From the outset, the Shelby County Young Democrats’ “Meet & Greet” with the party’s Memphis mayoral hopefuls did not go as planned.
Two of the four mayoral hopefuls announced as invited and confirmed – Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. and Memphis-Shelby County School Board Commissioner Michelle McKissack – did not show, citing prior engagements, according to organizers.
The venue was The Pocket, a Downtown spot at 115 Union Ave. The affair, which was held Oct. 27 and about a year out from the election, drew about 150 attendees, some standing.
The other two scheduled candidates, Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Young and attorney Van Turner Jr., Shelby County Commissioner and Memphis Branch NAACP President, would not share the stage alone, however. Former Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown, better known by many as the star of television’s “Judge Joe Brown,” arrived early for the event, declared his candidacy and took a seat on stage.
Several days later, one is arguably more apt to hear conversations about what Brown said than anything else.
At times, colorful and other times contentious, the exchanges between Brown and the scheduled candidates made for some memorable moments on their first shared platform.
The format was clearly defined: moderator Kirsten Cheers would ask a question and each candidate had two minutes to answer. After getting all three to give a brief bio, the stage was set.
An early question seeking the announced candidates’ positions regarding stimulate growth and economic development, drew this exchange:
“The first thing we need to do is take the city’s money and deposit it in multiple banks,” said Brown. “All of our money is deposited in First Horizon, which is a Canada bank. The money needs to be deposited in several banks. We need to spread that money around.
“And with the (Ford) Blue Oval plant (being built) just outside of Memphis, thousands of jobs should be coming to us. We need vocational training and a greater investment in academic excellence to prepare our young people to qualify for those jobs.”
Turner said, “We need to follow the example of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor. They were about to build the airport and Maynard said he would not build the airport unless diverse businesses are participating in the project. And he didn’t build until minority businesses were significantly involved.
“And from that time, Atlanta became a city of diverse businesses. We need that kind of commitment to promote economic development and growth in Memphis.”
Young: “We have the largest technically diverse workforce in the country, that means women and Black. We need to invest in more initiatives like CodeCrew and other technical training programs to grow a workforce that can fill high-paying, technical jobs.
“Also, small businesses are one-person shops. We need to invest in assisting them with the back-office functions for their growth and so they can compete for government contracting.”
And, said Young, “We have to lean into what works. Raleigh Town Center, Liberty Park, historic Melrose – none of that happens without Paul Young. As director of Housing and Community Development, I was committed to the construction of affordable housing and other projects. I can go and stand in front of my receipts.”
Things got noticeably more tense in The Pocket when Brown associated Turner and Young with questionable motives and actions regarding two public-eye projects. Turner, he said, had attempted to sell and profit from the acquisition of two city-owned parks that a Turned-led entity called Memphis Greenspace bought as part of a move to remove two Confederate-era monuments.
Young, said Brown, was getting some kind of financial kickback on building a “$200 million project downtown.”
Turner assured the audience that the two parks purchased by Memphis Greenspace cannot be sold and must continue as public parks, according to the terms of the sale.
“If you can read, you can see that,” Turner hit back.
Young said the building Brown referenced was the Hyatt Hotel, asserting that he championed “Black investment” in the project, which he said had more than 18 percent minority contracting of products and services.
“Also, what Mr. Brown failed to tell you is that 15 percent of this development project is locally owned,” said Young. “We want the mailbox income. We want to make sure that minorities in our community are able to participate on the ownership side.”
Then came the question that produced an answer from Brown that continues to reverberate. Asked if he would support a woman for mayor, Brown answered that at this point in time, women have no place in the race.
“I don’t want to get crude about it, but some places you need to go to exercise leadership … some of the good ladies in here would get drug into an abandoned apartment and raped,” said Brown. “That’s one of the problems.
“Maybe when we get things cleaned up and squared away, then a lady can come in here and she can have something that is decent.”
There was some pushback from the audience. Brown stood his ground.
Both Turner and Young said they would support a woman for mayor.
The City of Memphis Municipal Election will be held on October 5, 2023. If a run-off election is required, it will be held on November 16, 2023.
With that time frame as a point of reference, here are some final thoughts shared by the three announced candidates at the Young Dems’ Meet & Greet:
“I want to be mayor of the 14th largest city in the country. With the Blue Oval project, Memphis is the new Detroit. We should be the distribution center of the world. We could ship out those electric cars using barges down on the river. And we can generate our own power using hydroelectric generators right there in the river. We should be fully ready to take advantage of the thousands of jobs from that auto plant.”
“Memphis needs a mayor who legislates from the community, not from an office on Main Street. We need to reinvest in education and support our children, K-12. The city pulled out of supporting education, but education is the greatest crime-fighting institution we have. I am ready to be your mayor.… We shouldn’t vote for someone who has four years (of) experience in law enforcement … just locking our young people up is not the answer.”
“The mayor of Memphis runs a corporation of more than 8,000 employees, with an operating budget of more than $750 million. I am the best qualified to take on that job. I have been preparing for this my whole life.”