Is there such a thing as time off when you're Mayor of Memphis? Maybe not. Jim Strickland, the city's chief executive, made room on his schedule Snday for an opportunity to kick back a little on a Memorial Day weekend stop by the annual Bratfest, co-sponsored by several longtime friends at the Natchez Lane home of Steve and Susan Steffens.
The backyard affair, a cookout featuring brats, burgers, chips, drinks, and whatever sides guests chose to bring, looked the same as always, but there was a difference. If it happened to rain — something that looked ominously possible for most of the afternoon and evening — guests lacked the usual recourse of taking the party inside.
For on Natchez Lane, as in much of the city after Saturday night's torrential downpour-cum-windstorm, there was no power. And that circumstance dominated much of the general conversation, as well as a fair amount of Strickland's time during his roughly hour-long attendance.
The mayor was kept busy at the Bratfest detailing the steps that various organs of local government, assisted by regional power companies, the Red Cross, and other agencies, were taking to deal with the fallout from this latest weather catastrophe. Beyond the obvious matters of clearing away felled trees, repairing power lines, and restoring essential utilities, there were human-service issues to deal with.
And, mixed in with such small talk as he was able to manage, Strickland fielded questions from attendees on such questions as:
Whether Memphis was officially a sanctuary city vis-a-vis the Trump administration's potential immigration crackdowns (it isn't, technically, though the mayor is standing by his position that the Memphis Police Department has no role in rounding up supposed violators);
Whether the city could follow the example of New Orleans in removing its Confederate statuaries (it can't, because of state law prohibiting such action, though Strickland repeated his openness to the idea of relocating such memorials);
How police recruitment was going (well, according to Strickland, thanks to progressively larger recruit classes; from a recent low of 1,941 officers, he projects something like 2100 members of the MPD by 2019).
And, over and over again, when it was likely that power would be back on throughout the city.
On that last matter, Strickland didn't sugar-coat things; he said the course of full restoration would likely take a week. (Update: he was able to announce on Tuesday that that the number of MLGW customers without power had been reduced from 188,000 to 63,988.)
In the course of the Memorial Day weekend, Strickland would avail himself of numerous tweets and Facebook entries to discuss the weather crisis, submit to several TV interviews, find time to attend Memorial Day ceremonies, and maintain contact with emergency officials.
And, at Bratfest, Strickland did manage to deal with one wholly personal issue: In answer to a former playing partner's challenge, he resolved to resume playing Ping-pong on the table he keeps in his garage at home. (Progress on that point will be reported in this space.)