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Wharton Priorities Revealed in State of the City Address

Wharton focuses on crime, minority business, and poverty in his annual speech.



"Sound and strong."  That's the overall state of the city at the beginning of 2015, according to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton in his annual State of the City address last week. 

Wharton looked back at 2014 during his speech last Thursday at the Hattiloo Theatre but also gave Memphians a glimpse of his plans for the coming year.  

That year could be cut short for Wharton, of course, depending on the outcome of October's mayoral election. So far, Wharton's front-running opponent in the race is Jim Strickland, a Memphis city councilmember. 

Strickland formally rebutted Wharton's speech after it concluded. He noted many here don't feel safe in their communities and that, he said, "is the state of the city many of our residents are living through." 

Nevertheless, Wharton has time on the clock as mayor, and here are his big three ideas for his time remaining:

1. Fighting Crime — In his speech, Wharton said he will emphasize "old-fashioned community policing and new, cutting-edge technology."

On the old-school side, Wharton said he'll activate neighborhood leaders, especially in areas with high violent crime, to work at the "grassroots level" to reduce crime. 

On the high-tech side, he said the city will add police car dash cameras, automatic vehicle location technology, and body cameras for officers this year. 

Also, new officers are on the way to move the Memphis Police Department ranks closer to the "optimal force of 2,500."

"We have increased the budget for the Memphis Police Department by nearly $40 million. We have intensified our anti-gang programs. We have toughened sentences for violent crimes. We have targeted crimes in apartment complexes, and we are fighting gun crimes by young offenders," Wharton said.

In Strickland's speech, he said he would have a "100 percent commitment to Blue Crush," work with state legislators to get higher penalties for violent criminals (and hold parents accountable for violent crimes committed by their children), and work with community leaders to help children "who are picking the wrong path."

"Crime needs to be the absolute focal point for the future adminstration, and I will, like a laser beam, focus on that in the next four years," Strickland said.

2. Minority Business — Wharton said it was "simply unacceptable" that only one percent of business receipts in Memphis are with minority businesses. 

To increase that number, he proposed a new division of city government, what he called the Division of Minority Business Services. The agency would "manage all city agencies and services related to minority businesses" and create partnerships with groups like Memphis Light, Gas and Water, the Memphis Area Transit Authority, and other agencies that receive city grants. 

"Our ultimate goal as a result is to put in place a process that is just as entrepreneurial as the entrepreneurs we hope to create and support," Wharton said. 

But Strickland said Wharton already has this authority, and minority contracts have actually fallen during his term. 

"The mayor is the sole contracting authority for city government," Strickland said. "That means he controls all contracts. They all have to come through city hall. Minority contracting with the City of Memphis has actually decreased over the last two years."

3. Poverty — Wharton's overall plan to fight poverty is to promote prosperity. 

His "Blueprint for Prosperity" was revealed in May and came with one major goal: to reduce poverty in Memphis by 10 percentage points in the next 10 years. 

The blueprint is a massive document designed by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology. It is crammed with data and theory, but Wharton said last week that he will begin implementing the plan over the next six months.

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