|"The people of Memphis called for a change, and that call has not gone unheard,"|
Mayor Jim Strickland told a capacity crowd after he was sworn in on Jan. 1 at the
Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo: Wiley Henry)
Friday, January 8, 2016
Mayor Jim Strickland makes it clear that it’s a new day in Memphis
The campaign was intense, but Strickland had promised to shake up government if the electorate would send him to city hall to govern from the seventh floor suite overlooking downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River.
“You are looking at the biggest shakeup in Memphis city government in a quarter of a century – and we are just getting started,” said Strickland, speaking to a capacity crowd at The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 1, the day he was sworn in as mayor of Memphis.
Strickland was given the oath of office by his law school ethics professor, Judge Bernice Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She also gave the oath to Kay S. Robilio, the new City Court Clerk, and all 13 new and re-elected members of the Memphis City Council.
Kemp Conrad, the incoming council chairman, compared the New Year to a blank page that could be filled with “a better government…more open, more responsive, more cooperative…and more focused on results.”
“Let us set aside ambivalence and misunderstanding,” he said. “Let us put away indifference and division and let us cast out isolated concerns. Let the next chapter be about cooperation. We’re greater as a sum when all of us work together.
Strickland recognized his predecessor, mayor A C Wharton Jr., before laying out his agenda for the next four years. “Mayor Wharton, you are, and have always been, a credit to your family, the profession of law, and the city you love,” he said.
Strickland beat the incumbent 2-to-1 in the no-holds-barred mayoral contest and won the favor of voters who tapped him as a change agent who could lead Memphis to fiscal responsibility while curtailing violent crime.
“The people of Memphis called for change, and that call has not gone unheard,” Strickland said.
Wharton had served as Shelby County mayor for seven years prior to being elected mayor of Memphis. He served six years, but lost a second term in the Oct. 8, 2015, election, presumably, because he’d reduced the city’s pension plan and increased the city’s health benefits plan.
Wharton drew the ire of Memphis policemen and firemen in particular who vehemently protested the revamped pension plan and health benefits. As a result, 10 percent of the police force called in sick in what was known then as the “Blue Flu.” The mayor would grow battle-weary and find himself mired too deep in debate.
Memphis is approximately 65 percent black and nearly 30 percent white, comprising a total population of 646,889, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. However, there are 364,669 registered voters – and 101,679 of them split the votes between 10 candidates.
Elections, past and present, have been racially polarizing, but Strickland is the first to break the color barrier since Dr. Willie W. Herenton beat Richard C. “Dick” Hackett in 1991 by a mere 142 votes. Wharton would succeed Herenton, who’d served five terms.
After assembling a 150-member transition team, Strickland began moving people into key positions. He replaced many of the holdovers from the Wharton administration with his own team to build his administration.
“On Election Night, I told the people of Memphis that on Jan. 1, we would have ‘new eyes to solve old problems.’”
Strickland kept his eyes on the prize (City Hall), promising to reduce and restructure city government. He reiterated that point in his address, saying, “We have restructured government in an unprecedented way to save tax dollars.”
He also said more women will be brought into his administration in leadership positions than ever before.
Charles Nelson, an employee with Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), who stumped for Strickland on the campaign trail, could be heard between applauses shouting, “Go, Jim, go!” He seemed to relish every word.
Strickland continued, revving up his address and punctuating it with key points.
“Over the next four years,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to restore trust where it is broken and hope where it is lost. I will work every day to make our streets safer and our city stronger – to create jobs and increase wages – to provide better roads and transportation, and to improve the quality and service of city government.”
He noted that public safety is at the forefront of rebuilding Memphis. “We will focus on the goal of retaining and recruiting quality police officers and firefighters,” he said, promising to bring both departments up to their full complements.
He also said families should feel safe and children should have a chance. “It is unacceptable that because of a child’s circumstance or station in life, they too often become the victims or perpetrators of crime; and we know of them only through a mug shot or memorial – a child we failed to reach.”
The problems are too vast to be solved by government alone, said Strickland, and too big to be solved overnight. The solutions, he added, rest with each of us, doing our part, and that the responsibility is now ours – Memphians.
The mayor said he’ll work with public and private partners to expand early childhood programs, provide greater access to parks, libraries and community centers, and increase the number of summer youth and jobs programs to help young people.
Strickland will announce this month a partnership with the State and the West Tennessee Drug Taskforce to target and remove gang leaders from the streets and to force those who are threatening and recruiting kids out of the neighborhoods.
He also plans to introduce a legislative package that will include enhanced sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders, and will allow law enforcement to seek immediate emergency orders of protection for victims.
“Let this be crystal clear; it is a new day in Memphis,” the mayor said matter-of-factly. “We will no longer tolerate those that violate the safety of our citizens.”
“Go, Jim, go!”