Warming up to speak to the downtown Kiwanis Club on Wednesday, the newly controversial (the ever newly controversial) Mayor Willie Herenton proclaimed first to a reporter, then to the group at large, "This is going to be redundant.":
Though elements of the Memphis chief executive's remarks constituted a reprise of his New Year's Day State-of-the-City address, delivered to a sizeable throng at the Convention Center, this follow-up occasion, stuffed into a relatively small room at The Peabody, had its novel moments.
There was this disclaimer, for instance: "I'm not really a football fan. Don't tell the University of Memphis. I don't ever go to their games."
Given that Herenton's annual New Year's Day blockbuster this time around had been his proposal for a spanking new $60 million football stadium at The Fairgrounds, to be financed by a bond issue, this was a striking admission.
In an effort to rebut criticism that had predictably begun to well up against the proposal, the mayor made a claim that was equally striking in its own way: Merely to perform basic renovations of the Liberty Bowl and the adjacent Coliseum (which would be razed in the event of a new stadium structure) would cost at least $50 million.
As for the assertion, made by Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd and others, that any new stadium should be an on-campus facility at the University of Memphis, the mayor was dismissive - suggesting that not enough land was available at that location, whereas there was at The Fairgrounds, and (the clencher), "We own that land."
Herenton expressed puzzlement as to why so many of his big-ticket proposals over the years had drawn resistance in the population at large and in the power structure. "It can't be the water. I drink the same water."
On the subject of city/county consolidation, the mayor said, "I'm this crazy guy who comes to the plate and says, 'Let's consolidate.' Everybody else is scared." Meanwhile, "we got two everything in Shelby County." It must be that others preferred to be "wasteful," he said.
Herenton had kind words, however, for one other member of the governing establishment besides himself. That was Steve Cohen, the former state senator who would become U.S. representative from the 9th District (Memphis) this week. In particular, he praised Cohen for his promise to restore funding for the COPS program that, under the Clinton administration, had allowed the city to hire new policemen.
"I've proposed 500 new policemen. I don't know if we'll get there, but we're going to add some new policemen," the mayor promised.