Mayor A C Wharton, who has had few opportunities for public exultation since his show of confidence at his filing at the Election Commission on Monday, got his glass of water at least half full again on Saturday, warning opponents at his campaign kick-off that “we’re gonna walk all over you because we are on our way!”
In 74 days, Wharton said, “you are wiped out, and Memphis is going to win! Don’t get in our way.”
Discarding his prepared text, Wharton took note of the 100-degree heat and recalled the similar "muggy, soggy" feeling of his campaign opening in 2009, when he launched his ultimately victorious special-election campaign to replace the retired Willie Herenton as mayor.
Besides the heat and humidity, Wharton recalled, “there was a hope in the air in 2009. There was a dream, a vision, a hope of unity that, as one Memphis, there was no stopping us now!” And in 2011 as was the case then, “there’s change in the air today, there’s hope in the air today, there’s unity in the air today. But there’s one more thing in the air today, 18 months of progress!”
The mayor claimed 2000 jobs, new industries, lower crime, and, by indirect reference, even the appearance of President Obama at Booker T. Washington as evidence of his success. “Heat in the air, humidity in the air, but progress in the air!”
Late in his brief remarks, Wharton mentioned the subject on everybody’s mind, the current showdown between the city and Memphis City Schools, whose board is still on record as threatening the cancellation of the 2011-12 school year until such time as the board can meet to ratify a compromise funding agreement reached last week with the Wharton and the City Council.
After leading a cheer for the City Council, which was represented by members Jim Strickland and Kemp Conrad, Wharton got another cheer when he asked rhetorically, “Do you still believe in Memphis?” And then he added, “Come on now, let’s kick some butt!”
In a talk with reporters afterward, the mayor declined to be suspicious about the last-minute cancellation of the MCS board meeting on Friday. “I’m going to accept the lawyer [Dorsey Hopson, who was cited by Cash] at his word that it was nothing more than getting [things] in writing.”
Wharton remained scornful about the Board’s demand last Monday that $55 million of this year’s maintenance-of-effort total of $78.5 million be paid immediately in order to keep the schools open. There was no way to do that since “people just don’t pay their taxes at that time,” the mayor said. The only place such a sum could be found would have been in the City’s reserves, and if the City should delete its reserve fund by that much, “our credit rating would drop like a rock.”
He compared the situation to developments elsewhere. “You see what they’re doing to the state of Tennessee. You see what they’re doing in the United States Congress.”
The mayor said again, “Every elected official in town came to me and said, ‘If you give in to them now, you’ll look like a coward.”
What he had in mind to feature in his reelection campaign, Wharton said, was “a style of governing with civility” a style he wanted to “embed forever in the political values of this city.”
Asked about a string of protesters who picketed the mayor's oversight of the City's Animal Shelter, Wharton said, "I'm glad the protesters are there." He professed to be enthusiastic about this sign of citizen participation and said, "I'd like to see more pickets. About the schools and about Who Killed Lorenzen Wright."