Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who many suggest could be Mayor for Life, indicated Tuesday that he might harbor some such notion as well, unveiling the general outlines of a “five-year plan,” adding as a sort of modest footnote “if I am reelected in 2003 -- I don’t want to be presumptuous.”

The de facto announcement of reelection plans was but one highlight of Herenton’s annual speech at The Peabody to participants at city councilman Myron Lowery‘s New Year’s Prayer Breakfast. The mayor also hinted that he might choose to intervene in the forthcoming Shelby County Mayor’s race and reiterated his determination to push for city-county consolidation, with the important exception of city and county schools.

Consolidation was, in fact, the key component of the five-year plan (along with a stated intent to shore up education and the criminal justice system) and, Herenton seemed to suggest, the possible determinant in deciding whom he might support for county mayor.

The mayor proposed to begin immediate -- but unspecified -- measures to bring about consolidation in the realm of law enforcement but said he intended to “say No to the consolidation of city and county schools.” He proposed instead to “freeze school system boundaries” for the existing Memphis and Shelby County systems and to institute “single-source” funding for the two systems.

As an apparent response to continued complaints from county officials and suburbanites about the current method of routing state funding to the two systems through an average-daily-attendance (ADA) formula favoring the city schools by a 3 to 1 ratio, Herenton proposed “equalized expenditures,” so long as special provision was made for “at-risk youngsters.”

After his public remarks, the mayor would condemn as “divisive” a recent proposal for separate special school districts made to a state legislative committee in Nashville recently by county school board chairman David Pickler.

Though he did not target specific individuals in his speech, Herenton also professed to be outraged by the inability of officials at the state and county levels to solve looming financial problems and at the weaknesses in the Memphis school system revealed by the city system’s disproportionately poor showing in recent state testing.

After the mayor’s speech, various members of his audience, ranging from members of his own circle to participants in this or that mayoral campaign, indicated they thought Herenton’s prospective intervention in the 2002 county mayor’s race would not occur before the end of the primary process, which so far includes State Representative Larry Scroggs on the Republican side, and, on the Democratic side, Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton; Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, and State Representative Carol Chumney.

Herenton said he would make no endorsement “at this time,” adding that, aside from his judging candidates on their integrity, experience, and ability -- and on their commitment to consolidation -- he would not be bound, in deciding on an ultimate endorsement, by restrictions of gender, race, or party.

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