Friends, and some former foes, of Mayor Willie Herenton have donated $85,000 for his 14th annual holiday party December 8th, suggesting that hizzoner will not be giving up his job anytime soon.
The "host committee" for the invitation-only party at the Memphis Cook Convention Center includes 85 people, which is slightly bigger than in previous years. It is studded with names in the news, including Jack Belz, Sidney Chism, John Elkington, Richard Fields, Marty Grusin, Russell Gwatney, Dick Hackett, Pitt Hyde, Kevin Hyneman, Rusty Hyneman, Rick Masson, Charles Perkins, Arnold Perl, Gayle Rose, Karl Schledwitz, Gary Shorb, Fred Smith, the late William B. Tanner, Ron Terry, Henry Turley, and Spence Wilson.
Each host or couple gave $1,000 at the urging of special mayoral assistant Pete Aviotti, co-chairman of the event. The donation is not a campaign contribution, and it doesn't mean the giver will necessarily support Herenton if he runs for reelection for a fifth four-year term in 2007, as he has indicated he will.
Disclaimers aside, however, a $1,000 donation beats a "no thanks" any day. Anyone who hopes to derail Herenton in 2007 -- there are no term limits for Memphis mayors, and the election winner only needs a plurality of the vote, not a majority -- has a lot of work to do.
"I expect he will be reelected," said Perkins, a former Shelby County commissioner and a Republican. He made the donation because he and Herenton had "a good working relationship" when they hammered out an annexation agreement several years ago.
The news from City Hall has not been very good this year. The city's bond rating was lowered, and its reserve funds have dwindled. A new team was installed to oversee the division of finance and administration. There was a cutback in trash pickup, since restored. Utility bills are expected to go up as much as 70 percent this winter. The grass didn't get cut in a lot of public places. Several Memphis police officers were indicted.
But the news wasn't as bad as it could have been. Operation Tennessee Waltz has not indicted anyone at City Hall so far. Downtown is thriving. Public housing projects have been replaced with new, lower-density housing. An indicted bad cop is better than an unindicted bad cop. Some categories of violent crime are down.
The larger lesson of Herenton's 14-year reign is inevitability: Absent a credible challenger, neither bad news nor good news or mayoral objectives met or not met matter enough to a substantial portion of the electorate that would just as soon Herenton remains mayor for life. For the record, here are the highlights of Herenton's proposals at the start of each of the last six years.
2005: Consolidate government and schools. Reduce city expenditures and citizens' expectations of local government. "You will see the mayor and City Council work hand-in-glove to address the fiscal challenge."
2004: Consolidation. Better relations with suburban mayors. A strong reserve fund and good credit and sound money management. "I want to say to the political establishment, don't bring me no mess and there won't be no mess."
2003: Consolidation and shift all funding for schools to Shelby County. Run for a fourth term. City school board is "a disaster." City reserve fund has increased. "I came here to put my gloves on and draw battle lines."
2002: Consolidation of governments but not school systems. A state income tax and a lower sales tax. "This city, fiscally, is in a stronger position than it was when we came into office 11 years ago. I'm proud of that."
2001: Downtown development. Praise for Northwest Airlines and Memphis International Airport's new World Runway. Touts Memphis per-capita income of $34,317. Extend trolley from downtown to Overton Square. "We've got to have a light-rail system."
2000: A "renaissance" of strong neighborhoods beyond downtown. Minority business development. Good relations with the county mayor. "You're going to see this administration focus more on neighborhoods."