Opinion » Editorial

Rush the Judgment



Ordinarily we favor patient deliberation in the pursuit of justice — particularly when, as in the case of the current special investigation into charges of a blackmail plot against Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, there are political implications involved. But since there is a mayor's race on, and especially since this year's city election is shaping up to be as epochal in its way as the one in 1991 which first elected

Herenton, we incline to the view that we as citizens are entitled to the equivalent of a speedy trial. Once so distant in our mind's eye, the filing deadline for mayoral candidates and other city candidates — July 19th — is now almost upon us.

Given the gravity of our political situation — a City Council decimated by charges of corruption, a growing schism between the community's economic leadership and the mayor's office, a sense of civic confusion symbolized by the entangled Networx and MLGW dilemmas — this is one case in which due process could morph into "long overdue."

There are two questions in particular that special prosecutor Joe Baugh should quickly get to the bottom of: 1) Was there a "blackmail" plot or any other criminal enterprise of the sort charged by Herenton in his bizarre press conference of some weeks back? 2) Has there been a legitimate ongoing investigation by law enforcement authorities into improper relationships between city officials and topless clubs or similar enterprises?

It seems clear now that answering those two questions would not constitute the be-all or end-all of everything we need to know politically or, for that matter, the completion of an investigation into possible corruption and illegalities. But having some sort of reliable focus on those two issues is crucial to our ability to shape our own destiny this election year.

We understand the unlikelihood that Baugh can provide those basic preliminary answers in the next two weeks. Depending on what he might say, accusations of haste or political slanting or whatever might well come from this or that quarter and become embedded in the dynamics of the campaign. It is far more probable that the special prosecutor could speak with completeness and authority at some later point before the October 4th general election itself, and that, too, would be worth something.

But we think some earlier resolution, before July 19th, is worth the risk. It should be possible, at least in partial or general terms, to provide some guidance to the community on the two indicated issues. Putting it bluntly: There is reason to believe that the mayoral field is still incomplete, and there is a definite "need to know" on the part of major candidates still meditating on whether their candidacies would be matters of genuine urgency for Memphis itself and for the city's greater metropolitan area.

Let us say too: What we have learned in the last couple of weeks about private interventions into the public weal has been disquieting. We don't doubt, for example, that Nick Clark is motivated by religious conviction in his concern about topless clubs. But there are aspects to his own freebooting investigation that smack of vigilantism and commercial self-interest. What we need, as quickly as possible, are public answers to public questions from a duly constituted public source.

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