So what if Joe Ford is only (maybe) going to be Shelby County mayor for about nine months? And what did it matter that his inaugural remarks were a model of brevity? His swearing-in at the county building on Thursday was granted almost as much ceremony as that extended to A C Wharton at the city mayor’s own swearing-in at City Hall some two months ago.
There was a children’s choir, a packed auditorium, and, most significantly, dignitaries galore. Willie Herenton was not sighted. Nor Harold Ford Sr. Virtually everybody else on the political Who’s Who list of Memphis and Shelby County was there, including most of the other members of the extended Ford family. Harold Ford Jr. was there, down from New York, where his fame and prospects may ultimately transcend the levels they achieved in the Volunteer State. Joe Ford Jr., the interim mayor’s first-born was there, fresh from California. So were relatives as rarely seen as Lewis Ford, an older brother also from California.
Note that parenthetical “maybe” in the first paragraph. It’s there because there’s a not-so-remote chance that Joe Ford will change his mind about being “interim” and decide, sometime early in the New Year, to run for county mayor in the long term. He hasn’t said so, mind you. But he hasn’t (as they say) closed that door, either.
And it wasn’t just the presence of all those Fords in the auditorium that gave the scene the feel of a family restoration. It was also in the jokes made by various speakers about Joe Ford’s penchant, displayed during his term as chairman of the county commission three years ago, for working himself — and his charges — hard. He joked about that himself Thursday. Only this time it won’t be just his fellow commissioners who get challenged to work around the clock, as they were during his chairmanship on a score-and-more of special task forces and ad hoc committees.
This time Ford gets to work changes on the entire work force of Shelby County government (minus the independent Sheriff’s Department, of course). Unlike his immediate predecessor (and admirer) Joyce Avery, who held the office for 45 days after Wharton moved on to his new job in City Hall and no doubt wisely kept to the status quo, Joe Ford has indicated he has a vision or two of his own to see through.
What that is remains to be seen, as it remains to be seen what Ford’s long-term intentions turn out to be. In any case, many of the new faces are already there: Pamela Marshall, ex- of the Chamber of Commerce, as CAO; Matt Kuhn, plucked from the county commission to serve as policy advisor; Leon Gray, ex- of numerous other communications jobs, as spokesperson; and more to come.
In conversation the other day, Ford indicated that he had followed closely city councilman Myron Lowery’s activist turn as acting city mayor, was impressed by Lowery’s tenure, and intends to work in that mold and perhaps beyond it.
The phrase that perhaps best serves the moment is the one used so often by other enterprises out in the world as they have advertised momentous possibilities in the yet-to-be: Watch This Space.
And so we shall. We’re sure of one thing. As was true of the bustling, S.R.O. county auditorium on Thursday, it won’t be empty.