Behind the Headlines – July 12, 2019

Behind the Headlines – July 12, 2019


– (female narrator)
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. – Campaign season heats up. Mayor Harris issues
a veto and much more, tonight on “Behind
the Headlines.” [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes with The Daily
Memphian, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by a
round table of journalists starting with Toby Sells, news editor with the Memphis
Flyer, thanks for being here. – Thank you, sir. – Sam Hardiman is a reporter with The Commercial Appeal,
thanks for being here. – Thanks for having me. – Karanja Ajanaku is editor
of The New Tri-State Defender, and Bill Dries is a reporter
with The Daily Memphian. So we’ll start, and I’ll
start with you, Bill. The campaign finance
disclosures came out for what would this
be, the second quarter, and we are really going into
the campaign season now, particularly for mayor,
and we’ll start there, but we’ll also get into some,
a number of interesting things that are going on with
the City Council races, ’cause there are a whole
lot of people there. But let’s, the rundown
of financial disclosures in the money-raising,
the headline has to be the near million dollars
that Mayor Strickland, the incumbent, has raised,
and the some $80,000-ish that both Tami Sawyer has raised and that Willie Herenton,
the former mayor, has raised, but what does that mean? – It means that the mayor
has about a million dollars that he’s amassed since 2015, when he ran for mayor and
upset incumbent A.C. Wharton, and he has said that he
intends to spend all of that and that this is his last race and that he’s going out
by using the advantage that he has in terms
of campaign finances. It doesn’t necessarily mean
an automatic victory, though. I know people like to
believe that he or she who has the most
money, wins the race. That’s not always the way
that it works out in politics. It’s how you spend the money, and Strickland has
two challengers in former mayor Willie Herenton and county commissioner
Tami Sawyer who have a disadvantage
in terms of fundraising, but who are running very
different campaigns. Herenton is running
basically on his record as the city’s
longest-serving mayor, after nine years
out of politics. Sawyer is running very
much as the exemplar of the new generation
of activist, who, pretty close behind being involved in
activist organizations has been elected to the
Shelby County Commission. So, you have
different campaigns, different dollar amounts, and we’ll see what
happens in October. – And it’s interesting,
Karanja, I mean, how much, when you
look at, again, Strickland has a
whole lot more money than the other two competitors, but Tami Sawyer is able
to go on social media and generate a
kind of enthusiasm and a kind of following
that is notable, and then Mayor Herenton
has a long legacy, first African-American mayor, a lot of people
who look up to him, a generation of politicians
now who say, you know, Dr. Herenton led
the way for them. How much can they do without, with what looks to
be a lot less money? I can’t imagine them raising
money to bridge that gap, but they’ve got this name
recognition and enthusiasm in some cases that
maybe makes up for that. – Well, how well they do,
that’s the big question. I mean, that’s what
the race is about. They obviously have
strategies for doing that. I mean, if you ask
Tami Sawyer, she knew that she probably was gonna
be in this position right now in terms of the
money, they both, I mean, all three candidates
raised at least twice as much as they did during
the first quarter. It’s about connectivity, though, and your ability to connect
and be able to get those people actually to the polls, I
think Dr. Herenton is thinking that he’s got some
apparatuses in place that don’t necessarily
require the type of money that you might need to
have coming out fresh. So, we’ll see how that works. I mean, as far as Tami
Sawyer and the social media, yeah, the question is,
how widespread is that? It’s definitely a
social media lane that connects with
the activists, but how far-spread that’s
gonna be, I don’t know that. – I’ll go to you, Toby
Sells, from the Flyer. The question I think
I get asked a lot, and that I have, honestly,
about former mayor Herenton, is, is he really gonna campaign? He had declared a few
times in some other races he was gonna
challenge Steve Cohen, but didn’t really,
I mean, he did run. He was on the ballot, but I
don’t think many people thought that he fought the kind
of fight he had done back when he was
running for mayor. Do you have some sense
that, is this the one where he really does step up and really go all-in
on campaigning? – I’m certainly no expert on it. What little I’ve looked into
it, he has raised some money. As Bill said, he has
social media presence, and to Karanja’s point, maybe
he’s working behind the scenes in ways that we don’t know yet. I just have no idea, as
far as how he’s operating. – Well, Herenton, if
you look at his history, he’s always been a
different kind of candidate. Even in 1991, Herenton
didn’t do door-to-door the way that
Strickland’s been doing. Strickland’s been
doing door-to-door since late last year
and he’s ramping up and clearly has a plan there. Herenton has never been
a door-to-door guy. He’s been an event
guy, he has big events and a lot of people come to it, based mainly on the huge
amount of charisma he has and his penchant for
saying what is on his mind. But that’s really been the way that he’s drawn
people’s interest. – I’ll bring you in
here, Sam, I mean, the mayor is still
mayor, but, I mean, some people would say
that Mayor Strickland has been running for reelection
from the day he was elected, that it’s been a four-year
reelection campaign. Maybe he’s only been knocking
on doors for a couple years. How do you see it play out? And if you’re at
City Hall every day, or following the mayor
around or doing things, do you have a sense that
they are an elected office that is campaigning, or
are they more focused on the business of government? – I think the two
go hand-in-hand. I mean, you have the power
of incumbency, right? And so, you’re the only person,
if you’re Mayor Strickland, that gets to say, “look what
I’m doing for you right now.” You are in the office and you
get to point to, you know, they’ll often point to, the
pension is fully funded, there’s more paving,
et cetera, et cetera, and while those are the necessary
functions of government, that’s also a
reminder to voters of, look what has gone on
in the past four years. – It was interesting,
was it in the last week? I’ll turn to you, Karanja, that Tami Sawyer came out
with a kind of social, more of an agenda or, she
may disagree with this, but more than I had
seen this agenda, this kind of social
justice agenda. A tremendous amount of
spending and activism on the part of city
government into things, everything from pregnancy issues to education to reprioritizing. She says not spending more,
but reprioritizing spending. Did, that is a kind of message that gets a certain number
of people really excited. – It does, it also gets a
certain number of people concerned because
the question is, where does the money come from? And so, what Miss
Sawyer is saying is that it’s not gonna require
any type of sales-type hike and that it’s a
reprioritization of needs, infant mortality and
things of that sort, and so we’re gonna find
out, if she’s elected, if she can actually make
that priority change. – I mean, the Memphis
Flyer is a liberal-leaning, left-leaning paper. I don’t think I’m breaking any
news when I say that, Toby. Does that get the
readership of the Flyer, I mean, her social justice, those kind of very social
issues, the reprioritization, less about paving and basics
or business development and more about helping people and lifting people
out of poverty. Does that get the readership of the Flyer
excited and engaged? – I will say probably, to that. I know certainly, though, that
that does fan her fan base, her voter base, out there. You know, when you’re
coming out the gate, you’re not talking about
paving and potholes, and you’re talking
about infant mortality, you’re talking about living
wage and those kind of things. Those are the same issues
that helped win her seat on the county commission,
and that was a seat that a lot of folks said
that she came out too early, maybe didn’t have a chance
to win, and she won it, largely on social media. Came right out of the
activist sphere there, with the statues
and all that stuff, and proved a lot
of people wrong, so I think pressing
on these issues could be a really strategic base if she doesn’t have the
money, press on those. – Is City Hall, and I’ll
turn back to you, Sam. I mean, do they respond
to these proposals that Tami Sawyer puts forward, or are they sort
of ignoring them? – I would say that
they’re ignoring them. I would say that there isn’t
really, I mean, there’s respect for her as a candidate,
but there is, I think, I get the sense from the
mayor and those around him, they focus on, we’re
going to run our race and we are going to do the
traditional retail politics that he excels at. – Yeah, Bill, your
take on, I mean, Sam says there’s
respect of Tami Sawyer. There’s also, there’s
some real tension. I mean, there can be tension
and respect at the same time, so I’m not trying to
undermine what Sam said, but there can be some real
tension between those two camps. – Yeah, and I think that there
is something at stake here that is probably beyond who
wins and loses the election, and it is that in
Sawyer’s vote total, whatever the outcome
of the race is, Sawyer’s vote total
is probably gonna be the best indication
that we’ve had about how much the new
generation of activism that we’ve seen in the
last four to five years has really connected with
Memphis on a broader basis. So the stakes are pretty
high in this mayor’s race, and you have in Sawyer and
Strickland and in Herenton to a greater degree than I
think I’ve seen in a while, three candidates who are
pursuing a very specific and very different game
plans with a high degree of discipline so far. We’ll see how much that
wilts in the summer heat. – And I’ll ask you, Karanja,
I mean, how much people ask me and I’m a terrible
political prognosticator, so if I make any
predictions today, know that they are wrong, but
people always ask me things, and they’ll ask me about,
well, Jim Strickland is, he’s gonna get the white vote,
and then Herenton’s gonna, and Tami are gonna
split the black vote, but I mean, is that
really, is it that basic in terms of how people, your sense of how people
go out and vote and say, “well, I’m gonna vote
for the black candidate “no matter what, and now I’m
gonna split between those two,” or is it more issue-driven? – Well, I mean, history
is what it is in Memphis, and it’s definitely
been a racial pattern in terms of how people vote. There’s also been evolution,
but even during those times when there was a racial pattern, people were still
asking the question, well, who are you
and what can we, what can you do for us? And so I think there
will be that element, plus just a wave of
the whole blue wave, and women where they’re
forcing the people to think a little bit
more, a lot more, I think, about what they want from
their candidates, so. – Yeah, we’ll move on to
City Council real quickly, but let’s do some bread-and-
butter stuff here, Bill. Second quarter filings we just
got the financial filings. Early voting begins when? – September 13th. – Which is then two
weeks of early voting, give or take.
– Two weeks of early voting, and October 3rd is election day. Actually, I may have the
early voting date confused with the last day
to register to vote. – Okay, I’ll double-check that. – We’ll say mid-September.
– Mid-September, fair enough. We’ll give you that.
– And then July 18th is an important
date, too, right? – Yes, noon on July 18th
is the filing deadline for all the candidates
in all of the city races. – Okay, and that is, so again, we’re moving towards
the official, October 3rd is City
Council, City Court judges, City Clerk, and of
course the mayors race. – 18 races on the
ballot, and a referendum on the sales tax hike,
for public safety. So, a busy ballot there. You have 18 races like
I said, City Council, all three divisions
of City Court, City Court Clerk, and the mayor. – You mentioned this ballot. I am, I will honestly say,
I did not know about it. When did this ballot
referendum come up? How long has this been around? – It was a petition drive that the police and
fire unions mounted over a year ago to try to
get the benefits restored that the city cut in 2014. They got the number
of signatures required to put it on the ballot,
so it’s on the ballot, and voters will decide. – It’s a half-percent
city sales tax hike that would then go towards, targeted towards
benefit and health. Mayor Strickland came out
and said he was studying it. He didn’t have an opinion
on it, was the correct? – In terms of his
position on it, he says that if he’s reelected and this proposal is
approved by the voters, that he will carry it out. Interesting, though, he says that the legal
advice he’s gotten is that it’s not really
binding on the City Council and the mayor, that the City
Council still has to approve it and that it will come up
during the next budget season. – And, well, yeah, all that’s
consistent with what I know and the benefits part includes,
it affects the pension, spouses, and I guess
the pre-65 health. – Pre-65 retirees being covered. These were the
three main elements of city employee
benefits that were cut by the City Council
five years ago. – And, when they
do that, I mean, will the language say, “this
amount of sales tax increase “for these specific benefits,” or, I mean, is that
what’s unclear? Or is it, I mean,
I don’t understand how that actually works.
– I don’t know what the language on the
ballot itself, what that is. – Yeah, I’m at a
loss on the language, but I do know that
the City Council has to specifically
include this in the budget, whether the mayor
proposes it or not. – Any revenue it would
generate would go to the general fund, so, like, there would have to be,
like, some sort of approval to then get it to these things. – To say, this line item,
that line item, in the budget. – Okay.
– But just for me, I’ll say that I think
doing it this way, kind of bringing
it to the voters, is much better than
the way that, say, other unions have
done it in the past, putting up billboards that
say “stay out of Memphis, “dangerous city ahead.” I think this is kind
of a more efficient way to get there, that’s just me. – It is interesting
historically, I mean, this 2014, Jim Strickland
was on the council then, voted for those cuts,
others did as well. Some would say, there may
have been a lot of reasons that AC Wharton lost his reelection
bid to Jim Strickland, but he was out front
and was on this show with his finance director
talking about the importance of those cuts and
right-sizing city spending, and it’s interesting that
even five years later, those issues are still
very much front and center on the ballot. City Council races,
what stood out for you in terms of some of
the bigger races? We’ve got, is the entire
City Council going out? All 13 are up for election. A lot of people are termed
out, not all of them, but a lot of them. What are some of the
big ones that stood out? – What I saw was a trend
toward multiple filings, that is, one citizen who
wants to run for office who might pull petitions for all three of
a super district. – Can I officially say,
this makes my head explode. Not that I’m opposed to it
or I think it’s bad policy, but it makes it
impossible to understand who’s running for
what, but keep going. – It does, and this
has been something that we’ve seen in other races. You can pull multiple petitions. You can only file for one, so
you have to make up your mind. – Back to the July
18th date that, okay. – Right, and there is
some calculation in this, because you look at
which race is filling up. Do I have a better chance
in that one, or, well, wait. Nobody’s really paid any
attention to this race. I think I’ll get into that one. This time around, so far, we’ve seen a lot more
people doing that, pulling multiple petitions. By my count, 19 contenders
have multiple petitions out. That’s out of 107 people
who have pulled petitions. – Let’s read the
entire list, Bill. No, I’m kidding.
– Sure, no problem. – Other folks on the
City Council races that are standing out to people. – Just a quick question of Bill. Who do we know that won’t be
coming back to the council? Who’s term-limited? – There are three members
in the super districts who are term-limited,
Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepath, and Joe Brown. In addition to that,
there’s another open seat because Gerre Curry got
appointed this past January to City Council, District Six. She decided that the
better move for her would be to seek a
full four-year term in Super District
Eight, position one, the seat the Joe
Brown is giving up. – Again, you know,
how much right now, I’ll look at you, Sam,
you’re down at City Hall. Is the City Council, are
they in election mode in terms of how they’re voting,
I mean, it’s hard to say. I don’t know, is it like
what I said about Mayor, people say about
Mayor Strickland that he started
running for reelection right after he was elected, and I’m not saying
that’s a bad thing. I mean, that’s just kind
of the way it works. Is City Council right
now becoming consumed by this pending election? – I think that there
are some people, for example, the people that
are term-limited right now that are sort of laissez-faire, and maybe not pursuing things that they otherwise
would be pursuing, but I think you
also saw recently with the Waste
Connections zoning vote, which was a bunch of
neighborhood activists opposing the expansion
or redistribution of what is essentially
a waste sorting site in their backyard,
and that went down, and some
business-friendly members of the council voted against it, and people were listening
to the populist outcry. And I wonder, if this
is 2018, not 2019 and three months away
from the election, does this, which was really
proposed to be a redistribution and a bettering of this place
where a lot of waste is done, does that not go down in flames? – That just certainly
seems like upside-down mode for the council.
– Walk us through it, for those people who
hadn’t followed that vote quite as closely. – There’s a Whitehaven
neighborhood, Waste Connections has had
a waste sorting facility. The neighbors have
complained about it, of rodents and smell
and all these things. Waste Connections, they
wanted to kind of reconfigure what they were doing
there in this big project that they said was gonna be
better for the neighbors, and so, those
neighbors went down to city hall, said,
“we’re just against this,” and the company was saying, “no, this is gonna
be good for you. “It’s gonna take care of
some of those issues.” And the City Council,
instead of being, listening to all the things
and making some decision based upon whatever
choices they made, they just sided with
the neighbors in a vote, I guess it was 12 to 1. Worth Morgan was the only
one voting against it, and it was just, it seemed
like a complete reversal of what I’ve seen in
the council in the past. – I thought it was interesting because the council
discussion before the vote went along the lines of
some of the council members actually talking directly to
the homeowners in the area who were opposed to this, and some of the council
members said, you know, “actually, this is going
to be better for you “because it’s gonna move all
of this to the other side “of the site, further
away from your homes,” and, but the council members
in the same breath also said, “but we hear what you’re
saying loud and clear. “You don’t want that,
you don’t trust them, “so while we think
it’s a bad decision, “we’re still going to go ahead and do what you want us to do.” It was a very
interesting moment. – Will that proposal
come back to council, just to wrap that up? – No, it could come
back in another form in terms of being reconfigured
or something like that, or something that wasn’t
in the original one, but it can’t come back for
six months in that form. – Okay, we’ll move
on to Mayor Harris. Shelby County Mayor Lee
Harris issued a veto and maybe turn to you on this, that, talk about this, and
now the county commission is looking towards
overriding that veto. It was of, what, 15, it
was a million dollars towards a swimming pool facility and it was all about
the fight for 15, and the University of
Memphis as an employer does, not all of its employees are
making a minimum $15 an hour. Mayor Harris said that he had
run to fight against poverty, that this was a
matter of principle, that he just couldn’t
let that go forward without sort of sending a
message, my words, not his. Your take on that. – Well, you got the
natatorium, and they asked for, I think it was a million
dollars, they were saying that it wasn’t just for
the University of Memphis, that there were
provisions set up so that they could serve
inner city neighborhood kids, particularly African-Americans where there’s just a
really high rate of people who die from
swimming incidences, and so they thought it
was legitimate, then, to look for the funds,
and as you said, and Mr. Harris’s
position would say, “look, I came in
here with the idea “that we’re gonna
change some priorities, “we were gonna raise the
issue relative to poverty, “the priority relative to
poverty, I cannot go along with this million
dollar move here.” And so a lot of people
are saying that, “yeah, we sort of
understand the need “to change the
priorities and raise it, “but is this the issue
that we needed to have, “that you needed to have
taken your stance on?” Since there were some
definable benefits that they were gonna go to the
African-American community. Mr. Turner, the
commission chairperson, is saying pretty much that, and that also, he’s
saying another key thing, and that is that, it
seems to me he said that people are like,
talking past each other, and that if we
slow it down here, there is a way to find
a medium that works. – The interesting thing about, I thought the way
that the statement and articles that
we all probably did, from Lee Harris, was that
swimming is important. He was not discounting that
as something important, it’s just that he just decided
to make this more important, and he, there is a way in which, over the years that we’ve
had him on the show, for instance, Bill, I
mean, that, you know, when he was a state senator, when he was a city
councilperson, Lee Harris does like to take
votes as message-sending. He does, he’s less the guy
who wants everything neat and tidy, behind back
doors, this is my take. I’ve never heard him say
this, behind back doors, he wants to argue it out. It’s almost the law
and the lawyer in him and the law professor in him,
he loves to come on the show and argue a point,
and just say no. That’s, or say, “this
is what I believe in. “I lost that vote,
now I’m moving on.” But he doesn’t want it all
to be kind of seamless. He likes for there to
be, it seems to me, he seems to like a
certain amount of tension and sending messages
in the votes he takes. – I think that in his
position as a state senator, when Democrats were the
minority in the state senate and Republicans
were the majority, and as a county mayor, which
is a pretty weak office in terms of its powers,
especially when considered up against the city mayor
and the city mayor’s powers, I think that Harris feels like
this is how he has to do it. This is how he’s gonna make
his point, is in public. When you’re the majority, you can do that
behind closed doors. When you’re not, you really
don’t have that luxury, and you’re right, he
very much believes in things like a veto, which
is a pretty rare occurrence on both sides of the mall, that you use that to
open up negotiations. – Just to comment, is
the veto of a line item in a capital improvement
project, right? Did I say that correctly?
– Yes. – That’s how he’s doing that,
he can’t veto operating money but he can with capital money. With just a couple minutes left, we can talk more about that,
but I wanna move on to SkyCops, and you all at the Flyer, Toby, are writing about
the SkyCop cameras which have spread
across the city, whether they’re mounted to poles or they’re the
kind of temporary, people have seen
them in parking lots or at events or a place
where some crime has taken, and they are, for some
people, want more of them, more of them, more of them,
they feel they are deterrents, they help catch people, but
that is not a universal opinion and that is playing
out in Cooper-Young. – That’s right, the Cooper-Young
Business Association recently announced that
they wanna get seven of these cameras, two of
them will have the ability to read license plates. Some of the neighbors,
I’ve talked to a bunch of different
neighbors, that are, they’re wary of this
proposition, of surveillance, how’s it gonna look to outsiders to have all these cameras there? And so this is gonna
go before the council in the next meeting, and I
think this whole SkyCop debate is gonna be, it’s gonna kind
of boil back up to the top. We’re gonna see a lot of folks that feel certain
ways about this. The Sentinel program,
who gets them? Where do they go,
all those things, I think it’s gonna reemerge. – You’re nodding. Did you see that debate
in the neighborhood? Because a lot of them, the
advocates present it as, “we just can’t
get enough of them “and we’re looking
for private funding “to help neighborhoods in need get them as quickly
as possible.” – Well, it has to come
back before the council, because they’ve got this, the Cooper-Young group
is providing the funds, but the council has
to approve the funds. I get that part of it, but the thing that I’m
curious about is that, we say that some residents
are opposed to it. Well, how many residents
actually think it’s a bad idea? Did the Cooper-Young
Association itself decide, or was this just some
neighbors, and how many? I don’t know, because,
it’s hard to see that you wouldn’t
want the cameras. I mean, I guess I
could, it does what? It’s an invasion, I don’t know. – Well, I’ve cut you off,
it’s a much bigger debate and we will hopefully pick
it up at another time, but we are out of time.
Thank you all for being here. Thank you for joining us.
Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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