Dutch Treat Luncheon, February 2007
John Willingham chose this month's Dutch Treat Luncheon to announce his candidacy for mayor of Memphis. The problem was, if you talked with him a month ago when he was still being coy about running he gave almost exactly the same speech today! Same problems, same issues, same reasons to run, same complaints about cronyism. I hope he hasn't settled on this as his stump speech for the next few months. No disrespect to Willingham, but it was not a speech to set farm buildings alight.
I got there a bit late, so I don't know if he mentioned some of his ideas, but creating a payroll tax and bringing gambling to the Pyramid (two "solutions" he's mentioned before) are still non-starters. First, as it stands they are unconstitutional; to happen he'd have to get Nashville signed on and I don't see that happening. He's becoming a pariah to local Republicans, so I can't see them expending any effort on his behalf with West Tennessee's legislative caucus. As someone observed to me, Willingham seems to pick ways of solving Memphis' problems that he can't be blamed for not having happen.
Nor has he said anything about booting out the many dozens of political appointees that Herenton's saddled the City's budget with.
He does talk about the many fiscal imbroglios that Herenton and former County Mayor Jim Rout have left laying about. Mostly, Willingham is as upset by them as we are, and he seems to want real investigations, but as Mayor will he really pursue them? I have a feeling that Mike Carpenter (RIP) is going to be blamed with everything that went wrong with the FedEx Forum so those still living and culpable can slink away. That's not going to help today. Will Mayor Willingham use his knowledge of the deals to guide and prod an investigation?
He did talk some about his views on the city's landmarks -- like the Coliseum -- and spending priorities, and it was inferable from that what a Willingham mayorship might be like. He needs to articulate them more clearly, though.
I talked after the Luncheon with a half-dozen folks (not sure I can name them as it was informal, hallway talk). Several felt a 21st century People's Convention, ala the one in 1991 that got Herenton elected, was called for again in order to winnow down the number of candidates. I heard some noises about at least one more candidate entering the race beyond the early runners (Herenton, Chumney and Willingham) and the likely-to-runs (Morris, Lowery): Julius Bolton? That makes a crowded field which only works to Herenton's advantage.
(Quick update after posting: Jackson Baker reports that former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris may join the party! Morris, for those of you who need reminding, is the sumbitch who bequeathed to Shelby Countians a "temporary" wheel tax that is still with us today. Not only is it still hanging on after more than a decade, but it's been doubled. It was supposed to be "for the kids," (ie. education) and a stop-gap measure, but the schools budget is still growing and now some wheel tax revenues are deflected into the general revenue fund for other "pressing" purposes.
And every day you drive the Nonconnah Parkway remember that it was renamed for that guy. To honor him! It's like the playground bullies knocking you down anyway after you've handed over your lunch money. Talk about brass.)
Concensus was that Herenton can count on 25-30% this time around, and that he's mostly lost whatever white support he has beyond the Downtown Money Gang. Willingham thinks he can beat that. I listened to him last month run down the numbers based on his last race and the last general election. Interesting, but I thinks he's way off. As was pointed out in our discussion, in what was a two-man race last time, Willingham lost 3-to-1 against Herenton. While Herenton has certainly lost some luster, I don't think Willingham has picked up any polish. Then as now, too, Republicans are likely to leave Willingham hanging out to dry. (I'm hearing noises that local Republicans not beholden to Herenton might line up behind Herman Morris. Not sure how true that is and I can't imagine what it would do to Morris in the black community.)
And with so many folks splitting the anti-Herenton vote, it dilutes the chances of ousting him. Getting some of these folks out will be hard. Some seem genuine in their desire for public service as mayor, however unlikely their chances or dreadful their politics. (Hi Carol!) Some no doubt want to hook up their own coach car to the gravy train that Herenton's built up. (You'll see those folks shortly.) How we can concentrate dissatisfaction into one candidate is something folks will be mulling over into summer.
Another speaker at the Luncheon was a candidate for State House District 92 (to replace Henri Brooks), Republican Richard Morton. I caught him expressing support for the "homestead act," freezing property taxes for Shelby County senior citizens. So, I stood up and asked him how he felt about shifting the tax burden to others. He floundered around a while, definitely caught unawares and unprepared. His final answer was that he was fine with it. He wanted senior votes. Not that he said that last bit, but that's what he meant, if you ask me.
That's awfully sad to hear. A candidate happily (and with support from other Republicans in the room!) walking away from a bedrock principle of Republicanism (equal taxation) just left me wondering. Morton seemed like a nice guy, still learning the ropes of campaigning, so I did hate putting him on the spot. Still ... jeez ... no wonder the Shelby County Republicans have so much electoral trouble. Saying whatever will get you elected isn't party politics; it's just pandering.
(I'm not giving Democrats a pass here, they're the subject of a whole other post!)
Anyway, the attendance at this Dutch Treat Luncheon was pretty good. It's heartening to see, as I really respect its purpose and history. That's why I started attending it recently. It needs revitalisation in the worst way, right now. There may be some news coming shortly about that, so stay tuned.
SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE: Thaddeus Matthews has some thoughts.
Thad reminded me of something I forgot above. I have to wonder how Chumney will handle Herenton when he starts throwing his jabs. In the past when she's been poked by fellow City Council members she tends to focus defensively on the comment and not see past it to the larger issue.
And I remember when the Flyer took a jab at her. She reacted with a letter to the alt-weekly accusing them of attacking her because she's a woman. It was like something straight out of a Seventies feminist handbook. I shudder to think she didn't learn from that and will react the same way again with Herenton. She'll look foolish and old-fashioned; she won't impress a lot of black Memphis, either.
Oh! I'm officially starting the clock on how long it will be until someone calls Chumney the Great White Hope. Bloggers don't count.
SECOND SUNDAY UPDATE: The Commercial Appeal has a story on the Dutch Treat Luncheon and says with certainty what Bill Wood assured me he told her was only a likelihood. Bill's account of what he told her is very different from hers. Ah well, that's the press for ya!
I saw the reporter sitting in the back. She arrived late, after the event started, and kept Bill pigeon-holed for most of the Luncheon. It interfered with him doing his job as host; whose fault that is -- hers for rude persistence or his for solicitousness -- I don't know. It was distracting for the rest of us.
She also calls the Luncheon "legendary for its conservative bent." My understanding has always been its reputation for non-partisanship and dialogue. Now, the event she was at had a pronounced conservative Republican bent, but I think it was more because of Willingham. Anyone with more experience from the past want to chime in?
VERY LATE SUNDAY UPDATE: LeftWing Cracker also weighs in with his thoughts on the Morrises, and the real reason Bill Morris might be running.