Likening the ceremony to the 1980s occasion when then President Ronald Reagan called for the lifting of the Berlin Wall, Mayor A C Wharton stood at the intersection of Shady Grove and Humphries Boulevard Monday, at the seam of Memphis and Germantown, and presided over the groundbreaking for a new Greenway connection between the two municipalities.
"We don't want a wall where Memphis ends and Germantown begins," Wharton said, shortly before lifting a symbolic shovel with other celebrants of the new link-to-be, including representatives of the two city governments, the Wolf River Conservancy, the Hyde Family Foundation, Boyle Investment, the family of Henry and Snow Morgan (donors of much of the relevant acreage), and Wagner General Contractors, among others involved in the project.
All in all, it was yet another triumph for a mayor who seemed about to celebrate a resounding reelection victory on the twin pillars of industrial recruitment and furtherance of projects relating to recreation and conservation.
There was only one discordant note. Asked afterward what the prospects were for reaching agreement on new bike lanes in the city — particularly along a Madison Avenue strip where representatives of resident businesses are actively protesting — the mayor was candid.
Wharton shrugged. "There are always subjective and objective factors to look at. ... I don't know if we're going to have any more meetings on this. It doesn't look like an agreement is going to be possible. I think the lines are pretty well etched."
Still, the city was "bucking up against the deadline" to acquire the federal funds necessary to complete the bike-lane network he had originally envisioned. So, after "one last study I had wanted to look at," he would want to proceed with an attempt at authorization from the Memphis City Council.
That would not be the end of the matter, though. As Mike Cooper, spokesman for a group of Madison Avenue business owners, said at a press conference a few hours later on Monday: "We're prepared to go to court to stop this."
Cooper and several of the resisting business owners met with reporters at the Barber and Beauty Academy on Madison and restated their concerns that their businesses would be seriously hurt in the press of transforming four lanes currently open to automobile traffic into a new pattern in which two of those lanes would be reserved as bike lanes.
Proffering again what they said they had previously put forth as a compromise proposal — one in which the right turning lanes might serve as "shared" lanes, the group passed out copies of a new poll on the Madison Avenue/bike lane issue conducted by MSL TeleServices Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut.
The sampling of 916 registered voters — distributed, according to MSL, along diverse ethnic lines — showed that 63 percent "believed dedicated lanes would cause congestion and traffic jams," as against 19 percent who did not. The breakdown was 64 percent to 18 percent in favor of keeping the status quo of four automobile lanes.
Other findings: that "63 percent believe that business owners and workers should make the decisions" vs. 13 percent who felt otherwise; that 43 percent of those polled regarded "the shared lane compromise" as a good idea and that 60 percent of bike-lane supporters agreed with that proposition.
With both sides agreeing that the twain haven't met and aren't likely to, there is a high probability that the dispute, which has been more or less in abeyance during the city election campaign, will head toward some sort of outcome in the immediate aftermath of Thursday's vote.
• Lamar Alexander is revisiting his past at the same time he is redesigning his future. The state's senior U.S. senator, who recently announced he is stepping down from his leadership post as GOP caucus chairman in the Senate, treated students at the University of Memphis Law School to a vision of his political beginnings last Thursday.
Speaking on "The Rule of Law," Alexander outlined the scenario whereby he had become governor a few days early in 1979 in order to prevent his corrupt predecessor, Ray Blanton, from freeing an indeterminate number of state prisoners via commutations or pardons. As Alexander told the story, which was illustrated by a vintage videoclip of his emergency sign-in ceremony from Nashville's Channel 5, one of those prisoners was rumored to be James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King.
A key point of the story was the bipartisan agreement to break precedent, involving such Democratic officials as the two then speakers of the House and Senate — Ned McWherter and John Wilder, respectively.
Besides illustrating the preeminence of "the rule of law," the saga clearly suggested the ecumenical nature of Alexander's new professional course. As Alexander told the U of M law students, "This liberates me to do the things I care about the most" — e.g., fashioning "a coalition of good Republicans and good Democrats" regarding matters like the safe disposal of nuclear waste, reform of No Child Left Behind, and the looming national debt.
Alexander used a football analogy regarding his decision to drop out of the leadership post: "If you're in the huddle, and the quarterback says we want to sweep left end, and you want to go around the right end, and if I go around right end and everybody else is going around the left end, that's not a very good place for me to be."
Said Alexander: "I can do more as an independent senator in a body where you need 60 votes," adding, "I'm still a good Republican."
The former governor also tipped his hand on presidential preferences for 2012. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Alexander said, "I like the governors." That would be former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, current Texas governor Rick Perry, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Executive experience, the ability to set an agenda, and practice in forming coalitions were all desiderata for the office of president, as the onetime presidential aspirant (1996, 2000) saw it.
And he even praised Perry for sticking to his guns on the one thing the conservative Texas governor's rivals have abused him for — his relatively liberal policy of extending educational benefits to children of potentially illegal Mexican immigrants.