Sunday, December 02, 2007

Editorial: New day, new way for mayor?

Commercial Appeal [link]
Sunday, December 2, 2007

MEMPHIS MAYOR WILLIE HERENTON sounded like a man with a renewed sense of purpose.

After meeting with most of the members of next year's City Council at The Rendezvous last week, Herenton said he plans to revive discussions about some issues that have long been on his to-do list.

"I'm going to be revisiting some of the dramatic and bold statements I've made in the past," Herenton told reporters after his get-acquainted session with the new council. "They fell on deaf ears before."

The golden oldies Herenton plans to put on his play list again include riverfront development, fairgrounds redevelopment, football stadium construction or renovation and that classic stand-by, consolidated government.

It was classy (and politically savvy) for Herenton to meet with the incoming council members.

There will be nine newcomers next year, eight of whom attended last week's session. Obviously, it was smart for Herenton to try to get off on the right foot with people he'll be working closely with over the next four years.

But if he's serious about bringing some of those sticky-wicket issues up for discussion again, meeting with council members was the easy part.

They probably share many, if not all, of his goals.

The real challenge is selling some of those ideas outside the sympathetic confines of City Hall.

The mayor wants riverfront development? He'll need to engage with groups like Friends for Our Riverfront, the Overton family heirs who own the so-called "Promenade" property and others who are intensely interested in what happens along the city's waterfront.

He wants to redevelop the fairgrounds? It would help to get the support of the various neighborhood groups surrounding the property.

A new or renovated stadium? Might be a good idea to work something out with University of Memphis officials and those boosters who are aggressively lobbying for an on-campus stadium instead of one at the Liberty Bowl site.

Government consolidation? That might require going into the lion's den to deal with suburban mayors who have long opposed that idea.

And, if Herenton wants the results to be any different this time around, he must do more than briefly share space in the same room with people who disagree with him.

For example, it wouldn't change much if Herenton were to show up at a meeting with those suburban mayors, tell them why he's right about consolidation, then head off to his next gig.

He needs to actually sit down and exchange ideas, to listen to other people's points of view and then try to persuade them. In a word, it'll require diplomacy.

A similar strategy is needed for virtually all of the other big-ticket items on that list.

After 16 years as mayor, Herenton has had plenty of time to accomplish the things he could do without anyone else's help. The goals he hasn't been able to achieve yet are the ones that require cooperation from other stakeholders -- in some cases, many stakeholders.

To build the kind of legacy Herenton has indicated that he wants, he'll need to reach out to people in ways he has never done before. Doing that might not come naturally or easily for the long-serving mayor, but it's probably the only way he'll be able to make real breakthroughs.

As the well-worn saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If Herenton wants to finish his mayoral career on a high note, he would do well to take that to heart.

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