Preceded by son Andre and grandchildren, the Mayor gets ready to do his thing.
Mayor A C Wharton opened up the southern — or Whitehaven — front of his campaign for reelection on Saturday, one week, according to an aide, before he will open a Poplar Avenue headquarters.
The Whitehaven headquarters, on Elvis Presley Boulevard, is smack dab in the middle of opponent Harold Collins’ City Council bailiwick — a fact attested to on Saturday by Edmund Ford, one of two Council members who showed at the mayor’s opening. Ford, whose own district adjoins that of Collins, spoke on Wharton’s behalf.
The other councilman present, interim member Berlin Boyd, was one of the attendees — estimated by Wharton aides to range from 150 to 300 — who braved the heat as spectators at the event, which was held under a tent on the parking lot outside the mayor’s smallish office space.
As afternoon temperatures mounted, several of the statements made by participants took on an ironic sound. The event had been scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m., but Wharton delayed his presence, apparently to give more public figures a chance to materialize — or as the hard-working deejay emcee for the event put it by way of explaining the mayor’s delay, “to check out the atmosphere.”
The atmosphere was muggy and intensely hot, as most recent summer afternoons have been — a fact that accounted for several of the aforesaid ironies uttered by the ten or so introducers, who said things like “How you feeling out there?” and “Ready to turn up the A C?”
(A rule of thumb, by the way: when an official introducer promises to be “brief” or offers a “quick story” or says, “I’ll conclude in a little bit,” check your calendar after a while to see if it’s still the same day you started with.)
As for a head count on the officials present, we have a reasonably authentic list from one of the introducers, former Shelby County Commissioner Julian Bolton, who made an effort to call out all of those he saw in the audience. His list, besides himself, Ford, and Boyd: State Rep. Larry Miller and County Commissioners Van Turner, Reginald Milton, and Eddie Jones.
A generous number of Wharton family members were on hand, including daughter-in-law Monica Wharton and son Andre, who were the final two introducers who brought the mayor on stage to make his remarks.
The mayor began with a reference to a theme used in his two previous races — that of “One Memphis.” That was, he said, the “dream” he had brought to his mayoral service, and he was gratified to see it reflected in “black faces, brown faces, and white faces” in his audience.
“Have you ever heard me speak a divisive word or pit one part of the city against another?” Wharton asked rhetorically.
Unlike most of those who had preceded him on stage, Wharton actually did make an effort to keep things brief. His job, he said, was “not yet finished.” He thanked the officials present for their support and cautioned against those — “prognosticators, that big word” — who had, he said, erroneously forecast a mass desertion of supporters from his “toxic” campaign.
He asked Councilman Ford to take a bow and said, “This young man’s got a target on his back.”
The mayor did a brief run-through of some of his accomplishments — among them Head Start, Books from Birth, and youth summer camps financed in part by donations from legendary Memphis entrepreneur Avron Fogelman. Affecting some wordplay, Wharton solemnly pronounced, “Romance without finance ain’t nothing but a nui-sance.”
Among other things, the mayor said he had made a conscious effort to provide useful examples and support programs for the city’s youth to keep them away from the influence of “gang-bangers.”
With respect to both the city’s prospects and his own in his reelection campaign, “gloom and doom” had no place, Wharton said.
Though he had to ask around to be reminded of the name of the horse that won the Kentucky Derby — “Pharaoh!” he said triumphantly at last — the Mayor offered a trope. Comparing himself to the Derby winner, he said voters should ask themselves: “Think I want to change my bet, bet on that scrub all the way in the background? That wouldn’t be a very smart person. Are you going to change your bet when you’re a full length ahead in the race? I don’t think so.”
He concluded with a flourish: “We’ve crossed many rivers, but there are many more rivers to cross. The bell hasn’t rung, the sun may be setting, but day is not done. Stick with me, make this One Memphis!”
One had to wonder: Did that reference to Wharton’s being “a full length ahead” reflect something substantive — like, maybe a poll?
“He had one done in the last few days,” an aide offered. (Someone from an opposition camp would scoff via text message: "A C has done 2 polls in the last 3 weeks. The first one was so bad for him that he commissioned a second one.")
Very interesting. Meanwhile, one can think of the mayor’s contest as a horse race — in which case, there are clearly three horses: himself, Collins, and Councilman Jim Strickland.
Or one can think of the contest as, from the mayor’s point of view, a two-front war. His Whitehaven outpost, like his recent proposal for a commission to look into spending $50 to $75 million in developing the areas, was clearly meant to hold down the southern front.
But the mayor is also clearly threatened up in the Poplar Corridor area, his northern front, where opponent Strickland, almost as well-stocked financially as the mayor himself, had a massive turnout for his own recent Headquarters opening in Poplar Plaza.
Next week, evidently, the mayor will be addressing the problem on that front, at the aforementioned alternate HQ, 2896 Poplar. Sunday, August 8, 2 to 4 p.m. Maybe the weatherman will be nicer, or maybe the event will be inside.