If you lie down with dogs, you may wake up with fleas. Similarly, if you go on a radio show hosted by a political opportunist, don't be surprised if he asks you questions designed to embarrass you. I'm speaking, of course, of Thaddeus Matthews, who asked you the following question: "Is it important to you as a black man that blacks stay in control of the mayor's office?"
You fluffed it, Mr. Mayor, stumbling around trying to assuage Matthews and any potential voters you thought you might displease by giving a straightforward answer, which would go something like this:
"What's important, Thaddeus, is that the city of Memphis elect the best possible people to run this city. I happen to be black, and I happen to think I am the best man for this job. I will represent all the citizens of Memphis to the best of my ability, be they black, white, or any other shade of the rainbow. With the election of Barack Obama, this country has shown that we can move beyond racism. It's time for Memphis to do the same. Your question is an insult, Thaddeus. And you are an embarrassment. Good day."
That answer, Mr. Wharton, would have gotten you a real headline — and a lot more votes — than the hemming and hawing you offered to Matthews.
It looks to me as if the next 90 days are going to be a free-for-all. The winner of the mayoral election will likely be the candidate who can create a coalition of voters — black, white, and, yes, brown — rather than relying on a segment of one racial base. Wharton is best positioned — right now — to be a unifier, but performances like the one he offered on Matthews' show can only hurt him.
I think Memphis politicians would be best advised to take their cue from Dr. Martin Luther King, and base their campaigns on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. That's not idealism, by the way. That's practical advice. Also, it's never a good idea to let yourself be interviewed by a loose cannon with an agenda and a microphone.