeat: Disjointed but spirited. Somehow, it came off as a tour de force.

And more important than the words was the image of a man of passion and personality (which is what A C Wharton, at his best, is on the stump), determined to see both his campaign and his mayoralty through and, crowd-wise, able to match, if not beat, opponent Jim Strickland, who had pulled a large but more homogeneous crowd of his own at a headquarters opening on Poplar three weeks ago.

“You tell me somebody else who could turn out a crowd like this on a day like this!” Wharton had said in his remarks. And it was no idle boast.

The message on Saturday was clear: Whoever turns this man out will have to go some.

Monday night debate

• Meanwhile, push will come to shove for five mayoral candidates — Wharton, Strickland, Collins, Mike Williams, and Sharon Webb — on Monday night at 7 p,m. at the National Civil Rights Museum for the next in what will be a spate of mayoral debates between now and October 8.

This one is sponsored by WMC-TV, Action News 5; the NCRM; the League of Women Voters; and the Memphis association of Black Journalists..

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