A confrontation two weeks in the making came to a head Tuesday evening, with a face-to-face of sorts between prominent Memphis attorney Rickey Wilkins and the Memphis City Council. It ended abruptly with the Black PAC (Political Action Committee) founder saying the council “pulled the plug” on him.
“I was trying to connect with the city council, but they kept cutting me off,” said Wilkins. “But I kept trying to get on. Finally, they just pulled the plug.”
At issue was the vote for next year’s city council chairman. Three “Black Democrats” voted for a “Republican chairman,” said Wilkins, electing Frank Colvett Jr. as the 2021 chairman.
Wilkins sent a scathing letter to the three council members he feels “has betrayed the trust” of the constituents who elected them: Patrice Robinson, Cheyenne Johnson and Edmund Ford Sr.
Wilkins wrote in part: “…Are you going to stand for and with the people who elected and trusted you, OR will you remain lined up behind and with Republicans and defeat the will of hundreds of thousands of your constituents for four white men who should be ashamed for putting you in this precarious predicament?”
Robinson, who is presently council chair, said she spoke with Wilkins on the telephone for 40 minutes after the vote for new chairperson was taken on Nov. 17.
“I not only have to answer to my constituents, but I also have to answer to God,” Robinson said. “The city council is a non-partisan body. We represent the constituents in our district, not a political party. Frank has served two years as vice-chairman, and his support of me has been phenomenal.”
Wilkins said the three council members were making a “historically, colossal mistake.
“I gave them every chance to correct it, and now, I’m ringing the bell on them.”
Wilkins has been pulling together a Black PAC that is somewhat reminiscent of the People’s Convention of 1991.
“I was actually there to witness it,” said Wilkins. “I had returned to Memphis in 1990, and just finished law school. What we are doing is going to be double, triple more powerful this time around.”
Wilkins said the initiative is a divine mandate that came from somewhere beyond “the mind of Rickey Wilkins.”
Robinson said voting on the council tends to follow a bi-partisan model, if you look at political parties, and council members do not generally align along party lines. She also pushed back against the charge that the city council “pulled the plug” on Wilkins Tuesday evening.
“Attorney Wilkins, I believe, was trying to join the meeting to speak,” Robinson said. “We have a process in place to allow anyone who wants to address the council to do so. Because of COVID-19, our meetings have been electronic, online. That process was not followed.”
Once the vote on an issue is taken, the minutes have to be officially approved at the next meeting. Colvett will serve as chairman of the city council in the new year.
Johnson also stood by her vote for Colvett.
“Councilman Colvett was chairman of the Zoning and Planning Committee,” said Johnson. “He is fair, supportive and informative to everyone. If there is some dispute or misunderstanding, he tells them, ‘I’ll come out and meet with you and we’ll get a better understanding for everybody.’ He did that every time. On the city council, we are not Republican or Democrat. We are non-partisan, and we represent our constituents the best we can.”
Ford Sr. did not return multiple calls for comment.
Wilkins said he is the voice for “The New Memphis, Tennessee.”
Wilkins told the three Colvett supporters that their votes “exceedingly contradict the overwhelming preferences of those who elected you.” He noted that the districts they represent voted overwhelmingly in the presidential election for President-Elect Joe Biden, who, of course, is a Democrat.
Wilkins asked for the three to call him to devise a joint statement that “gets us past this moment.” None of the three responded.
But Wilkins is undeterred.
“I sat down for 10 years because God told me to go sit down and be quiet,” Wilkins said. “Now, I am bringing you forth.”