Memphis Needs a Boring Mayor

After 18 years of intrigue at City Hall the time is right for someone boring to take the reigns. Who that person is, is still to be decided, but whomever it is must be willing to take a back seat personally, to the issues surrounding the city in an effort to bring economic opportunity, enhanced city services, and social justice to a community that has been fraught with discord since before I arrived here in 2004.

Brad Watkins’ post at Confessions of a West Tennessee Liberal, is spot on…ISSUES FIRST, personalities and relationships should be a distant second…if not third.

So far, there are at least a dozen candidates kicking around the idea of running for Mayor. Already, people are picking sides based on previous relationships. I understand this on one level. A candidate’s past actions are often the best barometer of their future performance, but it shouldn’t be the only test. What is their vision for the future? What are their key goals? How will they govern? These are all the boring, non-tabloidy questions that voters need to be asking in this shortened election cycle.

The reality is that Memphians have been voting for style over substance in the City Mayor’s office for a very long time. The return on this investment has been the total stagflation of progress at City Hall. No new ideas, no new growth, and a higher costs for citizens (in terms of declines in quality of life, taxation v. ROI, and political strife v. smooth governance). Continuing this trend is a recipe for not just continued disaster, but escalating decline in a city that has seen little or no growth in quite some time.

Despite Mayor Herenton’s concerns that the “right” people may not be running or may not win, his decision to resign the office of Mayor means that, short of filing to run in the special election, he either has to get behind his favored candidate, or deal with the consequences of his actions. Remember, it was the Mayor that created this scenario. If he doesn’t like the outcome, he has no one to blame but himself.

The truth of the matter is that Memphis and Shelby Co. have done a poor job of grooming future leaders in a way that creates viable alternatives outside the established powers. Sure there are programs and groups dedicated to building new leaders, but the political establishment of the city and county hamstrings this effort through rigid coalitions of the consiglieri. If you’re not in, you’re out of luck around here. It’s one of the things that has been a persistent problem in this city for far longer than Herenton’s tenure at City Hall, or anywhere else in public life.

These coalitions are designed to maintain established powers and ensure that nothing happens, no matter how beneficial to the community, without their approval. Sure, some have tried to buck this system, but they have received no future support from their efforts.

The “personality campaigns” merely feed this effort to stifle positive change. Voters are distracted by personality, something that is far easier for a compliant public to wrap their collective heads around than policy or ideas that are sold to the public by these “personality merchants” as eggheaded. Rather than debate the proposals on their merits we are fed a steady diet of name-calling and innuendo, designed specifically to distract us from the lack of vision from which many of these “leaders” suffer.

So yeah, I’m ready for a boring Mayor, because a boring Mayor may just be the prescription this city needs to get out of the rut we’ve dug over decades of ineffective leadership brought on by a system that has been hijacked and shackled to a very small, self-interested population.

Bring on the boring, but make sure your ideas are exciting. Boring for boring’s sake isn’t going to get my motor going. Come to the table with some serious and well thought out ideas and I’ll work my ass off to get you elected.

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