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A Conciliatory Mayor Herenton and His New Council Take the Oath

Some underlying ambivilance notwithstanding, city government is off to a promising new start.

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Despite advance forecasts on CNN that Memphis would be in for severe weather on Monday, such was not the case. They probably should have checked with our mayor. The weather outside was mild and sunny, as was the weather inside at the Cannon Center, where Willie Herenton, flanked by his doting 86-year-old mother, took the oath of office for a fifth time and said, "I pledge to you to start afresh."


That meant dispensing with "old baggage," Herenton said, after sounding a note that was both Lincolnian and Biblical: "Somewhere I read, 'A city - or a house - divided against itself cannot stand.' God help us all."


The reference to the Almighty was anything but perfunctory. It was vintage turn-of-the-year Herenton. As he had on previous New Year's occasions, the mayor left no doubt about the nature of his political sanction. "God always chooses the individuals to lead His people," he said, and vowed, "Here am I. Send me, Lord."


Tinged as that was with the grandiosity of yesteryear, it was, in context, good enough for new council chairman Scott McCormick, who, in follow-up remarks, said a thank-you to God himself, and responded in kind to the moderate portions of the mayor's address. "He now has an approachable council," said McCormick. "The roots of mistrust are behind us."


And, who knows, it may be true. After all, as McCormick noted, it was a new council, with nine new members out of the 13, and, of the four remaining, none were among those who had made a point of tangling with the mayor.


There were omens of another sort, of course - for those who wanted to look for them. There were, for example, ambiguous words from Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, who was drafted from the audience by moderator Mearl Purvis to formally introduce Herenton.


Buried in the middle of Wharton's otherwise friendly and flattering sentiments (from "your country cousin," as the county mayor styled himself) was this sentiment addressed both to Herenton and to the audience at large: "The last time I checked, Midtown was in Shelby County, Boxtown was in Shelby County, Memphis was in Shelby County...."


Whatever the meta-message of that, it had the sound of simple friendly teasing.


And there was another vaguely suggestive verbal thread. In each of the oaths taken by Herenton, by the 13 council members, and by city court clerk Thomas Long was an archaic-sounding passage pledging that the sayer would "faithfully demean myself" in accordance with the proprieties and "in office will not become interested, directly or indirectly" in any proposition which could lead to personal profit.


All well and good, but, applying that first verb in its current lay sense, too many members of the former council had been charged in court with conduct that society - and the lawbooks - might regard as "demeaning," and too many had developed a personal "interest" in the issues they were asked to vote on.

Still, it is a new council, it's a new year, and it's certainly a good time to "start afresh," as Mayor Herenton said. So go ahead: Hold your breath.

And, hey, for what it's worth, the temperature did drop down into the 30's a scant few hours after the swearing-in.

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