Behind the Headlines – February 1, 2019

Behind the Headlines – February 1, 2019


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is
made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like
you, thank you. – Jim Strickland runs
for mayor, Bill Lee takes the governor’s office,
and much more tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, President
and Executive Editor of The Daily Memphian. Thank for joining us. I’m joined this week by a
round table of journalists starting with Ryan Poe
from the Commercial Appeal, thanks for being here. – Thank you – Karanja Ajanaku, Editor of
the New Tri-state Defender, thank you for being here. – My pleasure.
– Along with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. So we’ll start with maybe
the worst kept secret in Memphis politics, that
Mayor Jim Strickland is going to run
for office again. The Commercial Appeal
had the story first, the official announcement. I’ll go to you Ryan, your
thoughts on the Mayor running, and where we’re going. – Well like you said, there
was really no question that he was gonna run, he
was always gonna run and he just made that official. So I think the big
question now is who’s gonna run against him. Willie Herenton, former
Mayor of Memphis, has already stepped up to the
plate and said he’s gonna run. We don’t know who else
yet exactly but that’s, whether they, who
wins in that race, that’s gonna be
interesting to watch. – Do we think, I mean
we’ll start with Herenton, I mean he’s talked about
running, he’s declared. But he’s done other races
Karanja where he is not, where he has declared but
not necessarily gotten, I don’t wanna say serious, but
hasn’t raised a lot of money, done a lot of campaigning. He is obviously
capable of doing that, I mean he’s shown that. But do you think, do you
have any sense that he is going to go full force
in to this mayor’s race, Mayor Herenton’s. – I’ve not spoken
with him recently. The last time I
did speak with him, he indicated that he
was serious about it, and that he would be able
to either raise the funds that he needs, or he may not
need as much as some others because of his
noteworthiness in terms of his past reputation that he
can rally people that way, so we’ll see whether or
not that proves to be true. – Stay with Herenton, I mean
Herenton always makes news as a figure of renown
and of controversy depending on people’s
perspectives. What’s your sense of whether
this is gonna be a full force, kind of full effort
run on his part? – I think it will be, but I
think it will be different. I think that Herenton
does not want to run as a critic of
Strickland necessarily. He might takes some shots
at him but I think that what he’s grappling with and
working toward is to find a way to be a different candidate
than the “boxer mentality” candidate that was on the
political arena for 17 years. A candidate who’s
very combative, who answers every
criticism of him, and even goes on the offensive. I think that from my
conversations with him, and like Karanja, I haven’t
talked to him recently like in the last week or
so, but what I’ve picked up from him is that he realizes
that times have changed and that his position is
different than the incumbent who got re-elected four times. So I think he will run, I
think he is trying to find a very different appeal
this time around. – We talked about money,
one of you mentioned money. I mean Strickland
when he announced, talked about having
raised $750,000 already. That was in, I don’t know what maybe they call
the quiet period. Again, it was pretty well
known that he was gonna run but it wasn’t out
there with yard signs and declared and so on. I’ll go to you Ryan, what
is Strickland gonna run on? What’s he gonna claim
to be his successes and the reason he
deserves another term? – I think he really saw,
I got a preview of that in the State of the
City address this week, he came out and said,
“Memphis has momentum, but we want to accelerate
that momentum”. So you’re gonna
see a lot of that. You know, Memphis
is in a good place, the crime rate is going
down, police officer numbers are going up, all these kind
of issues that he’s gonna tout. But he’s gonna say that
there’s more to do. That’s what he’s gonna run on. – Crime is both the data
and it’s the perception, and we talked a lot, we have
talked a lot about crime over the years in this
show, and all of the, obviously all of us
have written about it from all kinds of perspectives. Will he be successful,
is your sense that he’ll be successful
running on crime is down? – Well he could say it but
I think he’s smart enough not to run on that as a
singular type of thing. I think he’s taking that,
he’s meshing it with the fact that, hey look,
we recognize that there’s a lot of construction going
on downtown but we’re gonna take it outside of
downtown and we’re gonna take it into the communities. I think he’s making
the argument that the things that you do
out in the community and that you do to
empower communities has an impact relative
to crime and safety. – Same question to you
Bill, you know he ran on a “I will fight crime”, very
much a fight crime agenda, brilliant at the
basics, potholes, not bright shiny huge
visionary things so much as the brilliant at the basics
crime, roads, et cetera. How successful do you think
he’ll be running against, on a “I’ve lowered crime.” Even mentioning it, I mean
will he not get criticism? ‘Cause at any given
time someone can say well yeah but what
about that incident? – Yeah, saying that crime is
down to someone who has been a victim of crime, is never
going to be a winning argument. I don’t think he’ll go there. I mean, first of all, he
didn’t say the word ‘momentum’ as much as I thought he would. – [chuckles]
That’s not possible, – in his State-of-the-State.
– for those, the momentum thing, I mean we went from
brilliant at the basics which is a form of a
drinking game that every time he said it, and now
we’ve got momentum and I guess it’s gonna be on
the yard signs and he’s been not very subtly previewing that
with all of us on this show and in all press conferences. I mean he’s been talking
about momentum for two years, and so not surprisingly, we’re
gonna hear about momentum. – But I think, I think his
main thrust is going to be that he wants to break the
economic development boom out of downtown and Midtown,
and get it into areas. I mean, I think that was one
on the reasons that you saw the State of the City
address in Whitehaven, at The Links of Whitehaven
in the city golf course in Whitehaven, including
telling the folks there from Whitehaven that yeah,
we broke ground in 2012, on streetscape improvements
on Elvis Presley boulevard, $43 million worth,
we’re actually going to start the streetscape
improvements six years later, probably in about two weeks. – I think Ryan
mentioned it earlier, it’s gonna depend on who
else gets in the race. I know we mentioned Herenton
but I just sense that someone that we may not see
yet, obviously don’t see, is gonna surface. It could come out of
the People’s Convention, or it could come out of
some of the interest that the women in the
county are generating. – Yeah, I mean it is,
nationally certainly. This last midterm, I mean
women are coming forward in big numbers,
running and winning. Talk about the
People’s Convention, for those who aren’t familiar
with what’s been put forward for this year and the
history of that term and of the People’s Convention. – Well Bill had a great piece
earlier and did a podcast talking with Mr. Crawford
and Mr. Fisher who seem to be the prime movers in the
People’s Convention 2, that takes us back to the
pre-Dr. Herenton’s first run where a group of people
got together to try to find a consensus candidate,
particular relative to the African American
Community and then out of that came Dr. Herenton. And so, there is an
effort then to have a second one, 2.0, with some
significant differences. But you know when I, and
Bill will get more into that, but one of the things that
comes to my mind is that the first time that I heard
about the People’s Convention, I mean really heard about it,
it really didn’t have anything to do so much with politics. It wasn’t about how do you
get a consensus candidate. It was, how do you bring
elements of the African American community together, so that
we can organize ourselves to be able to move
our resources where we needed to move them. It was an economic
development thing with a political component
and then as it evolved, that part sorta kinda got lost. – (Bill)
The politics took over. – Yeah. – You did a piece on and you
talked about a podcast on the People’s Convention
back in, when was it? – ’91, it was April of 1991 and it did start out like that. The numbers, politically the
numbers in terms of voters were estimated even by white
politicians to be very close to if not an African
American majority. Some thought that ’95
would be the year when the majority would be there
and this would be doable but obviously it did happen
in 1991 and by the time the convention got
underway at the Colosseum, yeah much of the focus
was on who is going to be the consensus black
challenger to Dick Hackett who was the
incumbent at the time and that kind of took over. Although, it really
wasn’t settled. There was still the endorsement
of Harold Ford, Sr., who was the
congressman at the time that came later in all of this. Some important differences, Siju Crawford and Earle Fisher, the two organizers of
this have said that they intend for the
convention and its platform, first of all the platform
will come out first before the convention. And they also intend for
the convention to remain after the 2019
city elections and remain in place as
a political force. The way they put it is, the
candidates are not as important as the platform and pursuing
the platform no matter who gets elected in 2019
and it won’t be just about the Mayor’s race,
it will involve the races for the 13 city council seats. – Yeah and that is
good to remember. For all 13, we’ve gotten
all the empty seats are replaced now, is
that that’s correct, just to update on everyone
the kind of trouble that replacing those
seats on an annual basis. – And we should also
say that 28 years ago, there was a controversy
about the convention that really kind
of overshadowed all the political underpinnings
and strategies and that was that it was
racially exclusive. It was open to African
Americans only. That is not the case this time. – Interesting, to that
and then we’ll move on. Any other names that
come to mind in terms of who might run
against Strickland? It’s not, I mean I may
not be creative but I’ve asked a lot of people this and there haven’t been
a lot of names that have come forward
as a challenge. – I think there would be someone
from the new generation of activism that we’ve seen
in the last five years. – In the same way that
we saw Tami Sawyer run, she ran for a seat and
didn’t win but then won. – She ran for the State
House in 2016 I believe and came back and ran for
County Commission and won it. I think there will be probably
more council candidates from this generation
probably than there will be
mayoral candidates. – Segue from the mayor’s
race to the governor. I mentioned at the top, Governor
Bill Lee has taken office from Governor Bill
Haslam after two terms. He came forward with, it’s
gonna sound a lot the same, it’s gonna sound not
so different than what we had with Bill Haslam. I think that’s kind of what
they’re trying to position in terms of some of the people
he’s got in place and so on. But some specific Memphis
things that came forward were, no more money for the mega site. I don’t know who
wants to take this or who’s been covering it. Bill, I mean it’s the
megasite is the big megasite out in what, Haywood
county, Memphis megasite, it’s the same sort of big
economic development site that was built
out in Chattanooga where Volkswagen ultimately
put a huge plant. There was one in middle
Tennessee that had a big semi-conductor plant
that then actually went under. They’ve put, I don’t know
how many tens of millions of dollars, I should know,
into the Memphis megasite but part of the controversy
was, and it came up in part during the Governor’s campaign,
is there was the prospect of a big billion dollar
factory investment, manufacturing investment
at the Memphis megasite that some claim, the
business community claim, didn’t happen because
it wasn’t ready to go. They couldn’t move
in, there’s still work that had to be done. Bill Lee is not saying,
Bill, that he doesn’t need to put more money into it,
that’s gonna disappoint some people and make
other people happy. – Yeah, it’s basically a
chicken-and-egg argument. How much do you do in
terms of infrastructure before you have a
tenant for the site, and he’s not ruled
out infrastructure, he’s just saying that before
the state does a deep dive in terms of that, that
he wants a tenant to sign on the dotted line or get
reasonably close to that before the state
starts to put money in. And I think what you’re seeing, Karanja and I were talking
about this before the show, it’s called the Memphis
Regional Megasite. When you say that to people
here who don’t keep up with this who don’t get paid to
do this for a living, their first thought
is likely to be, Oh there’s a
megasite in the city. They really don’t identify
it with Haywood county and we even say David
Lenoir at one point in the race for county mayor last year
say “I’m not sure the megasite “is a good idea because
it would be a drain on the local labor force here”. So while you have one
sector who’s talking about hey this will be great for the
region and we really need it in terms of economic
development, you have another group of
people who aren’t as vocal, who are saying, wait a
minute, I’m not sure that’s a good idea for our economy. Regionalism may be good but
if we’re good for regionalism, when is regionalism
good for us. – Yeah, other thoughts
on this megasite, or on Bill Lee’s priorities
as he’s taking office here? – Well more on Bill
Lee and his priorities, I was sort of struck
by the feedback. Generally speaking,
the feedback early on has been good
across bipartisan lines, he’s been able to use
some language relative to rural economic development,
workforce development, criminal justice reform,
that has people either leaning this way or at
least not coming out with the hammer and saying
okay let’s see what kind of meat he puts on these things. I mean people like Barbara
Cooper, is coming up with the bill that would provide
an avenue for people coming out of prison
or in prison to get, to receive TN Reconnection
funds so they can get skills coming out. Well, Lee’s folks indicated that
they might be okay with that because it sort of fits
into where they wanna go with their criminal
justice system. – It’s be interesting, and
Barbara Cooper is a local state house rep, long time rep. But it’ll be interesting
on the back of one of the few things, for some people, surprising things that the
U.S. Congress and President agreed on in the
last few months was a big criminal justice
reform at the federal level and there are other states,
very conservative states like Tennessee, that have
done pretty dramatic, maybe not enough for some people
but pretty dramatic reforms in terms of re-entry,
expungement, focusing more on violent crimes and
letting more misdemeanors and other types of crimes, let
those people, encourage them to get back into the workforce and get back into the society. Are you hopeful that, and
Bill Lee has talked positively about those things as well, a
lot of times for conservatives it’s a matter of economics. Prisons are incredibly expensive
and it’s a matter of faith. Bill Lee certainly ran
on as a man of faith so those two things together,
forgiveness and so on. So you’re hopefully, early on. – I’m hopeful and
it’s just makes sense. I mean what are the numbers,
95% of people who go in are coming out and 40%
of them are going back in and so there’s and that cycle
you’re more dangerous, you know the more that you’re
into the cycle and so you’ve got to do something
about it and so we’ll see. – Yeah, other any thoughts on
Bill Lee at this point Ryan? – You know I think you’re
gonna see Bill Lee do what he was elected
to do which is be a conservative governor. I don’t know how helpful
he’ll be to Memphis on some of the more
left leaning issues that Mayor Strickland or Police
Director Mike Rallings might desire like more
gun control, controls and things like that. But I think yeah, he’ll
definitely make a lot of people happy in the state generally. – Yeah, we’ll stay with
criminal justice right now. We’ve done a show,
we’ve written a lot, I think all of us have
in various ways on the juvenile justice center
and talked a lot about that, did they vote on that? – Yes, it was approved. – Ok this was the $1.3 million
that is the planning and design for an expansion
or a new, an addition to, I don’t know how you
wanna frame that, juvenile justice center. Who, you wanna take? – Yeah this is the
planning and design work, there are still some
crucial questions on this but the county commission
had its debate after a couple of delays
on this. There are still some very crucial questions
to be answered. Not just in general
about juvenile justice but about even like
the bricks and mortar of the detention center. Is it going to be bigger
than the existing facility I think of about 135 beds, or is it actually
going to be smaller? Mayor Lee Harris, the
county mayor, has said he thinks it should be smaller
so that we’re on the right, everybody sees that and agrees
on this plan that the goal is going to be to have
fewer juveniles in detention with more programs but you
have Sheriff Floyd Bonner who has said on this show
that he doesn’t think that the new detention center
should be undersized so there’s still
a lot of questions to be resolved about that. – And all of it comes
back in some level to the treatment of
juveniles, of kids who are in the juvenile justice
center and conversations about should there be education, some of the things we were
just talking about Karanja, I mean education and
treatment and recreation and a chance to get
outside or are these places of punishment and keeping
very dangerous people away from the population and that
whole debate that is in part at the core, and how
if you treat these kids with lesser offenses, are
you really just training them to become criminals
some would say, your thoughts on where
this debate goes, and that as a spending
priority for the county. – We can go back to the
commission because part of the discussion had to do
with what we are actually gonna call it right and so
I think they came up with at least a working name where
they deliberately are not using the word, ‘detention’
they don’t wanna see it as a facility where you
go and you hold somebody. It needs to be a place where
you go and provide youth with whatever it is
that they were missing so that they can change
course and part of the debate that held up the vote
wasn’t so much about the size of it and
everything as it was what’s gonna be in it. I think Tami Sawyer and
Edmund Ford in particular were saying well hey look
we’ve got a culture problem relative to the whole
juvenile court operation. There needs to be
more education. There needs to be more
proactive type of things built in and this, the
facility, the way that we are talking about it doesn’t
account for that and so. It’s interesting too that
Judge Earnestine Dorse retired not too long ago and she
talked about having run for juvenile court judge
back in the ’90s and she cited the conditions
that African American children in particular were running
into, relative to juvenile court and she was saying
that she doesn’t see much of a difference today. That there’s a culture there
that needs to be addressed. And that’s what I heard Tami
Sawyer try to talk about. Where do we go to
address the culture, that’s not a brick
and mortar situation. – And culture is in
part treatment and how these kids were
treated and so. – It’s also a trust issue too. There were some comments
from Dan Michael, the Juvenile Court Judge,
as well as Amy Weirich, Shelby County District
Attorney General, that really I think
helped to fuel the move for a delay because
Commissioners Sawyer and Ford were saying well wait a minute, they’re saying something
different from what our common philosophy
has been about the direction of
juvenile justice here and so we’re not gonna
resolve that conflict, those conflicting views,
we’re gonna go ahead and approve the money to
rebuild a detention center? Really? – Yeah, that $1.3 million,
I should have said was essentially a sort
of down payment towards what is estimated
to be a $25 million facility if that goes forward. And I don’t often do this but
we just had a Daily Memphian, Yolanda Jones, did a
story about, got inside and we did a photo essay
about the inside of it. It was really, I
mean it’s very stark, I don’t think,
maybe it should be, I don’t want to get into all
that but it’s really worth looking at I think if
you’re following this debate and those issues
of treatment and how kids are housed and so on. With just a couple minutes left,
Ryan you were writing about Jim Strickland when he was
on the show after he won, I said what does Memphis look
like if you’re successful as a mayor, he said
a lot of things. One thing he said was
cranes and construction and a downtown and a
city that was building and adding things. There’s a fight downtown right
now over hotel construction. Talk about that. – Yeah so the city has agreed
to give a bunch of incentives to a hotel developer to
build a massive hotel, 26 stories downtown, next
to the convention center. So that will they hope,
allow them to secure a whole bunch of
new conventions. But the Sheraton Hotel
which is also nearby is not very happy about it. So they are suing the city
for basically propping up this new hotel development. So that’s something that is
going to be interesting to watch particularly because it’s
really a debate about whether downtown can
support a hotel or that many hotel rooms, whether
we’re getting overburdened on hotel rooms, and also I
think it’s a debate about just whether the city should be
involved in kind of putting their thumb on the
scale of the free market and that’s a good question. – Well and it’s like a lot of
the other incentive programs, PILOTs, you know
distribution, apartments, we’ve talked about it a lot,
some would say too much, but it’s been a huge issue
for years now and the idea of retention, when money goes
to companies that are saying well I’ve been paying taxes
and playing by the rules now suddenly you’re
helping my competitor, be it an apartment complex or
be it a distribution center or so on and then the other
people, the city saying and the economic development people
saying well these incentives are necessary for
Memphis to grow, to get those cranes that
Jim Strickland talked about. – And what I commented on in
my column this week was that basically I’m saying
my argument is, if you invest in something
that would make downtown, take downtown to the
next level of vibrancy, you know that helps everybody. That’s a tide that
lifts all boats. So I think in the long run,
the Sheraton will find that it’s ultimately good for them. – Right, and this is
the time where you know there’s a hotel just
opened on right across from Redbird stadium,
another one down– – Opening everywhere.
– Yeah, two more – under construction
next to the one that’s, I mean there’s a
huge amount of hotel, small and mid-size
hotels happening downtown which again is back
to those cranes. Real briefly, we have
about a minute left, MLGW rate hikes Bill,
and I should note that we’ll have the President
of MLGW, J.T. Young on in the next couple weeks
but talk about MLGW real quick. – Memphis Light, Gas and
Water’s board has proposed rate hikes for $737 million
in infrastructure across gas, electric and water. The city council delayed
votes on the first version of that proposal. They are now scheduled
to vote on it again at the first council meeting
in February on that. A lot of discussion about
this and it’s worth noting that funding for this
infrastructure was proposed by Jerry Collins on his way
out as CEO of Light, Gas and Water, and the council
instead went for a 2% gas and electric
hike for one year so we could see
that happen again. It’s gonna be an
interesting council meeting. – Do you have, I
put you on the spot, any sort of percentage
proposal from MLGW? I mean how does it
translate to individuals? – Overall the latest option
is about 10.5% increase across gas, electric and water. – Alright, thank you
all for being here. Thank you for joining us. That’s all the time
we have tonight. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords

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