The interim mayor is overweight. Not only that, he's short and overweight. Not only that, his predecessor, Willie Herenton, is tall and slim, and his main rival in the October special mayoral election, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, is almost fanatically fit and can do his age in pushups.
Asked how much he weighs at in interview Thursday in his new office, Lowery didn't flinch but he didn't offer full disclosure either.
"Too much," he said. Asked if his weight is going up or down, Lowery said, "I'm remaining the same, but I've got to go down."
Lowery is not physically fit. Nor is he pudgy, chunky, or carrying a little too much avoirdupois.
He is well educated, intelligent, polite to a fault, exceptionally well spoken, nattily dressed, and politically savvy. He is also seriously overweight. He is fat. You can't change short. You can change fat.
"That's personal," protested my roommate, who is nicer than I am and not in the news business.
Nope. Not if you're a public figure who is the interim mayor of a city ranked near the top for obesity. Not if you're in the public eye as much as Lowery, a former television news reporter and anchor — another business that puts a premium on appearance. And not if you're a would-be mayor and political leader in a time when America is in the midst of a national debate over health care costs that are driven by, among other things, obesity.
"I've got to deal with that issue," Lowery said. "My doctor says I need to do something about it. That should be my number-one priority. If I'm not around, I can't work for the citizens."
Lowery said he used to play tennis every day 25 years ago but has not had an exercise regimen for several years. He acknowledges a weakness for breakfast and luncheon buffets that are frequent fare for busy politicians.
"My doctor says better eating habits and more exercise are what I've got to do," he said.
There is never a good time to be fat. It's bad for your heart, puts extra strain on your joints, and lots of other bad things. That's just the personal stuff. If you're a politician or celebrity, fat can influence your celebrity and electability, and it's fair game for voters, pundits, and late-night comedians such as Jay Leno, who is reported to have lost weight recently by running four miles a day.
Fat is all right if you're a famous television talk-show hostess who makes an issue and a cottage industry of her weight, or a famous radio talk-show host whose bulk adds impact to his right-wing bluster. Fat is all right if you are a lineman for the Tennessee Titans, Ole Miss Rebels, or Memphis Tigers. Fat is all right if you're a judge with a lifetime appointment.
Fat is not all right if you're in politics at a station higher than councilman or commissioner. In a recession, we must trim the fat. We must cut the fat in budgets. We must eliminate pork. We must be lean and mean. If you say those things in front of a camera, it's hard for voters not to draw certain conclusions.
Fit is much better. Barack Obama is fit. Sarah Palin is fit. George W. Bush is fit. Dick Hackett, Jim Rout, and Bill Morris are fit. Harold Ford Jr. is fit. So is Carol Chumney. If you're in politics (or television), fit can extend your career as well as your life. Herenton and Wharton are prime examples. Whether or not you like what they do, they always look good doing it.
If Myron Lowery wants to pick up votes in the next 70 days, he needs to drop pounds.