Mayor Srickland in the center of supporters (top) and being buttonholed by them (bottom)
On Tuesday afternoon, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, freshly introduced by School Board member Michelle McKissick (who in turn had been introduced by County Commission chair Van Turner) took a look around the crowd that surrounded him on the vacant floor of the former Spin City on Poplar Avenue and professed himself “humbled to see so many people from all walks of life.”
That was how Strickland formally opened his 2019 reelection campaign, clearly trying to present himself as a man for all seasons and factions.
The Mayor promised the crowd “a few words,” which turned out to be a semi-lengthy recounting of what he considers his accomplishments over the 3 ½-year period of his tenure so far.
These included an accelerated hiring of police officers, a doubling of the city’s paving budget, and the use of “data” to “drive government decisions.” He would quickly amend that formulation to “data and good people,” working in a brag on city employees.
Apropos that matter of data, Strickland served up more stats, claiming : a quickening of the city’s 911 response to an average of 7 seconds per call; an enhanced survival rate at the city’s animal shelter; an increased MWBE percentage (rate of contracting with firms owned by women and minorities); a 90 percent increase of summer jobs for youth; 22,000 new jobs in 3 ½ years; etc., etc.
“All of that without a tax increase,” Strickland proclaimed promising more via his administration’s Memphis 3.0 growth plan. “Memphis does have momentum,” he said.
The Mayor cited some encouraging appraisals from the Bloomberg organization of Manhattan and got a rise out of his crowd of supporters when, in boasting the rate of job growth in Memphis, he said it surpassed that in such other major cities as Houston, Dallas, and “a small town east of here called Nashville.”
There was more such upbeat boasting, some of it borrowed from other governmental jurisdictions, as when Strickland cited state government’s provision of free education at community colleges and tech schools.
All in all, the Mayor’s presentation was rhetorically lean and in line with his oft-stated concept of his job as essentially that of handling the “basics.”
He is making a point of running on his record, and it will be up to his several opponents to question his data and his conclusions and to offer arguments of their own as alternatives. At least two of them — County Commissioner Tami Sawyer and former Mayor Willie Herenton — seem prepared to make such an effort, but they are both well behind with respect to one important piece of data not mentioned by Strickland on Tuesday.
That would be in the matter of campaign budgets, where the incumbent Mayor has an amount on hand close to one million dollars. That is one “basic” that will be hard to counter.