Behind the Headlines — January 3, 2016

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Yuletide Office Solutions, locally owned and
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supports the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce and WKNO. – The top stories of 2015
tonight on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining me. I’m joined tonight by Ryan
Poe with the Commercial Appeal. Thanks for being here. – Thanks for having me. (Eric)
Bill Dries, senior reporter with
the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for being here. And Bernal Smith from
the Tri-State Defender. Thanks for being here again. So, we’ll start with the
biggest stories of the year, looking back and how they kind
of impact 2016 and what we see. And clearly I think you have
to start with the elections. Your take. I mean, a mayor’s race,
which is always a big deal. It was a pretty
big mayor’s race. A lot of
candidates, a lot of effort. A surprising outcome for some. And then we can talk
about council races later. But your take on the mayor’s
race and Wharton’s loss and Strickland’s win. – Yeah, you know, I think there
was really sort of a mandate against Wharton. You know, I think he had
just found himself very, you know,
unpopular, particularly in the black community. And then of course there
were the other candidates, other African-American
candidates that were in the race and sort of
provided an alternative. But clearly based
upon those numbers, you know, the outcome was
not very hard to predict. – The disconnect, which was very
real in the numbers with the African-American community. I mean, lots of people
have talked about that. But what’s your take on where
that came and why he was never able to really.. I mean, he got
probably the same, give or take, percentage of
African-American vote as Jim Strickland, you know. And Jim didn’t necessarily
work real hard for the African-American vote. So, what was that disconnect? Why could he not overcome it? – Well, part of it was I don’t
think he ever really established a grassroots
connection in the community. If you kind of compare
Wharton to Herenton, Herenton always had the strong
grassroots base of voters that were going to
support him no matter, you know, when he
ran or how he ran. He always had that base. Wharton never established that. Then you put on top of that
cutting the police and fire, you know, benefits and pay. You know, whether that
was a necessary ill and, you know, he took the
entire brunt of that decision. And, you know, you
couple that with a few other, you know, mishaps that
happened along the way. Not to mention, right
before the election, the whole snafu with the
contract with Deidre Malone and the whole nine yards. You know, I think he just found
himself unable to really capture the interests or the
support, particularly of the African-American community. – Ryan, Ill put you on the spot. I guess there were a lot of
people following who maybe weren’t surprised Wharton
lost but surprised that he lost by 20. Yeah, that was a big
surprise to me personally. And I think to a lot of people. Because Wharton, you know,
he won a lot of elections by landslides time after time. And so, coming into this
election winning by 22% for Strickland, I mean, that was
just phenomenal for Strickland. So, and I think that’s
a testament to just how dissatisfied people were
with a number of things, including crime, which
was Strickland’s big issue. – Well come and
talk about crime. Because obviously,
that was a big issue. But Bill, the
Strickland campaign, I mean, it’s pretty clear. It was written about. I can’t remember. But they knew they were up and
they knew they were up big in the summer. They knew they were up. They did a second.. I think Jim talked about it,
Mayor Strickland Elect talked about it on the
show when he was here, that they were up by ten plus. They almost kind of
didn’t believe it. They did another internal
poll and then they worked. The number one thing I think
he said and people around his campaign said don’t tell
everyone — anyone we know we’re up by this because
people won’t come out. Whatever you
think of Strickland, he ran an incredibly
effective campaign. He said the same
thing over, and over, and over. So much so that the people.. I don’t know about you all but
some of us who covered all the time were like, gosh, if
he says it one more time. But it was effective. He said the same
thing every forum, every speech, every appearance. – And in technical terms of
how the campaigns were executed. Strickland was the
disciplined candidate. Wharton was the
candidate who was, while knew he was losing even
before that critical last week of the campaign when things
kept on blowing up on him in a big way. So, it was a disciplined
candidacy versus a candidacy where you had an incumbent
who was not really comfortable talking about his record. During this campaign, Bass
Pro Shop opened at the Pyramid during the last
week of the campaign. HUD awarded the city $30
million as part of this massive South City development project. And then the next day, the city
broke ground on the Universal Life Insurance
building and its restoration, an important symbol in this city
in terms of minority business and minority
business growth here. Yet, you had a mayor who, at
those events in particular, should have been
on top of his game, just coasting along. He was dodging questions about
the contract for the taser body cameras in those last two. – Which was kind
of ironic because, I mean, from at least
a news point of view, Wharton, going back to
what you said earlier, Wharton has always escaped
any kind of whiff of corruption, any kind of whiff of.. I mean, he had
always been above that. Whatever you thought
of about his policies, he had been above it and was
strange that he got tagged or — strange but he got unexpected or
maybe spoke to what people said around the mayor’s office that
there’s just this all these good things have happened but
really poor execution or poor communication about some of
the good things he’s done. And he said at a forum after the
election that I was moderating with a bunch of
suburban mayors and so on. He said, ” I never” — I’m
paraphrasing — “I was never “able to connect the fact that
the bike lanes going in front of that guy’s house” —
he said — “I don’t care
about those bike lanes. I don’t have a job.” And Wharton said, “Never could
communicate that these things “that we were doing that he felt
were really important for the “city in the short term and long
term were connecting with the people who, again,
needed the job.” And the other thing that is
interesting is he took office in, what?
— ’09. He, of the recession. We’ll segue into the
union and the cuts. The interesting
thing about that, I think, in hindsight — He
never really did a great job of really communicating and it’s
going to be a huge challenge for the Strickland is if you think
those cuts were necessary for the long term
health of the city, you nonetheless have an
incredibly demoralized and angry police force. And how Strickland addresses
that demoralization and a depleted police force
is probably at least, on the government side, one
of his biggest challenges, isn’t it? – Yeah, absolutely. You know, 400 officers down with
a number of officers that have already registered for
the drop program if you will to retire early. And so, trying to get
back up to the full, you know, contingent of officers
that’s necessary to have acquired them the way that he’s
seeing them is which is really going back to something
that Godwin put in place, which is Blue Crush. You know, if that his goal, he’s
really going to have to really look at the budget. You know, to your point,
Eric, the one of the things that Wharton really did was force the
communication to community why the budget
situation was what it was. You had a great recession which
led to significant foreclosures in Memphis. We have sued Wells
Fargo for $150 million, which you never even brought
that back to the table in terms of the, you know,
benefits of that. But you had
declining property values, few home owners,
fewer tax payers, which basically, you know,
created a lower overall fund for the city. And so, trying to figure out how
to take care of all these things with less money really was
the quintessential issue. – We look forward.. We look ahead to the
Strickland administration. And I should say we’re taping
this right before Christmas because of the holidays. Some things may have played
out by the time this airs. Your take so far, Ryan,
on the administration he’s put together. There’s some hold overs,
maybe some surprising holdovers. You know, some new faces and
a restructuring of divisions. Your take so far on the
Strickland administration. – So he is restructuring. He’s promoting several people to
this leadership team that’s going to be reporting
directly to the mayor, including substantially
police and finance. So, those two items
were reporting to the Chief Administrative Officer before. Now they’re reporting
directly to the mayor. And I think that speaks to
Strickland’s priorities. He’s going to be
focusing a lot on police, a lot on finance. On finance, it is interesting
that he kept Ryan Collins, who he clashed a little
bit with over the past year. – As head of the city council. That was one that
really surprised me. And Brian had been on the show. Runs through numbers and has a
business background and now a government background. But there was such conflict over
these cuts and the budgeting, it did surprise me that
Strickland kept Collins in that position. – But you can’t forget that
as Strickland did support those cuts. So, you know, I think
that’s why Collins is here. It’s because he, you know,
supported Strickland’s position on those big things. – And Bill, we’ve
talked about some. We’ve talked about when
Mayor Luttrell was on. Relations with the council. Mayor Wharton had bad
relations with the council for whatever reason. Some would say — well,
that’s why you had a bunch of candidates. You had Harold Collins and
Jim Strickland on there with a vested interest in,
you know, fighting him. Others would say he didn’t
attend committee meetings. Others would say there
was poor communication. Your take on why some of those
essential reasons that there were, for whatever reason, bad
relations between the Wharton administration and city council. – Well, Wharton had a
fundamentally different and I believe ultimately politically
fatal view of the relationship between the mayor
and the council. He saw the council, I think, as
a barrier or a distraction to a message that he wanted to
take directly to people. Well, there’s just
one problem with that. You have to be able to count to
seven to do the things you want to do because it has to go
through the city council. And you can certainly disagree
with the council and still prevail politically
on election day. But you have to have a
discussion with the council. And when you’re not physically
in the room with them except on very rare occasions,
then that relationship is going to deteriorate. – And some would say the
vote on Central Station, the big redevelopment
down on Central Station, which will ultimately kind of
connect to South City and the public housing project, but the
vote to redo Central Station, the movie theater and all that
which was delayed recently some month ago, when city
council comes down, they’re ready to vote. Henry Turley and other
developers are ready to move forward. And there are all these
unanswered questions. And council has sort of thrown
hands up in the air going, yet again, we don’t have
questions answered from the administration because it was
fairly clear they hadn’t gone through the contract. Now, some would say come
on, they’re on their way out. You got a lot of people
looking out the door, moving out the door. But that kind of
history, some would say, would happen again and again. Big shiny objects, big
projects like you mentioned, were announced and then
the follow through with the administration was rocky. – In this case in particular,
the Central Station developers were trying to get construction
started before winter set in so that once you have that period
when you can’t do a whole lot if the weather turns cold,
that they could at least have somethings already going
and some possibility of some inside work. And what happened was the
developers could answer the council’s questions. But the council really needed
to hear from the administration, the folks in city hall,
about the details of it. And the administration had not
looked at the contract for a project that had been on the
rails for quite some time. – I think another sort of
shining example of what happened with the Southbrook Mall
project in Whitehaven. I mean, make this big
announcement that you’re going to, you know, provide this grant
and these monies to redevelop the building, and obviously
you think you understood the viability of the
project and whether it was. And then months later,
you come back and you say, well, now we’re
not going to do it. And so, it’s things
like that that really, again, began to erode not only
the relationship of the mayor with the council but the mayor’s
relationship with people in the community. They say, well, you know, you
said you were going to do this but you didn’t do it. So, it’s a trust issue. I think that’s really what it
boils down to with both the council and voters. It was about trust. – Let’s talk a
little about, again, politics and some of
these big projects, which in looking back at 2015,
I mean clearly from a political point of view, and it gets
over into the business side of things, Robert Lipscomb leaving. I don’t know how
much you covered that. But obviously the CA
covered it quite a bit. We all covered it quite a bit. Robert Lipscomb, this tremendous
figure associated with massive change in public housing, nine
of the ten big housing projects in the city have been
transformed to these much better communities. It wasn’t smooth
necessarily but much better, much more aesthetically
appealing and so on. Less crime. He is gone from city government. And it was shock
and a shocking story. And we should say he has
been accused of some things. But there’s still no
indictment, right? There’s still no arrest. Many, many months later. But your take on the Lipscomb,
the fall of Robert Lipscomb? – Yeah, so just a
little background. An accuser came forward who
accused Lipscomb of statutory rape back when he
was 16 years old, sometime ago. And the fallout from that was
that Lipscomb resigned from the Housing Community and
Development — Housing and Community Development, and is on
suspension without pay currently from the Memphis
Housing Authority. So, that’s where
the situation is now. No charges have been filed
as of earlier this week. We spoke to police. And we’re still waiting to kind
of figure out what’s going to happen. It’s been a long time and I
think Lipscomb’s attorney is really going to be starting to
push MHA to reinstate Lipscomb. I think it’s going to become
a big issue in the future. – Your take? I mean, for such a tremendous
political figure to fall that way, to fall so quickly and then
for it to be in this limbo is just so strange. – Right. And in a way, this plays to some
of the issues that I think have been raised about the police
department on a broader level. The police department and the
administration undertook the investigation of Robert Lipscomb
as soon as this thing surfaced. There’s still some question
about whether people knew there was this allegation beforehand. But here we are now after the
election and not one word has been said about this
in any kind of way. So, what is the story? Is his name cleared? Is his name not cleared? What’s going on with this? Whatever you think of Robert
Lipscomb and he is — has been a controversial presence at times,
he’s been a pivotal figure in the change in public
housing in this community. Whatever you think about all of
that and his philosophies on all of this, I think that he is
certainly entitled to and I think we as a public are
entitled to know what’s the status of the investigation. – Because these very horrible
accusations are just out there. And it doesn’t seem
fair to anyone involved. But, you know, I guess the
process needs to take its time. You talk about policemen. We’ve talked about
police a number of times. This was
a big year nationally of the Black Lives
Matter movement. It maybe started.. My sense of time
gets screwed up. But its been a huge part of a
national conversation in the presidential race and locally,
the shooting of Darrius Stewart and still unclear circumstances. The police department is going
to be getting body cameras at some point over the next year,
which is going to maybe help the citizens. I can never do it right. CLERB. The Citizens Law Enforcement.. (Bill)
Civilian Law
Enforcement Review Board. – Thank you very much. Your take on all that. And, you know, I
heard people say, you know, Memphis
is one shooting, one thing, one incident
away from a Ferguson moment, a protest. Sadly and horribly, you know,
that moment came in a way with Darrius Stewart. Your sense on where
that issue is in Memphis. – Well, you know, I
think that, you know, Memphis is in a
different sort of position. You would think that, you know,
based upon some of the things that have occurred, there would
be more of a response from the community, you know, in
terms of sort of outcry. And there have
been many protests. But I think, you know,
Memphis has a history of a protest community. And, you know, even going back
to the ’60s where we did have some rioting, I think
Memphis has really, you know, evolved to a
place where people can, you know, organize and protest
and do that in a way that doesn’t erupt into some of the
other things that we’ve seen. Clearly there are some
issues around the country. And I always say that
sort of Black Lives Matter, the motto and of
course the movement, is really born out of the
same thing that created the “I am a Man” sign. You know, this
whole notion that, you know, you have
to declare that, you know, I am human or that I
should — that the humanity in me should be recognized when
it hasn’t been or demonstrated based upon some of these police
interactions with particularly African-American males. And so, I think
we’ll see that evolve. But clearly at
the federal level, state level, I know Congressman
Cohen is proposing some pretty substantial legislation at
the federal level to deal with police shootings and how
they are investigated. I think there will continue to
be some movement made in terms of even police
policy on a local basis. And I think both Mayor Elect
Strickland and Toney Armstrong, Director Armstrong will work
to make sure that the policy.. Because I think even with this
situation with Darrius Stewart, they’re still evaluating where
the policy issues were violated by Officer Schilling and looking
at how to enhance that policy going forward. – At year’s end, we know some
more about the Darrius Stewart shooting, thanks to the release
of an 800 page Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file on this. And the crucial question in that
particular incident really by the interviews in the file is
whether or not Officer Schilling had to, should have
fired the second shot. That’s a very
critical question here. Black Lives Matter, we had our
first demonstrations here in late 2014. The Darrius Stewart
shooting was in July here. Between those two things,
there was a lot that happened nationally. And among the most significant
things was a policy shift that was not federal in terms
of the federal government being involved. But it was national in scope. Our city isn’t the only city
where new questions are being asked and fundamental
assumptions are being questioned about whether police should
investigate themselves when these incidents happen. And what’s been amazing is how
quickly those assumptions have been questioned and how quickly
they have changed in what’s a relatively short period of time. – We had Amy Weirich, the
Shelby County District Attorney, on recently and TBI being
involved but TBI then can’t release — the Tennessee
Bureau of Investigation — can’t release its findings. And whether the legislature
convenes very soon after this show airs begins
to get involved. And we had Mark Norris and Lee
Harris on from the state senate. It seemed like possibly
some changes will happen. You can have an independent
review by TBI but not have the results be singled and private. Because I think that’s part
of what everyone was saying is look, we got to explore this. We got to litigate it. We got to research
it, investigate. And everything has to be
as transparent as possible. It’s the same thing with
the body cameras and so on. We’ve got about five
minutes left and we’ll move a little quickly. One thing.. I think one of the big stories
next year and certainly we’ll go into of last year which will go
into next year is just this huge amount of investment. We talked about
Bass Pro opening, the IKEA store which some people
make fun of but it is a big bunch of jobs and
a big, you know, millions of
dollars in investment. But we mentioned
Central Station. The Medical District, Bill. I mean, we’ve written a bunch. The Commercial Appeal.. You all probably have a
huge amount of investment. Hundreds of millions of dollars. And that’s even before you talk
about the billion and a half dollars that St. Jude
is going to invest. People are talking about really
a traumatic transformation of Memphis in the urban core
because all this investment is happening in the urban core. – Right. And these announcements in
particular with our medical healthcare hospital institutions
have really all surfaced right at the end of the year. It’s been a real chain of
announcements from St. Jude having permission to open
a graduate school to their announcement several weeks ago
that over a period of years, they’re going to invest about
eight to nine billion dollars in a transformation of their
campus and what they do. That is going to have
ripple effects far beyond it. What you’re seeing are long held
plans that have been thought about since the onset of
the recession that had to be sidelined because
of the recession. And now they’re
emerging from it. Memphis came back really
slowly from the recession. But we now at least have
our head above water on this. And healthcare and the Medical
Institutions have always been the lifeblood of this community. – Just a couple of minutes left. The biggest, I don’t
know, story I missed. There are a bunch but 30
seconds on a story I missed. – I think also Bass Pro
and some other developments. Bass Pro, Raleigh Springs Mall,
Fairgrounds are some big city developments that are
really going to — in question. Fairgrounds especially
is in question right now. So, I think those are things
that people want to keep an eye on because that’s going to be.. – Mud Island, too. The proposal, whether that will
have a private investor and that kind of thing. Biggest story or
what did I miss? – I think we
pretty much covered it. I think, you know, interesting
that you see also from the big commercial projects
that you mentioned, there are some residential
pieces that are coming back online. I think it was the Artisan
building that was in foreclosure and then vacant for so long. Biggest pigeon coup in
Memphis, if you will. And now that’s being renovated
and will be opening soon. And you see a lot more. You see all the development in
Downtown there in terms of new apartment buildings
that are going on up. I think, you know, it’s a
positive reflection in terms of the recovery. And I’m hearing positive things
from real estate professionals across the city that, you
know, things are really finally starting to pick up. – Just a minute left. Your colleague, Kyle Veazey. We talked about the
new administration. Kyle Veazey, who had been
at the CA for however long, is now a part of the
Strickland Administration. Is he lying to you now? Is he deceiving you? How is that
relationship going so far? – He hasn’t gone over
to the dark side just yet I don’t think. Strickland’s dark side. No, I’m kidding. No, he seems like he’s doing
well and look forward to working with him. – And I would say the
last couple of things. I had so many things. This was the year that Insure
Tennessee died in the glorious death quickly after much prep
and promotion through much of 2014. I’ll be curious if the
transportation push that Haslam administration has spent so
many months promoting ends the same way. Thank you all for being here. Bill, Ryan, Bernal, thanks. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. (male narrator)
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