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Wharton flashes backers; Opponents not impressed

Mayor AC Wharton Jr.’s supporting cast – at least part of the touring group – stood with him on Wednesday at his re-election headquarters at 1460 Union Ave. 
Mayor AC Wharton Jr. stepped to the side Wednesday as State Rep. Larry Miller, several more elected officials and others stepped up to endorse Wharton’s re-election bid. Early voting begins Sept. 16 for the Oct. 6 municipal election. (Courtesy photo)

Mayor AC Wharton Jr.’s supporting cast – at least part of the touring group – stood with him on Wednesday at his re-election headquarters at 1460 Union Ave. He thanked them for standing with the city as it continues the “demonstrable progress” he sees evident in the last 18 months, the duration of his administration.

Cleaning up the city and working together harmoniously are signposts of that change, said Wharton, noting that it has taken the work of officials on myriad levels.

“What I am wanting to project by my candidacy and my reelection is that Memphis is the place – contrary to what they may say elsewhere – that when it comes down to those things that matter we know how to pull together. Republican, black, white, Democrat, urban, rural whatever, when it comes down to what matters, taking care of our schools and our children…putting people to work, we come together.”

 There will be disagreements, said Wharton.

“It’s not so much of, ‘Well, do we really like him?’ But do we like the way that this guy is trying to take our city? That’s what it boils down to. This campaign is really not about me. It’s about do we want to keep the city moving in the positive and upward direction in which it is now moving?

There are employees of city unions who clearly don’t like the way they see the city moving, with a number of them openly distrustful of Wharton and lined up in support of former Councilman Edmund Ford.

“In times when your salaries have been cut and you haven’t had a raise, there are going to be strong feelings,” said Wharton during a Q&A session. “Anybody who goes out and cuts somebody’s salary should not expect a bouquet of roses.”

What must be done, said Wharton, is to stand as a leader and say, “I understand that. I respect that. Let’s just keep this city moving. I have to be larger than that.’

 The world is watching Memphis, said Wharton, adding that nothing good can come from a knockdown, drag out fight with labor.

“My door is still open. I’m still willing to sit down and talk. I’ve made a commitment that just as soon as we get this city turned around, if the school obligation stands to be relieved in terms of the financial situation we are in, the employees that are suffering, we are going to make it up to them, and then some.”

Later, the Tri-State Defender asked Ford about garnering the support of the sanitation workers. He first painted a picture of a despondent city with despondent citizens.

“They want to be treated fairly. That’s all. I’ve been up all night praying about this. And it really bothers me. From police officers, firefighters, other city employees, I keep hearing the same thing: ‘Just tell us the truth. Don’t say one thing to us, and when you get behind closed doors, you say something else.’”

Ford said he wasn’t surprised at all by the endorsement from the sanitation workers.

“I’m going to serve people. I really mean that, and we feel it’s time for a change. Eighteen months is enough time to prove yourself to the people. Everyone I talk with across this city is saying the same thing. Eighteen months is enough. We can’t have four more years of the same.”

State Rep. Larry Miller, who showed up Wednesday in support of Wharton, made reference to the possibility of massive federal government cuts that could impact Tennessee and Memphis. He said Wharton has a longtime relationship with the Shelby County Legislative delegation that would be useful in trying to soften the impact.

Acknowledging city employees at odds with Wharton, Miller said, “I am going to encourage him (Wharton) to visit some of these city employees at their home base so that they can understand it and here it first hand, intimately and face to face.”

While fielding questions, Wharton also was asked about County Commissioner James Harvey’s assertions that the Wharton administration is giving away too much to corporation’s to get them to relocate.

“I think that incentives, well advised, prudent incentives that we undertake, they are an essential tool in economic development,” said Wharton. “I wish we did not have to do that, but I am not going to be the stand off over there when our competitors, meaning other regions of the state and other states are using these essential tools.”

You have to look at the long term and the short term, said Wharton.

 “Observations like that (of Harvey’s) unfortunately often reflect less than a full understanding of how these PILOTS (payment in lieu of taxes) work. We never do a pilot unless there is a dollar for dollar return. Then they go back on after 15 years at a much higher value,” he said.

Harvey reached Wednesday evening chose not to respond directly to Wharton’s comments.

“However, I highly recommend the Tri-State (Defender) and other media outlets provide an occasion so the general public will have an opportunity to review the contenders in a debate so there will be a fair electorate process, where all candidates are heard.”

Meanwhile, Marty Merriweather, whose mayoral campaign is rooted in the theme “Changing of the guards,” said experience may not always bring the best results.

“Now is the time for young leaders to move the city forward,” said Merriweather. “Memphis has the perfect opportunity to make a statement in the United States with this election. Fresh and innovative ideas are sweeping the nation. The citizens of Memphis are at the forefront of this trend. The time is now for the next generation of young energetic Memphians to guide the city bravely into the future.”

But for County Commissioner Walter Bailey, who also was among the elected officials on hand Wednesday, Memphis needs a mayor with experience, know how and sensitivity.

“I don’t think we could manufacture a better model,” said Bailey.

(Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell and Julia Griggs contributed to this story.)

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