Thursday, July 01, 2004

Herenton Does It Again

Thursday's surprise announcement by Mayor Willie Herenton that he may be under FBI investigation was typical Herenton.

During the swearing-in ceremony for incoming MLGW President Joseph Lee, when the spotlight should have been on Lee attaining the highest and most important position of his career, Herenton dropped his bombshell with these words:
...I am possibly facing an FBI investigation for simply being a man and doing the right thing. Young man [referring to Lee], welcome to a new world.
Sigh.... Upstaging another man's honor. It's all about the Willie. "Simply being a man?" No, for possibly being involved in criminal wrong-doing, which "men" try to avoid.

It's the "doing the right thing" that's a clue. Television news is reporting that the focus of the investigation is the City's $1.5 billion bond sale last year. If you'll remember, Herenton left town in the immediate wake of last year's Hurricane Elvis to run to Little Rock for a mayoral campaign fund-raiser. The company hosting the party was a minority bond firm trying to get an in with the Mayor, hoping to get a piece of that bond deal. Sure enough, not long after his return, Herenton sent a letter to the City's attorneys instructing them to include this firm in the bond sale.

The way that Herenton phrased that letter led to confusion. You can hear it in Herenton's tones and phrasing and it sounds like his usual proclamatory style. Or, you can just read the text and it sounds like a directive with hints of quid pro quo. Herenton denies it. He claims he was merely trying to increase minority participation in City bond sales, which are typically handled by the local big banking and bond firms. In his eyes, it was "doing the right thing." In some other eyes, it was rewarding a campaign contributor.

I'm intrigued by Herenton's "welcome to a new world" remark. It was directed at Lee, but was the Mayor welcoming Lee into the public profile world of civic leadership or announcing a new era of scandal-reporting for his own administration? Scandal isn't new to Herenton. In my time in Memphis I can remember the stink he caused by dating a supposed "teacher" while he was City School Superintendent, a woman who had a record of dating influential men in Nashville, if I recall the story correctly.

What's not being noted here is that the Memphis Flyer's own Jackson Baker hinted at this very thing a couple of weeks ago! It was just a short tag at the end of the usual political round-up:
The hottest rumor going about city government circles these days concerns -- are you sitting down? -- the imminent resignation of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. Mayor spokesperson Gale Jones Carson dismissed that report, categorically and vehemently, as pure hooey. "That's crazy. That's just something that comes from people who are opposed to the mayor. He's not going anywhere!"

But, among others, a member of the City Council says he's heard the report of late -- repeatedly. "There are several variations," the councilman says, but all concern after-effects of two circumstances: an ongoing probe into the city's selection of brokers for last year's TVA prepayment and current speculation revolving around a fatal traffic accident involving the mayor's daughter-in-law, Andrea Herenton.
Bravo Jackson! He scooped everyone here.

In today's television reporting, it's being said that "everyone" on the City Council was surprised and some (Chumney, Lowery) denied any knowledge. Obviously, as Jackson reported, one male Councillor did know. WPTY's Jeni DiPrizio said that rumors had been flying for "months." And yet, every news source is calling this a "bombshell."

Yeah, right.

I want to see, if the investigation goes forward and produces allegations, how the City Council reacts. Will they return to the pugilistic stance we saw after Herenton's ill-starred inauguration speech and his "let's take it outside" taunt to Councillor Bruce Thompson? Will some attempt to pile on in order to weaken Herenton, or to extract petty revenges?

Interesting days ahead.

INSTANT UPDATE: The bashing is already starting! I just saw Councillor E.C. Jones on WPTY expressing bafflement at Herenton's choice of venue for his announcement. Jones made a crack, referring to Herenton, about upstaging "his man," Lee. Ah well....

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: Councillor Carol Chumney spoke up with her thoughts last nigt on several news programs, which earned her a rebuke and a chuckle from Mayor Herenton.

The Commercial Appeal has a rather odd write-up this morning. It's the sixth item down the list on the web page; not the top. The article initially makes it appear that Herenton made the admission directly to the paper, making no mention of the circumstances until more than half-way through. The writer also doesn't have any comments from City Council members, who appear to have been quite available last night, judging from the television news. On the plus side, they do quote more of the Mayor's words than has been heard on the television and radio, including further elaboration on his advice to MGLW President Lee.

No comments: