Behind the Headlines — August 14, 2015

Behind the Headlines — August 14, 2015


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DHG is a full service
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visit DHGLLP.com. – The mayor’s race heats up,
an expanded convention center is proposed. All that 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 this week by a
roundtable of journalists starting with Jackson Bayer —
Baker from the Memphis Flyer. Thanks for being here. Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. Bernal Smith, publisher
of the Tri-State Defender. Thanks for being here. – Thank you. – We will start with the mayor’s
race and the debate that was earlier this week, which you
have some familiarity with. You were there, one of the
many panelists who were there. Let’s start with you and
your reaction to the debate, which was on WMC. But also, just how
it sets the stage for where the
campaign’s going. We’re in the kind of faster
and furious-er stage it seems. – Absolutely. And it was fast and furious
relative to a few fireworks there particularly
between Wharton and Strickland. But I think it really sort of
set the tone and clearly there are four candidates that are
sort of interesting and have people’s attention. And I think that both Mike
Williams and Harold Collins to a degree sort of had a chance to
kind of assert themselves as legitimate candidates
that people could consider. So, but at the end
of the day I think, you know, Wharton and
Strickland kind of tried to say, “Hey, we are the
front runners and, you know, these are
going to be your choices.” – Bill, your take on the
last week of some campaign headquarters opening. I mean, really getting.. Last time we did a roundtable,
we all had talked about how it seemed like it was
just a real quiet phase. It was surprising. There were some yard signs
out in the month or so since we talked about it. Clearly things have
really heated up. – Yeah and I think the different
time table for this mayor’s race reflects what a historic
election it is — it could be. Because you’re talking about
unseeding an incumbent here. That’s what the
challengers are trying to do. An incumbent who is regarded
very fondly by the electorate who has won previously
with 65% of the vote. And that’s no easy task. But there are some serious
questions about Wharton’s administration and his
ability to get things done. And these
challengers reflect that. And I would agree. We saw more of Collins and
of Mike Williams than we have before in this debate. Neither one of them have as
much money as Strickland or Wharton do. So, that’s why their campaigns
have been a little bit later in getting started. But Collins in particular I
think is going to be a force to be reckoned with. And Williams has some legitimate
points to make that are going to add to the discussion. – Jackson, your take? – I totally agree with both
of my colleagues on that. Four candidates of the five who
were on television for the city to see concluded
themselves very well. And the way in which they did so
was interesting because the two front runners — and they
still are the front runners, Mayor Wharton and Jim Strickland
— achieved some really genuine sparks and some points
for themselves by attacking each other. Now that’s good for both of them
in the sense that people do vote for personalities rather than
people who have a set of issues. When A C Wharton, if he has
another side as being too smiley and bland. So, when he got feisty
and attacked Strickland, that was good for him. He showed some real sparkle. And Strickland, his problem is
he gets straightjacketed in to his bullet points and just
tends to do those over and over. And in response to
the Mayor’s attack, he got vigorous and witty. Good for him. Mike Williams, I think
it was a real revelation. That was his coming out
party the other night. He was articulate on
more issues than people thought he would be perhaps. Collins was good. The only one who didn’t
measure up is Sharon Webb. But I don’t think we’ll see
her in any further debates. These four are going to
fight it out from now on out. And to the extent that Collins
and Williams continue to be in free debates, get free media. They’re going to change the way
the two front runners deal is with each other. – You are nodding when you talk
about Wharton getting feisty. Because sometimes
he really does try. You know, the One
Memphis campaign from the, what?
— four years ago and all that. He’s kind of.. People talk about the liking of
him being a gentleman and so on. But he was feisty. He was angry. – And I think that, you know,
people really needed to — at least what I hear from
people in the community — that, you know, they really want
to see that he’s a fighter, that he’ll come out and
fight on their behalf. You know, that he has a
little of that in him. And surely as an old trial
lawyer and defense attorney that, you know, he has
some of that in him. And I think he showed it. And I think it was good for the
voters to kind of see — Hey, this guy will come out swinging
on occasion and get on the offensive and kind of
defend his position. – And I guess he has to. Because whether it was directly
attacking him or attacking kind of passively, you know,
the state of the city. But I mean, all the kind of
passive ways in which the other candidates, the challengers. It was all an attack on
Wharton to some degree. – Yeah, and folks in his
campaign were concerned that he was not responding
vigorously enough. So, we saw a pretty dramatic
ramp up actually going in to the debate starting with the
weekend opening of his campaign headquarters on Poplar avenue. This is a strategy that is
not without its risks however. Because it means to some
extent abandoning what is the incumbent’s
traditional advantage, which is — I’m the
incumbent and if I go out and do something, I’m doing it as
the incumbent and not as a candidate, you know, relying
on things that he has done. – Well I’ve said on the show
and I think I’m sort of being proven wrong. I thought he would run, Wharton
would run on sort of bright, shiny objects. You know, the Bass Pro and
the big Graceland hotel and big projects,
positive kind of things. And he is talking
about those things. But it’s been a tumultuous time. I mean, the cuts to the unions. There are some really angry
constituents out there that these other challengers seem to
have really tapped in to that. And so, yes, he’s got to defend
himself in a way that I honestly didn’t expect. – One of his major themes in
addition to the bright and shiny things is a pitch
to the millennials. He does that big time. Bike lanes is a good
synecdoche for all that. He’s pitching to a
future generation of voters, some of them are coming in to
the booths this year for real. But he’s talking about a
generation hence and the things he’s proposing to the city. Whereas Jim Strickland is
talking about — keep this city safe, keep it fiscally sound,
get rid of blight and that sort of thing in the present tense. And Collins and Williams
are sort of in that line, too. There is.. We can’t get away from the fact
there is a demographic issue here to the extent particularly
that the mayor pitches to the millennials and he has certain
problems in his administration, which all mayors
have in these times. He’s at risk in both the
white and the black communities. Strickland has a
lot of white votes. Williams is going to get a lot
of black vote if he continues to be featured like this. So does Collins. A C is the only one who has
both kinds in some quantity. – Your take on the
Edmond Ford letter actually. But go ahead. – I was going to
mention that, too. But clearly, you know, that
kind of breaks out fairly well. But the way I see
Williams as a candidate who, you know, has some
passion and has some appeal. But I think, you know, those
that are hardcore voters when you look at the
numbers, you know, appeal to
millennials maybe good. But historically, if you
look at the trends though, those folks are not mass voters. The voters and in particularly
in the black community and white community are those
that are 50 and up. And so, you know, I think
Wharton has to really have a message that really says, “Hey,
here are the things that our administration has
done to impact.” I think there’s a
referendum almost on, you know, how has this
administration truly impacted my life in a positive way. And he’s got to get that
message out there versus, hey, the folks that are
challenging his record and saying, “Hey, you
haven’t really.. You haven’t done those things.” – And you see it. You saw it in the questions. You saw it in the way that
Wharton defended his record that, look, I cut, you
know, benefits to the police. I cut spending. But we had to. What was the alternative? And you got an interesting.. I thought one of the most
interesting things was Mike Williams saying, you know,
because people have said, well, you want to
restore these benefits and it’s really expensive. Well, what are you going to cut? He said at one point
what we would cut. And to paraphrase was, you know,
all these economic development things, all these
expanded convention centers, all that’s great. But it just needs to wait. And I thought that was actually
really an interesting thing because normally politicians
say we can do it all. Wharton has tried to
say we can’t do it all. We couldn’t
afford those benefits. And Mike Williams said we need
to afford those benefits and we need to put some of
these other things on hold. Now I’m not saying I
agree with that or what. But I thought it was interesting
that he tried to address one of the criticisms against. – And that’s going to
happen more with these three challengers. When he says you
haven’t put anything up, they’re going to be able to
say, especially Collins and Strickland — oh, yes, we did. We brought in an actuarial
consultant and came up with our own numbers on what
exactly the liability was. The whole discussion
about millennials I think is interesting, too. Because on that, there is
particularly a great discussion happening between
Collins and Wharton on this particular point. Because Wharton is emphasizing
the bike lanes and the opposition that he’s encountered
to it when he preaches to millennials. Collins is scoring
heavily with that group, too, I believe, because he’s
saying I have daughters who are in college who have
graduated and they’re like other millennials who do not want
to come back here because they don’t see jobs here for college
educated young professionals. – It’s an interesting pitch. You know, so, you point to
some of the things like, you know, Electrolux
or Bass Pro and say, you know, that’s a
minimum wage job. That’s not
appealing to millennials. Collins has hit
that again and again. – Nine dollar and
ten dollar jobs. – Someone hit on the
Edmund Ford letter though. Do you want to? – I can do that. (Eric)
Edmund Ford senior. – Well, that’s an issue because
when we saw in our e-mail boxes, I know Bill had the
same reaction I did. I looked and said, “What?” We thought it was
Edmund Ford junior at first. You mean, he’s
attacking his colleague, Harold Collins? And then you look and
see — Oh, it’s senior, who used to be a councilman
and is now out of office. And the question is what he
said was that Harold Collins was actually in the race
to help Strickland. – Which would be to drain. So, Collins is going to be more
appealing to the black vote. Strickland doesn’t have a
history of appealing to the black vote. And so, Collins takes the vote. [cross-talk] – That thesis that Edmund Ford
senior put forth is the effect of Collin’s candidacy in a
certain way does work that way. But I don’t think Collins
is doing it for that reason. Collins is in it to win. And if Collins gets enough black
vote and he rises and shines in other ways, he could win. – And he tried to put himself.. We’ll wrap up this debate. But he tried to put himself
above the fray and tried to, you know, we’ll be seeing
more and more of that I think, too. I should also.. The Daily News and Urban Land
Institute are doing one of the forums that’s coming up that’ll
be broadcast live on WKNO in September right before
early voting starts. Let’s move on a little bit
to other political things. Because we have more time to
talk about the mayor’s race as the month goes on. The Joe Cooper and Jim Kyle
and the election commission. Tell us Bill what happened
because it’s actually an interesting thing that we’re
going in to election season and a sitting judge locally
really chastised the election commission for some of
the things they’ve done. – Joe Cooper, a former
Shelby County Commissioner, wanted to run in the super
district nine position two race, an open seat on the
Memphis City Council. The problem was he had not had
his citizenship rights restored from a 2007 federal
conviction for money laundering. So, he didn’t get those rights
restored until maybe five days after the filing deadline. He filed the lawsuit in chancery
court to get back on the ballot. Jim Kyle, the Shelby County
chancellor who the case was before ultimately said no,
you’re not going to be on the ballot. But in his decision, he also was
somewhat critical of the Shelby County Election Commission for
things that Cooper claimed were said to him about
you have to have this. You have to have your
citizenship rights restored. Until you do, you can’t
even collect names on your qualifying petition. You have to stop
doing that right now. – Which was out of bounds
from Jim Kyle’s point of view. That is not their rule to
tell people how to run. It’s just simply to collect the
signatures they bring or don’t. – Yeah, he went even further. He was even
blunder on the point. He said it’s not the job of
unelected officials on the election commission to tell
people who can and cannot run for office. That’s a decision that comes
from the courts and chancery court in particular
whose judges are elected. – It was interesting because
sometimes we get these lawsuits that feel — and I’m not saying
this about Joe Cooper — but they feel like sour grapes
lawsuits after an election. This was interesting. It’s real wonky. But it’s interesting the
real criticism of the election commission which
has come up before. But Jackson? – Well, it’s not just the
election commission because Joe Cooper was complaining that the
DA’s office refused to meet with him early enough so he
could get his rights restored. Basically they weren’t
crazy about doing that. That’s kind of obvious. But why he waited until the
last couple of weeks before the deadline to start
pressing this issue.. So, a lot of the
accountability lies with him. – That’s what I said. I mean, you know your situation. I mean, you know that there’s a
process by what you have to go through to be eligible
to run for public office, you know, given that history. So, you know, I think it’s
in some instances a lot ado about nothing. But clearly, I think there was
room for chastisement of the election commission
relative to, you know, how they, you know, handled
that process to even get to that point. – That, to me, again,
is the interesting part. I mean, you know, I didn’t even
know that he was eligible to ever run again. That’s a different issue
for me, the Cooper thing. But the criticisms of the
election commission is notable. Last word. – He had been campaigning for
six or seven months without getting his rights restored. – That was the amazing thing. – He’s still got a
sign up on the roadside. – And ultimately the
timing is what killed him. He got this controversial
opinion from the election officials a month before
he went in to court to try to do something. – Let’s touch quickly on
the County Commission. The Steve Basar was head of
the County Commission for approximately one hour. What in the world happened? What happened? And then we’ll get your
guy’s comments on it. – This is the annual chairman
selection at the Shelby County Commission, which for about the
last five years has just been a no holds barred contest. I mean, I think one year it took
26 rounds of voting before the election, before the County
Commission got a chairman. In this case, it
only took six rounds. And Steve Basar emerged
with seven votes to become the chairman on the sixth ballot. So, that’s decided. I think we’re all kind of
looking at each other going, “Well, this was easier
than it has been about the last three years.” And so, the County Commission
moves on through the rest of its agenda. So, I’m live Tweeting it and I
type in “That’s the meeting” after the last item. And I’m just about to hit “send”
and there’s this little voice that just says, “No, wait.” And when I waited, Eddie Jones,
County Commissioner who had voted for Basar, moved to
reconsider and the whole thing was open again. And the commission couldn’t
agree on who they wanted to elect as chairman in
those three rounds of voting. So, Basar was
chairman for about an hour. – There’s a whole lot
of backstory to this. And one of the more obvious
things is that Basar had been vice-chairman two years ago. And the old days, if
you were vice-chairman, you got to be
chairman the next year. – Not by law but by practice. – By courtesy. That’s no longer the case. It really has been
the case for a while. But he assumed he was going to
be elected last year chairman and he was astonished when he
found out that his fellow Republicans were
not supporting him. There are various
reasons why they weren’t. But any case, subsequently after
he was denied the chairmanship, Justin Ford, who’s a Democrat
who votes with the Republicans, was the chairman. And he, Basar, joined with
the other Democrats on the commission through a series
trying to remove Justin Ford as chairman. Didn’t quite work. They did limit his powers. But at any rate,
throughout this whole year, Basar has been sort of
the de facto Democrat, voted with the Democrats on a
lot of key issues including the budget most recently. And also, he has burned a
couple of his colleagues. Heidi Shafer is
the budget chairman. Two years in a row, he made a
big fuss about wanting somebody else for budget chairman. She doesn’t forget things. And there are various other
people who had grudges of that sort. So, when it came
time, Eddie Jones was.. He had a certain allegiance
to Terry Roland who was a candidate. And that was finally.. He voted for Basar. But he changed his mind. – This stuff is great sort of
political sport for us to write about in our various
papers and to talk about here. But what does it say about the
County Commission’s ability to get it done? Because a certain amount of
people watching this are going, “Hey, get it together
people and act like adults.” – Well, the
interesting thing is that, you know, after this
last county election, we had a lot of new
faces and new personalities. You know, the
thoughts were – Well, we’ll get past some of these
shenanigans and sort a lot of the political folly
that was happening for past County
Commissions. And then it looked like
— Well, here we are, you know, back in that same
situation and we got an interim chair in Van
Turner who, you know, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, it’s just the
more things change, the more they seem
to stay the same. – It won’t do any
good on September 14. We’ll have another vote. Don’t be surprised that
Van Turner doesn’t become a candidate on September 14th. Because he hasn’t
offended anybody yet. – Van will be on the show
next week talking about tax collections for the
trustee and so on. Let’s go to the
convention center. It’s an
interesting proposal, Bill, in part because when we go
back to the mayor’s race, there’s a lot of talk
about economic development. I talked about Mike Williams. Everyone has talked about what’s
it take to revitalize what kind of jobs we want and so on. Just give us, if you would, the
outline of the proposal for the short term and then the long
term vision of the expanded convention center. – Sure. The idea here, which is being
pitched by the Convention and Visitors Bureau and as well as
the Wharton administration is that you spend about $54
million up front to renovate the convention center. Put a new skin on the outside
so that it matches the Cannon Center and do some
upgrades inside. Beyond that, there are several
hundred million dollars over a much longer period of time
that could expand the convention center and push it out all
the way to the river’s edge. This is something that Mayor
Herenton had mentioned as an option although he envisioned
maybe moving all the interstate ramps that are there to
expand it to the west. Because otherwise,
it’s landlocked on all the other sides. This would go under, over,
around those ramps and go right to the river where you would,
under this very long range plan — I have to emphasize — would
have several new hotels right there on the river’s
edge at the harbor. – I think it was a $500 million
in the long term expansion that would be government
money and then hoping for, you know, hundreds of
millions more in private money, which just happened in Nashville
and they point to Austin and some of these other places. And what they point to is — and
we’ll try to get Kevin Kane and some of the other
Downtown people, city council on in the coming
weeks to talk in more depth about it. But there’ll be a tax increase,
1.8% increase in the hotel bed tax and two dollar bed tax
increase — I think I said that correctly — in the
short term for the funding. Thoughts on it. It is an interesting thing
with political notion of, you know, part of the reason
they want to expand there is because Bass Pro is
driving so many people in. And there’s less reason to
leave that end of Downtown. And that, to
politics, is Wharton saying, “Hey, look at me, look at me.” – I think I was the one
that posed the question to Mike Williams. Of course, his
response was, “Well, “we got, you know, deeper
problems to deal with rather than just the
convention center.” But clearly, you know, if
Memphis wants to be competitive. And then you hear
Kevin Kane talk about, you know, what the
needs are, clearly we’re.. You look at what Nashville has
done and you look at some of the cities that we’re competing with
for conferences and those kinds of things. There’s got to be something done
to make us and to update that convention center to create
more hotel space and all that. So, there’s a balance. I don’t know if this sort of
short term Band-Aid approach and then, you know, a
slow incrimental, you know,
implementation is the answer. But clearly, we can’t just
keep doing what we’re doing. – Because right now, we’re
not competitive with Nashville. They’re a huge one. So, we’re in a different class. – And we’ve had a year to see
just how much that has meant to Nashville, that brand new
gala coliseum they got there. And we are herding
in the competition. Something’s got to be
done and politically, it’s interesting
because a year ago, you may remember A C was making
a proposal that we have an.. We just connect some things
outdoors that we already have via our trolley system. That’s our new convention. He said to move on from that. – He tried to add
Peabody Place in to that mix. That was sort of
a weird proposal. But it was like, okay,
well, we got to do something. – A lot of people.. Well, again, we’ll try to
do a full show on this in the coming weeks. Let’s talk. Just a couple of minutes left. Governor Haslam was
in town recently. He’s doing a statewide push
on infrastructure spending. The basic framework here is
there are about six billion dollars in statewide projects. Highways, bridges and other
— in Memphis most notably the Lamar corridor
connecting through the whole
distribution area. There’s a backlog. And that is in no small part. And it’s getting worse
because the gas tax. The gas tax is about 21
cents a gallon on gasoline. And it hasn’t been
moved in almost, give or take, what?
— 25 years. – Yeah, since Ned
McWherter was governor. – You and I were both at
the Governor’s presentation. It was at the chamber. And it was, you know, a lot
of people from the FedEx and logistics community. And they put a very compelling
chart up on the board, which is that over
the next 25 years, give or take, a million
five people will move. An additional million five
people will move in to Tennessee or the population will
expand by that much. And during that time, cars will
get 50% more fuel efficient, which means that gas tax goes
down as the needs for roads, bridges, highways,
everything goes up. And it’s a very compelling case. What was interesting was.. And I think in that room with so
many distribution people and you talk about Memphis, if
you had done a straw poll, would you like to
raise the gas tax, I think he would have
won that straw poll, hands down. I mean, without a doubt. But he didn’t want
to ask for a gas tax. He just wanted to listen. And it’s a strange political
world right now that he’s not out there asking to raise money. He’s trying to put a
spotlight on a problem. Right? – Yeah. And the reason for his caution
in this became evident this week because State Senate
Republican Leader Mark Norris, who was at the same
chamber event that we were at, came out against a gas tax hike. He just kind of blew through
all of the thing about I’m just setting the stage and
just talking about that. – Just about 30 seconds left. Is this a repeat of
Insure Tennessee? – Um, with a difference. What he’s doing this
time, he’s been burned there. So, what he’s doing this time is
not saying I’m for this gas tax. He’s going out and saying
we can’t do what you want. Across the state
he’s doing this. Guys, we need more revenue. He wants people to say gas tax. – Thoughts? – Yeah, I think
that’s just a smart move. You know, you make the — put
the compelling argument out there and you put it
on the people to say, “Hey, you know, this is what we
need to improve infrastructure.” – Alright. Thank you for being here. Thank you all. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music] (male announcer)
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