Politics » Politics Feature

Talking Turkey

City Council newbies get holiday helpings of advice from their peers.



Newly elected members of the Memphis City Council, fresh from a recent get-acquainted luncheon with Mayor Willie Herenton, followed by an informational session with MLGW officials, continued their orientation with an all-day retreat Monday at the Lichterman Nature Center.

There, among other things, they heard from several council veterans as to what to expect. Typical of the good advice they got was the retiring Dedrick Brittenum's counsel that they never meet with constituents petitioning their support for a measure without having a council staffer on hand.

Barbara Swearengen Ware, a returning member, pointedly told the novices that the key to their success would be "relationships, relationships, relationships" — a reminder of the snags encountered in the not-so-distant past by one or two famously go-it-alone members.

Council vet Myron Lowery had a similar message, warning the council newbies not to get involved in "stupid stuff" that feeds the media without yielding positive results. "Three members of the council always had a rebuttal," he said, without naming names. He cited the evolution in style of one departing colleague. When he was brand-new, Brent Taylor would comment on "everything in sight," Lowery said, but Taylor finally progressed to the point that he "just voted."

A surprisingly animated and light-hearted presentation came from the outgoing Henry Hooper, who had often seemed stiff and uncomfortable in his losing reelection race this fall. The visibly relaxed Hooper got a laugh Monday when he expressed satisfaction that he would no longer "have to worry about Janis Fullilove," his victorious opponent, who smiled amiably as Hooper ventured, "If I run for something else, maybe try to go across the street [County Commission?], she's not going to quit and run against me."

E.C. Jones tossed off some one-liners, too — as well as one ultra-serious point: "Remember. You work with the mayor. You don't work for the mayor."

The logical follow-up to that was delivered in the form of an address by Stephen Wirls, a professor at Rhodes College. His message? The council has more power, potentially, vis-à-vis the mayor than anyone had previously realized. Hmmmmm.

Richard Florida, whose Rise of the Creative Class is one of the basic texts of urban planning these days, was the featured speaker at last week's Chairman's Luncheon of the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce at The Peabody, and his appearance was not without irony.

A superb salesman and, some would say, a gifted theorist as well, consultant Florida advocates diversity and tolerance as essential tools for civic progress, and, as he told his overflow blue-chip audience in The Peabody's Grand Ballroom, a distinct no-no is for a city's leadership to address a dissident part of its population with the attitude, "If you don't like it, you can get out."

Er ... Someone forgot to remind Florida that one of his hosts, Mayor Herenton (whom the speaker, who tailors his remarks to his locale, made sure to praise lavishly), is locally famous for occasionally expressing just such sentiments toward critics of his administration.

• Time, as they say, heals wounds. A case in point is the enhanced status among local Republicans of Shelby County commissioner George Flinn, who hosted this year's annual Christmas gathering of the Shelby County Republican Women Monday at his expansive East Memphis residence.

Flinn presided over the affair with avuncular grace, and, by way of concluding some welcoming remarks, struck a note that clearly resonated with the sizable throng. "And notice that I didn't say 'Happy Holidays,' I said 'Merry Christmas,'" offered Flinn, who is fluent these days in the lingo and nuances of his party-mates, most of whom no doubt deplore the erosion of the season's once-traditional greeting.

Five years ago, Flinn, a well-known radiologist and broadcast magnate, had just conducted his maiden political effort, a run for county mayor which involved both a bruising primary win over the popular Larry Scroggs and a difficult general election race in which he was swamped by the even more popular A C Wharton.

Some ill feeling lingered from both efforts, most of it stemming from the combative campaign tactics urged upon Flinn by some out-of-state consultants.

Flinn would have been an unlikely host for a holiday season GOP event back then, but the increasingly sure-of-himself commissioner is now regarded as one of his party's least contentious presences and a likely candidate for another try at the mayoralty in 2010.

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