Wharton did so on Tuesday evening at the University Club, during and after his participation in a panel on consolidation conducted by the Inns of Court, an invitational organization comprising members of the local legal community.
Following the panel discussion, Wharton was asked directly what his reaction had been to Herenton’s rhetoric, with its essential appeal to African American voters in the 9th District to observe racial solidarity.
The mayor responded forthrightly but cautiously. “I’ve always made it clear that that is the antithesis of everything I stand for. But at the same time I refrain from being the standing commentator on everything he might say. Otherwise I’d have to go into commentating full-time,” he said.
As he had during his remarks to the group at large, Wharton was candid about the reality of racial schisms in the community. “We have a history of racial voting. We’ve got to deal with that…But everybody knows that it is not what I stand for,” he said.
Earlier, in his remarks to the legal audience, Wharton had named racial divisiveness as one of the obvious obstacles to political unity in the community at large. “The question of race is always there,” the mayor said, and, though it was “not spoken as it once was,” it remained pervasive.
“Some would suggest that all you would have to do is just call a big Kumbaya session. Everybody would just get on the blanket and say ‘Peace, brother, peace sister,’ and we’d all just come together in love and harmony. That is not the real world in which we live.”
The only way to deal with the race issue is to be “open and honest about it,” Wharton said. “We’re going to have to deal with that issue openly and honestly…. It makes it difficult, but let’s just be candid. We know Memphis. We know Shelby County. Let’s just be candid and open-minded.”