Behind the Headlines — September 25, 2015

Behind the Headlines — September 25, 2015


(female announcer)
This is a production
of WKNO/Memphis. Production funding for Behind
the Headlines is made possible in part by.. – Early voting is underway and
one of the closest mayor’s races in decades. That story and more
tonight on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Kyle Veazey from the Commercial Appeal. Thanks for being here. – Sure. (Eric)
Bill Dries, senior reporter for
the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for being here. And Christopher
Blank with WKNO-FM. Thanks for being here. So, I’ll start with you, Kyle. It’s been a while since
you’ve been on the show. And there’s a
million things going on. We’ve had a flurry of
debates and forums. We’ll spend as
much time as we need, you know, half the show or more,
just talking about where we are, particularly with
the mayor’s race. Let’s start there and then we
can kind of get in to some city council races and so on. But what have we learned in
this flurry of the most recent debates and forums? – I think we’ve learned that
most people are ready to have debates and forums be over with. Because I think that while there
were a lot of substantive things talking about in
each of these ones, we generally know what we know
about these candidates that we knew a few weeks ago. You know, I think. They are the characters
that they’ve been playing. And each debate has sort
of pulled out a little bit here and there. Y’all’s debate did it. The one a couple of
nights before did it. But I think we’re
pretty well set. I mean, as I wrote after I think
the first debate last week, let’s just go ahead and vote. Let’s just get this. We know what the field is. – And early voting is underway. I should tell people to vote. They should always vote. But early voting makes it easy. Bill, what have we learned? Anything? – I think we know, as
Kyle said, the major issues. The issues in this race have
been real concentrated compared to other mayor’s races. And the four major contenders
pretty much agree on what those issues are. You don’t have anyone who’s
coming out of left field with something that they are
particularly an advocate of. That’s not to say that
they agree on the issues. We’ve got some good really
differentiation among the candidates on the
various issues. But, um, nobody’s trying to
come up with a new issue in this group. So, it’s a pretty
tight concentration. – To you, Christopher. Just for your
general impressions. And then we’ll dive
in to some specifics. But general impressions so far
in this flurry leading up to early voting in
these last, you know, forums, debates,
our debate and so on. – Well, one of the things that
seems to be happening to me, happening in the debates, is
that the mayor has received a lot of criticism that he isn’t
really holding up this vision of what Memphis should be. You’ve listened to this race. It’s been very
negative the whole time. I think Memphis has been kicked
around like a dog in an animal shelter a little bit in terms. And I think we’re all a little
bit tired of the brutality that our city has been subjected to. The mayor should have been the
cheerleader for the things good about this city. But he never really came out
very strongly as a champion of what is Memphis. What are the things we’re
known for that we do well? And so, I think also that the
mayor is at this point where he is, having been in the
job for the past few years, he has to find this more nuanced
approach to being a mayor. And he knows that
being in a very diverse, racially and
economically diverse city, he’s got to really kind of walk
a middle line and understand the problems of a diverse community. I think the other candidates
don’t quite understand the nuances of the job yet. And so, they’re coming in very
hard on very specific issues that happen to appeal
to certain demographics. And I think one of those
major issues is the crime issue, which they’ve
talked a lot about. You know, when we say we’re
going to put a lot of police officers in the job and just
infiltrate our neighborhoods with police officers.. Well, that message has a very
different resonance to white people and black
people in Memphis. You know, I think white folks
love to hear that because we feel safer. Black people don’t have maybe
as convivial a relationship with the police department as we do. So, I think there’s a sense that
Mayor Wharton is taking a safer approach in talking about crime. – I think it’s interesting. The Mayor is saying in
the Memphis being kicked around thing. Because I think I left
our debate thinking, “Gosh, is this the
city I live in?” Because it sounds so bad. I mean, but I
actually really quite.. I mean, I’m being not objective
for the show when talking about this. I quite like it here. I mean, I’ve lived here for 19
years and it’s got a million flaws. But all cities do. I’ve never lived
anywhere without flaws. But this focus on the
negative is just bumming me out. – It would be great
to ask a candidate, “Why do you still live
here if it’s so terrible?” – Are you surprised? You know, I have a terrible —
and it’s been proven in this election. I didn’t think
Wharton would have.. I thought he’d
sail through this. You know, so I’m a
horrible prognosticator. But Kyle, did you.. I mean, I think it
has been interesting. I always thought Wharton would
run on the show many times as bright, shiny objects. You know, Bass Pro
and Cheesecake Factory. We’ll talk about Trader Joe’s. Riverfront Beale Street Landing. And just kind of all
these kind of successes. And he’d be able to sweep the
legitimate — without a doubt legitimate problems. You’ve identified some of them. Under the rug. And wouldn’t those problems, the
other candidates wouldn’t get traction with them. But he hasn’t sort of. He’s always been
on the defensive, it seems like. And he hasn’t, as
Christopher said, I’m surprised that he’s just
not been able to articulate this vision. Right or wrong, whether
there’s truth to that, I just thought it was political
great fodder to run a campaign. The successes and
ignore the negatives. – But I’m not surprised by it. Because if you look at our poll,
the Commercial Appeal poll we did three or four
weeks ago, crime.. Fifty-four percent of people
say crime is a number one issue. Probably would have been
the same four years ago, eight years ago,
twelve years ago. But 52% of the city said
they feel like they’re on the wrong track. Memphis is on the wrong track. And so, that sort of gave rise
to a guy like Jim Strickland or a guy like Harold
Collins who could come in, in Strickland’s
point of view and say, “Crime.” And then Harold Collins
point of view saying, “We’re losing — we’re
having brain drain.” Right? So, I think it speaks to
something fundamental about the race that the mayor, with all
the consultants and all the focus groups and
everything that he did, that the mayor feels
like — all these things, I’ll say them a little bit
but I’ve got to attack the other guys. I’ve got to
attack Jim Strickland. I mean, Bill, you were probably
there the night in Mid-town in July at First Congo. Remember that first forum? And those guys
beat up on the mayor. And the mayor didn’t have
a whole lot in response. And then the next debate
was about 10 days later. And when the next
debate happened, he was punching Jim Strickland. He did the
Councilman Strickland, Candidate Strickland line. He was after
Collins a little bit. He obviously feels that those
numbers show him that he has no choice but to fight. – It was as simple as
his campaign consultants. And he spent
700-something — $70,000 two-thirds of what he raised in
the second quarter of this year on campaign
consultants and focus groups. They told him that if he
went with One Memphis, the One Memphis theme,
everything is positive, ignore your challengers, that he
was going to lose the election. That’s basically
what it amounted to. If the discussion
has seemed negative, I think it’s because we have
reached a point in our civic discourse here where
people are saying yes, I’m pro-Memphis but that doesn’t
mean I’ve got the blinders on Memphis in terms of being just
unrealistically positive about this city’s direction. I think a lot of people have
come to view this mayor’s race in particular as the point where
we have a discussion about what the reality of Memphis is. And the reality of Memphis is
much like the reality of other major American cities. We live in a
post-Ferguson America. And in Memphis, we live in a
city that has a historic legacy of violent crime and its
impact on our culture. And so, those are things that I
think a lot of people in looking who to vote for in mayor feel
like we have to discuss and we have to discuss in
a realistic way. – May I add, I was talking to
Terri Freeman of the National Civil Rights Museum yesterday. And, you know, we
were talking about, uh, the problem of crime and the
way white folks and black people see these issues
very differently. And she was telling
me, ‘Look, you know, “we can put more police
officers in to neighborhoods. What we need are
peace officers.” And I think one of the questions
that keeps coming up about dealing with crime for all the
candidates is how are we going to tackle crime at the
very root cause of it. And, you know, half of
our city sees — well, let’s just arrest
the bad people. Let’s make sure
teenagers don’t go out at night. You know, let’s make sure
they’re swept off the streets. And another half of
the city says — well, look. One way to get kids off the
streets is by providing more opportunities,
after school programs. Let’s get kids in to
community centers. Let’s provide music
lessons or whatever. So, the question is, which is
going in the long term going to help the crime
problem in Memphis more. More police
officers or more teachers? I think there’s a cultural
solution to the crime problem that maybe some of the
candidates haven’t been addressing as
strongly as they should. I think the mayor has himself
implemented more programs heading in that direction. But it’s very
confusing and entangled. And it’s all mixed up with the
kind of money that you can get on a federal level. If you don’t want
to raise taxes, you have to go out
and raise that money. That’s partly what’s taken
so long for his blueprint to prosperity to come out. You have to have the money in
place before you start making all these promises. – One of the things with our
debate is we wanted to try to do and with the ULI angle.. How do you pay for it? You know, let them
try to follow up, you know, as you and I
talked about and with the other panelists to say, “Okay, that’s
a great sounding thing but how do you pay for it?” And then, when you
talk about schools.. Well, the city isn’t in
the schools game anymore. I mean, it was kind of
interesting when Mike Williams was saying, “We ought to..” And I think Harold did. Did Harold agree with that? That we ought to have a
referendum to maybe get control of the schools. All that kind of
stuff but, you know, it’s hard in those debates
and it’s hard in the 45 second, 30 second, minute-and-a-half
thing to kind of get in to the depth and complexity of poverty. And then, you got me
and you and others going, “But yeah, how are you
going to pay for that?” Because no one
wants to raise taxes. They all would rather.. I mean, it seems like no
one wants to raise taxes. – And just to clarify, Collins’
point was that the city should provide some funding but that it
should not be in the business of the maintenance of effort
for a reconstituted city school system. He’s against that. But I think what people hear
after six years of the Wharton style in the mayor’s office,
when you talk about long-term plans, I think you actually
get a hostile reaction to that because so many times, those
long term plans in the case of this mayor wind up
taking six years and running. The blueprint for prosperity was
something that was a first 100 days of his administration plan. So, he’s taken a good deal of
heat for that and for other long range things that have
just fallen off the table. – And Bill, I think that’s a big
reason why we’re here talking about this. Because you have a blueprint
for prosperity that has a lot of great points to it that was
first talked about in 2012. You have an animal shelter that
I don’t know that people are going to vote on animal shelter
but it’s sort of microcosm of an animal shelter that has
been a bad problem for years, and years, and
years, and still is. – His first term. – And so, it gives the ammo
to a guy like a Strickland or a Collins. Collins has really been
hitting on it a lot lately, too. Look at all the broken promises. Look at all the things
he’s said he’s going to do that he has not done. And I think if he takes care of
a lot of those problems on the front end in 2012 and 2013,
we’re not sitting here having this discussion today about
how close the mayor’s race is. – And that’s the thing
I got over the last, I don’t know, months. It became more clear that it
was going to be closer was the frustration among the business
community and the frustration among the kind of politically
connected community with that indecisiveness or
just things lingering. And then you get
to Jack Sammons. So, they bring in Jack Sammons. You know, I don’t know. It’s a partly kept
secret that, you know, that was part of the deal. I mean, I think I’ve heard
lots of people say that off the record, that bringing Jack
Sammons in was a kind of, look, we’re going to.. We’re going to make a bunch of
changes if you stick with me. Jack will be the hammer. I mean, I just heard
that again, and again, and again. And we sort of
talked about that. But I think I underestimate how
the level of frustration among the business community. And then I also completely
underestimate the level of frustration among the
African-American community that clearly Williams and
Collins have tapped in to. – So, it’s become
about immediacy. The other thing that happened in
terms of the police strategy was we had Blue Crush for a lot
of years that drove down the crime rate. And it was all about immediacy. It wasn’t a long range plan. It was going to
the neighborhoods, cleaning up the drug
house, board it up, run off the drug dealers. Well, that worked
for several years. But then what started to happen
was the guy selling drugs in those houses waited for
the police to do what they inevitably have to do,
and that is move on. And then they set up shop. So, it became about what are
you going to do beyond that. Armstrong became the
new police director. And he wanted to broaden
the strategy to include more community policing, which
Larry Godwin and the old police director considered Blue
Crush to be community policing, which it’s not by any reasonable
definition of the term. And so, he gets hit with
this man power shortage. The police numbers start
drifting down from about 2300 to just above 2000 at this point. – Let’s move to the
council race in just a second. But right now, so, we’re
a couple of weeks from, what? Election day is October 8. We got a week and a half
or so of early voting left. What happens next? Get up and vote efforts? More signs, phone banks. I mean, are the campaigns.. – It’s all about
turn out right now. I mean, it’s all about you sort
of have a jump ball out there for the Grizzlies. And someone’s got to go get it. So, you got to do all this turn
out apparatus that you paid for, that you got volunteers for. And I also think
you’ll see more and more.. They may be done on TV. There may not be a new TV ad. But radio and
especially mailers. I think the postal service is
going to do some good business. – Is this where the people
with the money it kicks in. I mean, Strickland and Wharton. – Yeah. – Alright, city council. Where do we want to go? What races? – Well, I think let’s go over
the run off provision first of all. The single member
district councils, seven single member district
seats on the city council. If no one gets a majority of the
votes in that on October 8 when the votes are counted, the top
two contenders go to a November 19 runoff election. I think you’re going to see
probably a majority of those seven races go to a run off. – I agree. I mean, you have district
five with all kinds of money and legitimate candidates. I even think district seven,
which has an incumbent but it’s an appointed
incumbent in Berlin Boyd. He’s got a pretty
strong field against him. What am I missing? District three
and district four, as well, are ones that could
probably go to run offs because except for seven, you have
council seats that are open. And it’s not often we
have that kind of turn over. And so, open seats a
little bit more of a race. – We got six or seven. Is that right? That we’ll have
new council members. – We will have at least
six new council members. And the thing about
Berlin Boyd being appointed, he knows he’s in a fight and
that is turning in to a really tight campaign there. But you have to remember,
the last two appointed council members, Henry Hooper
and Madeline Taylor, lost election bids to
the city council in 2007. – And no run off on
the mayor’s race? Why is that? Tell me that again. I should know this. – A 1991 federal court ruling
is why there is no run off for Memphis Mayor. It was before the Herenton race. The Herenton Hackett race in
1991 was the first mayor’s race. And the judge ruled basically
that the city charter provision requiring a run off that the
intent of the framers of the city charter at that time was
to prevent an African-American candidate from ever being
elected to that position or to gain or for African-American
candidates to gain a majority on the city council. – So it was changed with a
change to the city charter. It’s not.. Because Nashville
has a mayor’s run off. Right? – Most cities do. – So, it’s just our specific
charter and the ruling on that. – Yeah. And it went to the intent
in 1967 when that charter was drawn up. – We’ll move on to the new
Downtown Memphis Commission. A couple of bits of news. And Terrance Patterson. Bill, I don’t know Terrance. I’ve never met him. I don’t know if you have. But, so, Paul Morris has
been in that position. A whole lot of things
that Paul has touched on. He’s seen a lot of
office move out, I mean, over the
last six, seven years. It’s been a flood of
construction out in the Ridgeway 240 loop area. Paul was on the show
a month or two ago. I can’t remember when. And talked about how that,
the exodus has kind of stopped. But certainly he’s had
a tremendous number of successes in. Tons of residential. Bass Pro is now going. I mean, Downtown Memphis, where
are we and what’s your sense of the priorities that this new
Downtown Memphis Commission will have? He’s been nominated. Technically he’s been nominated
to the board but it’s likely the board will approve him. So, technically he
has not been hired. But, and there’s a lot of
development coming down the road. The Downtown Memphis
Commission is not just a rah-rah organization. They have a lot
of funding power. They have a lot of power. What do you think they go? – I think they do what they’ve
continued to do with Paul Morris and before him
with Jeff Sanford. And that is that they want to
have a leader who is able to adjust to the times
that we’ve been through. Paul Morris was president of
the Downtown Memphis Commission during the worst
economic downturn since the Great Depression. That tells you a lot about
what the nature of the job is. You have to respond to those
kind of trends that if you let them sneak up on you, you have a
really hard time making up the ground that you’ve
lost in that case. It’s also being realistic
about Downtown’s challenges. Office space in particular and
the thought that maybe office space is not what Downtown’s
game is at this particular point in time. – Your sense? – Well, you know, he’s.. First of all, he’s a young guy. He’s I think 37. So, yeah, I think he’s thinking
what the younger folks of Memphis are thinking about. One of the big trends in cities
across the country is that people are moving back Downtown. And Downtown is undergoing
$500 million in new development. There’s going to be 2,000
new apartments or housing units Downtown. So, I think in the next few
years we’re going to be seeing more people
moving back Downtown. That said, you know, the
commission has a lot to do with the PILOT programs
that are Downtown. So, the commission is going to
be thinking about what kind of businesses need those
programs in order to open. What kind of businesses
are good for young people, for tourists, for the
people that are going to be living there. I think, you know, one of the
questions he is going to have to deal with or something. We’ve got to get a grocery store
down there at some point so Millennials can eat. – We’ll get in to
Trader Joe’s in a second, which is very exciting for
a lot of people apparently. So, the Lipscomb thing. So, there’s one last big
major housing project, public housing project. It’s right on the edge of
South, just east of South Main. Will Downtown Memphis
Commission be involved in that? Will that change at all? I mean, all that is going
to change when we talk about Downtown. We talk about projects
that Robert Lipscomb was in charge. And now they’re going to
be handled differently. – Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see
because housing and community development, which Robert
Lipscomb was the director of that city division
until just recently, has pretty much been driving
the ship on that whole effort in which we’ve seen all of the
city’s major housing projects, with the exception of Foote
Homes be converted to mixed use, mixed retail. – Ten feet from Downtown
or ten feet from what we’re talking about. – But it also is key. And the city will know next week
whether or not the city gets the CHOICE neighborhood grants. – A version of this program
used to be called the HOPE 6. Is there any
sense at this point? I’m kind of going off script
here but any sense that the Lipscomb issues could hurt that
money and hurt Memphis’ chances of getting that
CHOICE neighborhood money? – I think if anybody’s
going to be realistic, they have to know that the feds
are going to be nervous about what’s happened. Because they’re auditing
the division to see where the money went. They’re going to be interested
in any transfers of money from one program to another even
though the programs may be perfectly legitimate and legal. The transfers can get you in to
trouble a lot of the times with the feds. – Let’s go in to other.. We talked about supermarkets. We talked about
economic development. Trader Joe’s. We have talked about this. The city has talked about
Trader Joe’s for so long. You’re excited? – No, I have a fairly
negative perspective of Trader Joe’s actually. But mostly, it’s a negativity
that comes out of the sort of sad corporate symbolism
of putting it in the middle of Germantown. And you know, Trader Joe’s
is known because it has great quality products for relatively
decent and affordable prices. I mean, a middle class person
could really benefit from a Trader Joe’s in
their neighborhood. Trader Joe’s was founded
on this idea of great, low-priced wine actually. That was their big business. So, when you drop your first
Trader Joe’s in an area in the middle of the
richest part of Memphis, in the middle of three
other grocery stores, there is something of a slap in
the face to some of the problems that we have in our own city
where there are neighborhoods in Memphis where you can’t
buy an apple within a mile of your house. And so, to me, it’s a symbol and
a significant symbol of where corporate America and
companies like Trader Joe’s, you know, hipster
companies like Trader Joe’s, have their priorities. They say, you know, we’re
about the people and helping the people. But there’s no help for certain
people in Memphis by putting it as far away from the
economically oppressed area as you can get without
moving to Collierville. – And yet, at the
same time, I mean, in Midtown.. I mean, you know, there.. We had one.. We have a plethora of grocery
stores and a whole investment. And there’s talk
now in, what is it? Binghampton and some other
historically very poor areas. There’s talk of
some grocery stores. There’s more talk Downtown. It is an interesting
phenomenon though. You know, how this whole idea
that if Downtown is going to be walkable, if it’s going
to be very mixed income. There’s some very high
end parts of Downtown. There’s some low end parts. You know, is it going to have a
grocery store at some point that is maybe not a huge super large
one but will it have access? – And the idea that poor
people’s money isn’t as valuable as rich people’s money. You know, is there some sort of
corporate fear that the store is not going to make enough money
in an area where people really are looking for a grocery
store with affordable food. – A lot of times when
these stores come to town, they kind of start
somewhere and they kind of.. You know, they like to have
a few stores in the area. So, I’ll be curious if
they go beyond that. – Yeah, they’re not showing
any cards in that respect. But I do think it’s interesting
that you have this cluster of supermarkets in Germantown in
what seems to obviously be a kind of regional big for
shoppers not just from Germantown but from the
broader Memphis area. I’m interested to see how that
works out because it’s kind of a new concept for us in
our consumer habits here. – Other economic developments. More serious ones. I mean, Ikea came out. Commercial Appeal had a story. I think we had the story
later that some trouble with their tax issues. But I was at a meeting somewhere
and the people seemed to be in the know who said that is
going to get smoothed over real quickly. – They lead you to believe that. – I was in St. Louis this week. We talked about
some of the issues. And it’s interesting to talk. I was in St. Louis talking to
some civic leaders about a whole other things. But it was interesting. The subtext of so much of
the similar things that we’re dealing with like
maxing out the tax rate. How do you pay for things? We think we have a
problem with municipalities. They have 92 municipalities
in the county of St. Louis. It was a fascinating discussion
about parallel issues. We’re almost out of time here. But they are so excited
that they’re about to open their Ikea. And I thought, “Gosh,
that’s so interesting.” I mean, this whole idea that
we feel a civic pride by our shopping experiences. Thank you all for being here. Thank you for joining us. Early voting has begun. Join us again next week. Thanks.

Author:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *