The thinking went something like this: We've already got two mayors. Why not three? And just like that, Jim Keras became the mayor of Covington Pike.
The mayor's domain, as the name suggests, is Covington Pike, that northeast Memphis street bulging with car dealerships. He grew up in Nashville and moved to Memphis in 1972. He owns five car dealerships: Buick, Nissan, Subaru, Chevrolet, and Pontiac. He's been married to his wife, Penny, for 33 years, has three children, and is, happily, a first-time grandfather. He explains his background in cars this way: "The only way I got into this business is that I married the boss' daughter. That's the truth. I was a 2.0 student at the University of Tennessee."
A cartoon character (and doll) -- a round-headed, top-hatted, bow-tied little guy with absolutely no lower body, save his feet -- serves as the logo for the mayor of Covington Pike. It's inaccurate. For one thing, the toon's dark hair does not match Keras' own curly gray locks. And, chiefly, the mayor of Covington Pike does have a torso and legs.
The mayor recently sat down to discuss his time in office. With him was his son, Ben, general manager of the Buick/Subaru operation, who, for these purposes, we called the deputy mayor.
Flyer: How many years have you been mayor of Covington Pike?
Mayor of Covington Pike: I was appointed in the early '90s.
How did you become mayor?
As you know, Covington Pike is a cluster of automobile dealerships. We were trying to come up with a character or a theme that would set us apart from the other dealerships. So, John Malmo, and I want to give credit to him, was doing our advertising, and he came up with this idea -- that the mayor could make a lot of proclamations and do a lot of events. He came up with a drawing of what the mayor should look like -- a little man with a top hat and a bow tie and glasses. We made big balloons [of the character] and put them on top of our building, used him in all our advertising, and it caught on.
You're wearing a bow tie.
That's for you.
Do you always wear a bow tie or are you following the character?
I follow the character, some, some.
One time we had a customer who called me, came to me to complain about one of my fellow dealers. I said, "I don't sell that make and model," and he said, "Well, you're the mayor. You need to go straighten that out." He was serious.
And did you?
I think I called them. I may have. I certainly directed the customer to the right channels.
Who are your constituents?
All my customers and managers.
Deputy Mayor Ben: The greater Mid-South. All individuals with a driver's license.
What's your platform?
[The mayor has prepared a written statement on this topic.]
· In my years as mayor of Covington Pike, we have had no tax increases.
· As mayor of Covington Pike, I have had nothing but good relations with the City Council.
· As mayor of Covington Pike, there have been no controversies about my appointees. All of my directors have performed without controversy or legal problems.
· My time in office has been so popular that I have been unopposed in each of my reelection campaigns.
· At no burden to taxpayers, I am building a brand-new "Covington Pike City Hall" as we speak.
· At no cost to Covington Pike taxpayers, my advertising has greatly increased Covington Pike tourism.
· Also at no cost to taxpayers, I have extended Covington Pike services to Summer Avenue, Mt. Moriah, and Somerville.
What's the best thing about being the mayor?
It's a lot of fun. It's just light-hearted. It's a positive thing. The awareness factor is tremendous. Because of our advertising, people recognize the name. In fact, Mayor Herenton calls me the mayor when I see him.
Have you ever thought of branching out? Maybe be the mayor of the I-40 loop?
Well, I've thought about maybe just being the mayor. [Laughs] No.
We have a dealership out on Highway 64. We have a small presence on Summer Avenue and a small presence on Mt. Moriah, so we are absolutely encompassing all. That might be in our future plans. We need a good campaign strategist. I haven't been able to find one yet. I'm working on that. I do plan to expand my mayorship all over the city.
Oprah recently gave away 276 cars. Don't you think you should do her one-better by giving away 300 cars?
Deputy Mayor Ben: Actually, Oprah didn't give them away. General Motors gave them away. It was a ploy. We welcome General Motors to offer Jim Keras Automotives the same ploy on our campaign behalf.
Mayor of Covington Pike: I plan to contact General Motors to make sure I'm not being slighted.
Anything else you want to add?
That I've got all the power. No one would try to unseat me when I'm doing such a great job. Just ask my councilmen up and down the street. •