Next week about this time, Mayor A C Wharton will be in Paris, one of FedEx's three international hubs, discussing the role of Memphis, the company's base and original hub. Not long after that, he said, Memphis will play host to theWorld Airport Conference. That was the result, he told members of the Memphis Rotary Club on Tuesday, of a trip he made to Peking last year. And he went on to hint that soon he would be announcing two new industrial relocations here, both from outside the country.
The mayor's focus on the city's interface with the world at large had a focus, too, closer to home. Recently, Wharton said, he had addressed "members of the Muslim community" and was pleased to report that "they really want to live in Memphis. They want to stay here. They want to raise their children here." That he cared about such a thing and wore his feelings about it so proudly on his sleeve was as impressive as any wheeling and dealing done abroad.
As they say, the mayor had his audience in the palm of his hand. That's the kind of salesman he is. He was in full sail Tuesday, preaching to a choir that seemed already converted but ready to go down the aisle again.
Much of the attention lavished on Wharton in 2010 — his first full year in office as the city's chief executive — was earned, frankly, by his highly public efforts to clean up various messes left by his predecessor, notably in the city's graft-ridden General Services Division. Entering 2011, Wharton seems to be focusing on his own accomplishments — appropriately enough in an election year which is expected to see him handily returned to office with minimal opposition or perhaps none at all.
He talked of a 25 percent reduction in serious crime, "and those are real numbers, not abstract ones," he pointed out. Yet another locally based conference, an upcoming one of Justice Department officials, he attributed to that accomplishment.
He mentioned the press conference held that very day to cope with the teen pregnancy problem recently highlighted at Frayser High School.
The mayor boasted of the new hand-in-glove cooperation he seems to enjoy with his Shelby County mayoral counterpart, Mark Luttrell, and of how that partnership, stripping away the red tape, was key in attracting the soon-to-be mammoth Electrolux plant here.
And he even addressed one of the most annoying problems common to mid-city drivers: the railroad traffic that parallels Poplar Avenue, the city's main connecting artery. The mayor pointed out what few know. Only one local customer is directly served by the pass-through (The Commercial Appeal, as it turns out), and the mayor promised to try to reroute as much as he could of the rail traffic around the perimeter of the city.
That's what we call curb service. We can imagine this or that critic complaining, with more or less justice, that all of this is just feel-good stuff. Well, maybe so, but maybe that's exactly what this mayor was elected to provide.