Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wendi C. Thomas: Herenton Resigning? Don't Plan Party Yet...

Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal

After serving 18 years as mayor, Willie Herenton announces his resignation Thursday and reaffirms his intention to seek the 9th Congressional District seat held by Steve Cohen.

By Wendi C. Thomas

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mayor Willie Herenton exhausts me.

Trying to make sense of someone who acts like he has so little of it is draining.

The latest drama: Herenton is going to resign -- again. He says he's going to work with his son's holding company and concentrate on bringing diversity (i.e., a black face) back to the 9th District Congressional seat, challenging incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen, whose biggest flaw, as Herenton sees it, is being white in a predominantly black district.

I called a friend after Friday's press conference, but before I could share the news of Herenton's possible departure, she exclaimed, "Thank God and Greyhound!"

Let's not be hasty with our celebration. Save the streamers. Don't blow up any balloons.

Didn't he quit, like, last week?

Herenton wants us to believe he's for real this time. (I guess that "intent to resign" press conference he had in March 2008 in a desperate bid to be named Memphis City Schools superintendent was just a trial run.)

The 18-year mayor will be out of City Hall on July 10 -- as he said in a crowded press conference Thursday afternoon, or July 11, as his resignation letter said -- but by mid-July, he's gone. (Has he built some loophole into the discrepancy on the date?)

You'll pardon me if I don't believe any of this hooey until I see a U-Haul loaded up with the contents of the mayor's office.

I used to trust Herenton.

Believe it or not, I used to respect him. Like him even. Voted for him.

Now, I can't wait to see him gone. Not just gone from City Hall, but public life in general.

His arrogance, his repeated disappearances/silence when the city needed to hear from its leader, his race-baiting, his bickering with the media, his conspiracy theories -- Herenton is a civic distraction and has long ceased to be an effective or rational administrator.

If I never had cause to write about Herenton ever again, that would be more than fine with me.

I'm sure Herenton begins and ends every day with a round of the children's song that goes, "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, going to the backyard, and eating willie worms."

Contrary to his conspiracy-addled beliefs, I don't get a dime more in my check for writing about him.

It's Herenton alone who serves up controversy and column fodder with the regularity of someone who eats bran three times a day.

For example: Standing in City Hall's Hall of Mayors, he explained Thursday that it would be a conflict of interest for him to remain as mayor -- a job for which he cavalierly said he no longer had "zeal" -- while he campaigned for Cohen's congressional seat.

He's always been opposed, he went on to read from his "resignation" letter, to public officials who have conflicts of interest.

"... If I follow the same course of conduct that I have criticized in the past," he read, "it would subject me to the same criticism I have publicly stated about others."

Really? Like the conflict of interest you had, oh, back in the 1980s when you were getting your freak on with Memphis City Schools teacher Mahnaz Bahrmand while you were superintendent? The $3 million civil lawsuit in which Bahrmand accused Herenton of promising to marry and promote her was settled out of court.

Or the more recent conflict of interest that's drawn federal investigators' attention? You know, the "you buy it for $50,000 and quit claim it back to me for $10" land deal Herenton did in 2005 with Elvin Moon, who got $702,000 in city contracts over several years?

Somehow, able to ignore the hypocrisy, Herenton went on to talk about his legacy.

Legacy? How about cautionary tale?

For his book-in-progress, may I suggest the title, "How To Go From Good To Pathetic: The Willie Herenton Story"?

Perhaps as Ecclesiastes-quoting Herenton says, his season as mayor is coming to an end.

If that's true, it's not a moment too soon.

Contact Wendi C. Thomas at (901) 529-5896 or e-mail

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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